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Wal*Mart and Hispanic Scholarship Fund reveal what it takes to create a winning scholarship application

LatinaLista — Did you know that Wal*Mart is the largest employer in Mexico? In the United States, over 165,000 Latinos work for the discount conglomerate.
So with such a strong presence in so many Hispanic households, it makes sense that the store would participate in observing Hispanic Heritage Month — and they have.

Wal*Mart has created the site Ahorra Mas, Vive Mejor. The site is focused on education with information on scholarships and how to apply and prepare for college.
Yet, as anyone knows, you can fill out a zillion scholarship applications but if you don’t fill them out right, it’s a waste of time. Partnering up with the Hispanic Scholarship Fund (HSF), Wal*Mart officials asked the guys from the HSF what does it take to fill out a winning scholarship application.
Needless to say, they had a few suggestions:
Are there any ‘pitfalls’ that you see really promising candidates fall into from year to year which ultimately disqualifies them?

In the past couple of years the Hispanic Scholarship Fund has compiled a list of “Top 10 Mistakes” that students make in their HSF scholarship application. We surprisingly found many of those mistakes could have been prevented by reading and understanding the application instructions better. The most common mistakes range from not addressing an essay question to mailing documents to the incorrect address – and it’s incredibly unfortunate to see a promising candidate disqualified for one of these reasons. The bottom line is candidates should give themselves enough time to read the instructions and follow them without deviation – and if they have a question or doubt, it’s better to take the time to ask HSF personnel.

Being accepted into a college or university is a great achievement in itself. Are there any achievements prior to the college years that you think are important for a candidate to highlight in his/her application?

Yes – a candidate should highlight achievements that took place during their high school years. And a student should think about all the possibilities, i.e., achievements from a wide spectrum of areas, such as academics (rigorous courses), sports, school activities, community service, special talents (writing, acting, drawing, etc.), internships, and even their place of employment. In short, a candidate should highlight achievements that were particularly difficult to attain and that will make them stand out from other applicants.

Sometimes it’s not always possible to be the president of a club or captain of an athletic team. Since one of the criteria for the award is ‘leadership,’ what are some other ways that a successful candidate can demonstrate this quality through their application?

We see many kids in our community who are unable to participate in more traditional school activities, perhaps because they have family obligations or have to take on part-time employment to help the family out – but these are circumstances that demonstrate leadership as well. For example, the student who picks up their younger sibling after school, walks them home, feeds them, guides them through their homework and is in charge of them for an afternoon, is demonstrating leadership. When preparing a scholarship application, students should think about any instance in their lives where they have undertaken additional responsibilities by themselves for the greater good. Students come from different backgrounds and some may not always realize that the special or difficult circumstances in their lives also developed and demonstrated leadership.

In general, what makes a candidate stand out?

It’s difficult to provide one answer to this question; there are several ways a candidate can stand out. Well-rounded students, those who have found a balance between academics, extracurricular activities, volunteer work, work, etc and have been relatively successful in many of those fields. Students who know themselves well and are able to articulate their achievements or the obstacles they have overcome, what they have learned from those experiences and what they can apply to the future based on those lessons also stand out.

Putting together a scholarship application doesn’t happen in one day. What span of time is it recommended that be allotted to prepare a satisfactory, cohesive application for an HSF award?

Candidates should give themselves the necessary amount of time it takes to gather all the application materials they need from themselves and others; in general, they should give themselves no less than 4 weeks to work on this application but ideally they should give themselves 6 weeks to prepare. When thinking of this process, students should consider that there are parts of the application that will depend as much on themselves as others. Take for example an academic transcript; students will have to request the document but their school may have a process for it, some schools take a week to process such requests.

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