Flinn Scholar Applicants

How to Build a Great Application

The Flinn Scholarship application features many components that all play a role in the selection process.

When the final decisions are made, we only select students we believe we really know. Be yourself.

Objective criteria such as grade-point average, test scores, and class rank play a part in the Flinn Scholarship selection process, but they are not the sole basis for our decisions.

We evaluate a student’s academic achievement, leadership and involvement, service to the community, ability to communicate, and personal characteristics. Each of these factors is an important part of the holistic picture that you present to us.

The sections below will introduce you to the Flinn Scholarship application. Each section briefly describes what is required and offers some insight into how our reviewers will consider your responses. This is not a roadmap for a successful application, but rather a means to assist you in thinking about how best to present yourself to us.


  • Forms that collect biographical and family data; information about current studies, extracurricular activities, honors and awards, and employment;
  • Three essay questions and five short-answer questions; 300-word maximum per essay question;
  • Two teacher recommendations;
  • A report from your high school’s academic counselor, submitted separately by your counselor (and, at the option of that academic counselor, a recommendation if he or she knows you well enough to provide one);
  • A copy of your transcript, uploaded by your counselor in conjunction with your counselor report;
  • Copies of your SAT and/or ACT score reports, sent directly to the Flinn Scholars Program by ACT/College Board (enter Code 2175).

Application Tips

  • Biographical Data and Family Information
    You will not be eliminated from the process based on your high school, where your parents work, or where your siblings went to school. We seek to establish some context to understand you as a person before we learn more about you as a student.
  • Career and Academic Interests
    We do not have a pre-determined expectation of your academic or career path. We require that you apply to at least one Arizona university, but we do not have a preference among them, as ASU, NAU, and UA all have world-class programs well matched to students with specific interests. You are treated the same whether or not you have applied to universities outside Arizona. If you have applied to a university outside Arizona under an Early-Decision program, you have pledged to attend that university if accepted. If that is the case for you, we ask that you do not apply for the Flinn Scholarship.
  • Academic Profile

    We look for students who challenge themselves, so we recommend taking advantage of honors, Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate, and/or Cambridge courses your school offers. The courses you take during your senior year may not appear on your transcript, so we need you to tell us what courses you are and will be pursuing. We also value students who take a full schedule their senior year, which tells us that they do not wish to miss an opportunity to learn. If you are in high school part-time because you are taking community-college courses, or pursuing an internship with the rest of your day, please indicate that in your list of current-year high-school and college courses.

  • Activities and Involvement

    In part, the Flinn Scholarship exists to encourage student leaders to remain in Arizona and contribute to their university and civic communities. The best way to predict the quality of a student’s future involvement is to examine the quality of their activities during high school. We seek students who pursue their interests, develop their talents, value service, and set an example for their peers through school and community activities. In addition to listing roles you might have held in a particular organization, explain what you achieved, what kind of impact this organization has had on you as well as your impact on the organization. Regarding personal hobbies, offer specific examples. “Reading” and “hiking” do not tell a reviewer very much; but “reading Murakami and Pamuk novels” and “hiking the North Kaibab trail” begin to fill in the gaps in our understanding of you.

  • Employment
    List your academic-year employment, if any, in this section rather than including it with other community activities. If you have worked while going to school, tell us about your employment and why you pursued a job. You can account for summertime employment in the “Summer” portion of the Activities section.
  • Distinctions and Honors
    Be sure to spell out or (briefly) explain any unusual terminology or acronyms associated with awards. It may be helpful to also indicate the size or competitiveness of the applicant/nominee pool from which you were chosen. You may invite your counselor or a teacher to discuss a particular honor as part of a letter of recommendation.
  • Essays

    The essay responses you write (and to a lesser extent the short-answer questions) are probably the most important part of your application. They provide a crucial opportunity to differentiate yourself in a meaningful way from other applicants. An essay’s distinctiveness comes from your thoughtfulness, an authentic narrative, and a creative and persuasive voice. To be invited for an interview, your written application must compel a reviewer to say, “I have to meet this student in person.” Personalize your essays with your experiences and your beliefs. We seek Scholars who care and think deeply about issues and can express and explain their views with conviction, even to audiences that may disagree with them.

    This must be your work—not a teacher’s work and not your parent’s work. Do not let someone, who most assuredly cares about you, rewrite your first draft, borrow your keyboard for a minute to give your essay a new focus, or add the perfect ending. Essays that are written by committee are easier to spot than you might guess.

