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. 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, hours remaining to meet the goal, your current limiting financial obligations, your 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. This is especially true for the Ninety-Nines Fly Now Student Scholarship because it is a milestone based, reimbursement award and does not cover the entire cost of the private pilot certificate. The instructions clearly state that applicants "must have a plan in place to handle the remainder of your expenses in order to complete your certification in the allowed time". Soloing is a $2,500 milestone reimbursement and the long cross-country is $2,000. How will you fund getting to those milestones, so the reimbursement money can help move you forward? This element is mandatory. If your ability to achieve your goal is truly nil without free money, your ranking will be affected as the award does not cover the cost of the entire certificate. Many who could have scored higher did not because they left too many unanswered questions or did not detail how they will fund the balance of their training on their own and complete their training. Be clear, concise and overly informative - especially about funding your goal and budget plans. Regardless of your income, break down the dollar amounts you can budget from it, your expected total cost, and the amount you have currently saved or allotted for your training.
Many applicants think the lower their income, the better their chances or the more deserving they are of a scholarship. That is true for a "bursary" (a financial award granted on the basis of financial need) while a "scholarship", by definition, is based on merit even though many scholarships also take into account financial need. A scholarship is the helping-hand you need to achieve your goals sooner with less financial burden. It 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!
Don't start your essay with “Hello/Hi...”, "Dear..." or "To whom it may concern". It is not an email or a letter. Avoid "My name is...I am X years old...I live in....I attend..." in your essay. Doing so is redundant as those facts are already stated on the applicant information sheet. The same is true for starting each sentence with "I have, I will, I am, I plan, I, I...". Reading an essay where most of the sentences start with "I" is redundant, not very engaging to read, and indicative of poor writing skills. Restate the information so your writing flows and engages the judges. Use exclamation points sparingly. If many of the sentences end with an exclamation point, that does not convey excitement but rather 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. 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 one page or 500 words wisely. Meandering, unfocused essays with irrelevant fluff won't score points with the judges. Impress the judges with an essay that will paint you as a pilot who is continually striving to achieve goals despite financial limitations and has a flight plan to eventually get to their destination. Be the good investment the benefactors are looking for.
The most polished applicants use the standard five paragraph essay format from H.S. English composition. (See this short clip on construction for a refresher.) The thesis should be your aviation goal and the paragraph topics detail what you have done and how you are working towards it. Your essay should have paragraph breaks. This would seem obvious if you are writing an essay but apparently it is not to a few applicants. The essay should flow like a story with a beginning, middle and an end. When embedding your text into a PDF application form box, do not use a tiny font for your essay, leaving space at the bottom of the box. Your essay should fill the entire one page space available in 12 point font. If it doesn't it is lacking details and you need to add more content to it. Attention to detail is sometimes what sets two very closely ranked applicants apart. Use spell check and Grammarly to improve your writing. This cannot be said enough. For Ninety-Nines awards, "99s" is the correct form or the organization using numerals and there is no apostrophe. (Using "99's" is incorrect.)
Red flags - Do you have a lot of hours with little progress in your training? Have little obvious training 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 80 hours and still haven't soloed, why not? Undoubtedly, there are factors affecting your training so talk about them. If you have had breaks in training causing you to start over, why and how are you staying in the game when not actively flying? You may have stopped and started training several times in the past, what is different this time aside of lack of funding that you will reach your goal? During your break were you able to set aside any funds for future training? 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 and essay! For essay based awards, if you submitted a complete, typed application with meticulous document attachments on time and can never seem to win, you are not painting the kind of picture about yourself that puts you above 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 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. Every detail counts when splitting hairs between two very close applicants. Consider that if you take four hours to do your app and win $6,000, you just got paid $1,500/hr to do the paperwork. Put forth the effort to make it perfect!
Documentation and attachments
Best of luck on your next application!