After judging hundreds of scholarship applications annually over the years for several different awards, it is clear that many could stand to step up their application game. I started keeping notes on the errors, omissions and faux pas that were rife among the applicants. Don't get scored lower due to these issues:
Essay topics, grammar, and creative writing
“A goal without a plan is just a wish.” ~ Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
Simply not having the funds and a love of aviation (no matter how great) will not make you a winner. You must make a statement of financial need for completion of your goal and demonstrate you are committed to achieving it by having a plan in place to obtain it. Many applicants think the lower their income, the better their chances or more deserving they are and that is not true. Winning a scholarship is just the helping-hand you need to achieve your goals sooner with less financial burden. A scholarship is money invested in you, with a hoped for return on that investment: a successfully trained pilot and, for Ninety-Nines awards, an active 99 who supports her sister aviatrixes and her chapter. Don't look like an iffy investment! If your ability to achieve your goal is truly nil without free money, your ranking will be affected. Discuss your goal, the steps left to achieve it (take the written, x hours solo, x hours cross-country ect), the cost of training per hour where you fly, your current limiting financial obligations, funding options, and your timeline to achieve it without a scholarship. Show that you clearly understand what is required to reach your goal and you have some sort of plan to fund it without assistance (take out a loan, get another job, find a roommate ect). For financial need based awards this should be an essential part of your essay! Many applicants who could have scored higher did not because they left too many unanswered questions or didn't provide their whole story. Be clear, concise and overly informative - especially about funding your goal and budget plans. Always state your near term and long term flight training goals. Some essays leave you wondering what the applicant intends to do after their next certificate/rating or their career goal, so say it.
Use the standard five paragraph essay format from H.S. English composition for your essay. (See this short clip on construction for a refresher.) Your essay should have paragraph breaks. Seems obvious but apparently it is not to a few applicants. The essay should flow like a story (your story!) with a beginning, middle and an end. Also, when embedding it in a PDF application form box, do not use a tiny font for your essay leaving space at the bottom of it. Eight point font is hard to read and doesn't present well. There are many applicants with weak grammar, poor writing skills (even with advanced degrees) and a lack of attention to detail who have financial need. Submitting a well-presented application, with an on point essay demonstrating your financial need in detail will put you above the competition. Proofread. This cannot be said enough.
“Eschew obfuscation”, as an English teacher might say, or eliminate extraneous info. You only have so many words on a one-page essay to sell the judges on yourself. Don't waste them on things that don't matter. Meandering, unfocused essays with irrelevant fluff won't score points with the judges. They need to know more about you and your flight training story. What makes you special or more driven than any other applicant? Don't add in extraneous filler about your extracurricular activities and volunteering that are not aviation related, your family life in detail (unless it directly affects your flight training or funding ability), all your hobbies or writing about your prize winning whatchamacallit at the county fair. Aviation scholarships aren't based on the “well-rounded” applicant, so use your 500 words wisely. Use them to impress the judges with an essay that will paint you as a pilot who is continually striving to achieve their goal and has a flight plan to get there. Be the good investment they are looking for!
Red flags - Do you have lots of hours and little progress over a few years? Have few hours and little obvious progress over a long period? Why are you still doing the same lesson over and over again? Address it! Don't leave the judges wondering about your situation, tackle it head on. How you are handling that adversity could pump up your application. Write about your training progress or lack thereof. You have almost 70 hours and still haven't soloed, why not? If you have breaks in training, why and how are you staying in the game? You have stopped and started training several times in the past, what is different this time that you will reach your goal? These questions will be on the judges' minds, so it behooves you to answer them in your essay.
Applied before and just can't seem to win? It is time to rework that application! For essay based awards, if you submitted a complete app on time and can never seem to win, you may not be painting the kind of picture about yourself that sets you apart from the other applicants. You need to be better for the win. If you cannot write your story well, get help. Your essay is a sales pitch. Get as much input as you can from those who know you well so that you can create an effective one. Above all, DO NOT simply tweak some numbers and recycle your previous app and essay! (The judges often recall past applicants.) If your essay didn't win the first time, it likely won't win later for the same reasons. If you take 4 hours to do your app and win $6,000, you just got paid $1,500/hr to do the paperwork. Put forth the effort!
Avoid "My name is...I am X years old...I live in....I attend...." in your essay. All of this info (should) clearly be stated on the application top sheet already. Do not add it into the essay as well. It's redundant and indicative of poor writing skills. The same is true for starting each sentence with "I have, I will, I am, I plan, I've, I, I...". Don't start your essay with “Hello”. It is not an email. Use exclamations sparingly as well. When judging an application and most of the sentences end with an exclamation, that does not convey excitement but a lack of writing skill. Use a program or browser add-on like Grammarly to help you go beyond fixing spelling mistakes and improve your writing.
Documentation and attachments
Best of luck on your next application!