The deadline dilemma: Four tips to improve any scholarship or internship application

Are you trying to land that big internship next summer? Do you want to stand out among a hundred other scholarship applicants?

For students, the end of the year not only brings the stress of finals but that special problem I call the “deadline dilemma”; There are more scholarships and internships than you have time to apply to, and all of them are due at the same time.

The usual default for this dilemma is to create a standard, one-size-fits-all application and mass-distribute to anybody and everybody. This only leaves you with the false sense of confidence that only hitting the “send” button can bring.

Just like a job search, your application needs to target your audience. Here are four ways to improve your application process this year.

1. Do something really cool

I’ve managed scholarship and internship programs for several years and it always amazes me how many applicants do just the bare minimum.

Our AP-Google Journalism and Technology Scholarship online application has an open section for “Personal Statement Presentation or Cover Letter.” The people who are not cool will see this as the place to copy and paste the standard cover letter they’ve used a million times before. The people who are really cool will use this space to submit the URL of a website that features all the exciting things they’re doing. Even better, they’ll target this personal statement to the audience of journalism and technology folks, since after all, this is a journalism and technology scholarship, right?

Doing something cool makes you stand out. One of my favorite bloggers, Ramit Sethi, discusses how he strategically got admitted into Stanford when the odds were not necessarily in his favor.

2. Avoid application silos

Far too many of us are used to working alone, especially when it comes to completing applications. There is no golden rule that says you must complete an application in a vacuum.

Make your application a community effort. Ask as many people as possible to review it. All too often, I see several careless — and avoidable — mistakes on applications due to simple errors.

Completing an extensive application can be challenging. Use support from your friends on Facebook, Twitter, Google+ (or dare I say in real-life, too) to keep you motivated. Use concepts and sites like “Don’t Break the Chain!” to accomplish small steps each day.

3. Don’t wait until the last minute

I know you’ve heard this one before but for some reason, especially in our deadline-driven journalism world, applicants tend to push applying to the last minute. I’ve heard the arguments — working better under stress, burning the midnight oil — all legitimate strategies depending on your personality type; however, the majority of us know that we work better and our minds are more at ease when things get done early.

The most amusing part of managing scholarship programs is reading the large number of emails I receive the day after the deadline. In life, there are very few real emergencies. There’s always a technical glitch. That professor will not get you that letter of recommendation by your first deadline. Your computer will crash! Do yourself a favor — get your application done early to avoid being that person who emails me the next day for an extension.

4. Keep applying

Time and time again, I’ve seen students get frustrated when they don’t get the first opportunity they’ve applied for. While it’s always a joy to make the call to the applicant who gets selected, it’s been equally joyful to see how much the non-selected applicants accomplish. Tenacious applicants keep applying. Countless times, I’ve seen proof that simply applying puts an applicant in front of someone who was impressed by them. While the applicant may not have won that round, their exposure to key people put them in a better position overall down the line.

And besides, winning isn’t everything. Just think, do you remember who actually won “American Idol” when Adam Lambert was a contestant?

Join me to discuss these tips and more tomorrow, Nov. 18, from 2-3 p.m.(ET). I’ll be “hanging out” on Google+. Read more about the hangout and click here to sign up.

Irving Washington is Scholarship Manager for the Online News Association.