No matter the application, be it for school, scholarship, job, or other opportunity, there are two pieces of advice that are universal: thoroughly familiarize yourself with, and follow, all instructions and submit the type of application you would want to read.
The first seems basic; of course, everyone must read and follow application instructions. Otherwise, why bother to apply at all? Unfortunately, many applicants are busy multitasking competing priorities—they have school, sports, work, family responsibilities—so when it is time to fill out an application they skip the preamble and jump right in. In the short term they may have saved a little time, but if they are disqualified, miss a deadline, or receive a lower score due to not following instructions, all of the time spent on the application was wasted.
Put yourself in the shoes of the person who designed the application. Most likely, they were just as busy, with just as many competing priorities, as the future applicants. Yet, their rules, guidelines, and procedures were important enough to the process that they took the time to write them down and make them available. Often, these rules are written multiple times and published in multiple places. If an application procedure is important enough for someone to spell out, it is important enough to be followed.
The good news is that while it may seem to take extra time to read through instructions, FAQs, and other available information, in the long run it is more likely to save time. Carefully reviewing an application’s procedures allows you to collect your thoughts, organize your time, and gather all necessary paperwork in advance. More importantly, an application completed correctly and submitted on time increases your chances of being selected, which is the point of filling out an application in the first place.
The second tip asks you to put yourself in the shoes of the reviewer. If you had 10s, 100s, maybe 1000s, of applications to read, what type of application would you want to see? This doesn’t refer to specific content—essays, resumes, and question answers should be truthful and always your own work. This refers to the presentation. Would you want to try to decipher typos, spelling mistakes, and grammatical errors? How would you feel spending hours reading essays with large blocks of text and no paragraph breaks? What about attachments that are upside down, out of focus, incorrect, or incomplete?
If you are going to take the time to fill out an application, and someone else is going to take the time to read it, make it as easy as possible for the person reviewing it to focus on you and your qualifications and not be distracted by sloppiness and mistakes. This falls under a larger guiding principle for virtually all communications—when you are providing important information, do what you can to make life easier for the consumer of that information.
Ultimately, you can’t control who your competition will be, you can’t control your reviewers, you can’t change past decisions or grades. But you can control how you present yourself moving forward. Choose to be the applicant who is prepared. Be the applicant who follows all instructions, submits all materials correctly and in a timely manner, and who presents an application that allows the reviewers to see the person, not the mistakes. A well done application will not guarantee victory, but it puts you in the running, which is often half the battle.