What You Need to Know About Application Forms

Writing an application form.
What You Need to Know About Application Forms

College applications, scholarship applications, internship applications, and of course, employment applications--three quick words to sum it up: Applications are everywhere! With billions of people in the world, admissions officers, scholarship committees, and recruiters usually find that they have more interested applicants than spots or awards available. So what does this mean? Long story short, your application requires focused, high-quality effort and top-notch presentation if you truly want to have a chance at being the chosen one!

What is an application form used for?

Colleges, programs, and businesses that offer opportunities (e.g., monetary, experiential, recognition) to the public often look to reward applicants who meet or exceed certain predetermined criteria. By requiring an application form, people will voluntarily share personal information such as their:

  • Name

  • Contact information: mailing address, phone number, email address

  • Past experiences

  • Educational background

  • Goals

  • Knowledge, skills, and abilities

  • Certifications

These types of data, when pieced together, form a picture of who each applicant is and the potential and value they offer. Depending on the mission and vision of the school, program, or business, meaningful selection decisions can be made based on the personal information shared on application forms. An application that successfully passes the first round of reviews may: 1) be forwarded on for a higher level evaluation process by a second group of application reviewers, 2) result in an invitation to participate in an interview, or 3) lead to the final decision.

Where can you find the application form for an opportunity?

In most cases, application forms are available on the website of the college, program, or business you're interested in. There are also Internet search directories that provide applications in one location. As examples, CollegeBoard.org has a section where numerous scholarship opportunities are listed and Indeed.com is a directory that lists hundreds of available job openings in a variety of locations. In addition to specific websites and online directories, if you're a student looking for scholarship, college, or any other academic-related applications, check in with your school guidance counselor or college counselor. If you're looking for a part-time or full-time job or volunteer opportunity, stop by the Human Resources or Customer Service Department of the businesses or organizations you're interested in. Many have kiosks or computer terminals where you can sit and fill out electronic application forms. There are also those who are still old-school and require hard copy applications. You can also contact them and request a form be mailed to you, or you can stop by in person to pick one up.

Top 3 suggestions to complete your next application:

  1. Your word choices matter! How you present yourself using the words you choose will influence whether you make it past the first review phase. Do you use words that are concise, descriptive, general, specific, professional, casual, abrasive, jargon-filled, etc.? In most cases, you should aim to use sincere, clear, concise, professional words on the application. Be sure to take the time to think through your responses carefully so the delivery of your insights and answers are thoughtful, meaningful, and relevant.

  2. Your presentation matters! Have you completed all sections of the form? If it's a hard copy application, is your handwriting legible and are the pages crisp and clean (or stained and creased) when you submit it? Since you likely won't be able to show up in person for the first round of application reviews, your application needs to represent you in a way that stands out and leaves a positive, lasting impression so you receive the call for an interview.

  3. Your attention to details matter! Do you answer prompts and questions as requested, or are you vague or elusive on some of them? Are your responses within the word or character limits? Do you remain focused on the topic or do you go on different tangents? Did you proofread for errors, e.g., spelling, grammar, and punctuation? If they ask for a resume or supplemental documentation (e.g., letter of recommendation, reference list, or sample work), did you plan ahead and prepare these documents for submission? Have you signed all pages of the application in black or blue ink?

If there is only one award or position available, is completing an application worth doing?

  1. Are you interested in the opportunity?

  2. Do you meet the minimum qualifications?

  3. Do you have hope, even if it's just a little, in being chosen?

If you answered, "Yes!" to all three questions, then a big "YES!" is your answer to this section's question.

How long is too long for an application?

In most cases, colleges, programs, and businesses use application forms that only ask for information they feel are important for their decision-making processes. The more questions they ask, the longer it'll take for them to go through each submission so it's unlikely they'll include unnecessary questions and requirements. That being said, if an application is four or more pages long, start working on it as early as possible. If you're not that interested in what's being offered, it would be better if you passed on the application--save yourself (and the selection committee) the time and effort.

Are keywords important when filling out an application?

In some cases, using keywords--words that are highly relevant to the position, award, college, or business--can be beneficial. When hundreds or thousands of applications are expected, the first round of application reviews may rely on specialized software to weed through them all. These applications often include numerous checkbox-based questions, numerical response fields, and rating scales. Some systems may target keywords or phrases depending on what the admissions officers or recruiters are looking for. Measurable responses such as these are easy to process using computer programs that are set up to identify top responses, percentages, and the like. On the other hand, when applications require short answers or essay responses, word choices, style, and presentation of ideas (as they relate to the college, program, or business) play a larger role. Keywords may still be helpful to an extent, but the aim in these situations should be to write in a way that allows your voice and personality to shine through.


Completing an application form is a common first step to being considered for awards, recognitions, and experiences. So many eligible candidates and not nearly as many available opportunities make it that much more necessary to do well on them. Though many applications are available electronically, there are still some companies that do business using hard copy forms. Regardless of whether it's online or on paper, the information an applicant provides and the manner in which the details are presented can make a tremendous impact on the outcome. Choose your words wisely, pay particular attention to your presentation and how the application looks upon submission, and never skip the vital step of proofreading your work from the top left-hand corner of the first page to the very bottom right-hand corner of the last. Even if there are 10,000 applicants and only two winners will be chosen, the fact is, don't give up your chance with carelessness or lack of effort. Plan your time and do your very best to give yourself a real shot at being the chosen one!

A final word…

Application forms often trigger feelings of hope and excitement in people as they represent the potential to start something new. When it's time to settle down and fill them out, though, feelings of insecurity and uncertainty often take over. If this happens to you, hang in there! Forms, especially those that are several pages long, can be intimidating on the surface; but, taken section by section, you can get through it entirely. Set aside a good amount of time so you don't find yourself rushing and remember that you have resources at your fingertips. Whether you reach out to family and friends, teachers, coaches, or counselors--or even us (by using this link to contact us)--just know that the application form is all about you. When you think about, you actually have all the answers! You can do this!!