  • Disclosures
    In this section you may identify any other issues we should know about. You must also agree to the legal terms of submitting your information to the Flinn Scholars Program, and you and your parent or guardian must both (electronically) sign.
  • Recommendations

    The counselor report includes completion of an online form, including an upload of the applicant’s high-school transcript and, optionally, submission of a recommendation—only if he or she knows you well enough to provide one. We also require two recommendations from high-school teachers. When you register your recommenders in the final section of the application, an email message is sent to each of them with instructions for accessing and completing the recommendation. To ensure that they receive those instructions, please tell them in advance to expect the email and follow up to make sure they receive it. It is courteous to do so and it prevents last-minute scrambling to complete a letter. This is particularly important since some schools and districts have aggressive email spam protection and firewalls. The earlier you request a letter, the better. Many counselors and teachers will want to discuss your application with you before they write. Students who request recommendations early also avoid the rush of requests for recommendations that inevitably take place later in the year. You might suggest that they consult here for suggestions on how to be effective advocates for you.

    Give your recommenders plenty of information. Tell them who else is writing your recommendations, in case they’d like to compare notes. Provide information about your activities and awards. And do not be afraid to invite them to write about something in particular. Recommendations, like essays, are most effective when they are specific and personal. If one of your papers or lab projects particularly impressed a teacher, remind your teacher of the specifics. If you still have an assignment bearing the teacher’s enthusiastic notes, refresh his or her memory with a copy. If in a particularly difficult time in your life a counselor or teacher helped you, tell him or her whether it’s okay to write about it. Help your recommenders show us what you’re like in the classrooms and hallways of your school.

    The application season is an incredibly demanding time for your teachers and counselors; they deserve advance notice if you would like them to write recommendations. We encourage students to make polite inquiries as the deadline approaches to confirm that the teachers and counselors have been able to submit their recommendations.

  • High-school Teacher Recommendations
    Teachers who write your recommendations should possess the best understanding of your academic performance and your involvement at the school. If they have also advised your work in an activity, they are welcome to include that information with their assessment, but we want their focus to be on your intellectual acuity and agility. Coaches or community figures cannot give us the same information as a teacher at your school, but they may know you best in other ways. If this is the case, encourage such individuals to present their observations and feedback to your teacher or counselor, who may choose to integrate their statements into his or her recommendation.
  • Counselor Recommendation
    The counselor recommendation can be a very useful part of your application. If the counselor does not know you well enough to submit a recommendation for you, they will only be required to complete the counselor’s report. Your counselor has the ability to incorporate information or quotes about you from other sources, such as teachers, coaches, or community figures that know you well. Your counselor can also discuss further the honors, awards, or experiences you could only mention briefly in your application. As with teachers, take the time to sit down with your counselor to discuss your application. Bring a copy of your work for him or her to review, and talk about additional information that the counselor could share in the recommendation. This teamwork will result in a much more cohesive and effective application package.
  • Questions
    You may send questions about this process at any time to


  • How can I prepare for the application process?

    Competition is more rigorous for the Flinn Scholarship than for even the most-selective colleges and universities; we receive more than 850 applications and award 20 scholarships—an award rate of less than 3 percent. Our reviewers examine applicants’ academic achievement, leadership and involvement, service to the community, ability to communicate, and personal qualities. We encourage you to devote yourself to your studies, your extracurricular interests, and service to your community. Start your application early and communicate often with the teachers and guidance counselors who will write your recommendations.

  • What if I’m not in the top 5% of my class but I have a 4.0 or close to it? Can I still apply?

    We understand that many students from small or college-prep schools may not be in the top 5% of their classes, despite high academic achievement. We still encourage you to apply.

  • What if my school doesn’t report a class rank?
    Your counselor will be able to indicate that your high school doesn’t rank on their recommendation form.
  • Can home-schooled students apply for the Flinn Scholarship?
    Yes. The counselor recommendation and transcript are typically provided by the parent who took primary responsibility for the student’s education. That recommendation must provide information about the curriculum and home-schooling approach. The other two recommendations must be from persons who taught the student at an accredited institution: high school, community college, or university. We must receive independent assessment of the student’s academic and social performance in a group context.
  • What is the latest SAT or ACT exam that will count for the application?

    The last exams that count for the Class of 2019 Flinn Scholarship are the September 8, 2018, ACT and the October 6, 2018, SAT. October SAT scores will not be available until after our application deadline, but if you have designated code 2175 on your score sheet, your scores will be considered.

  • Should I take both the SAT and the ACT?
    We require only one of these standardized tests and will gauge your eligibility based on the higher of the two sets of scores. If you take multiple SATs or ACTs, we will “superscore” them. (For instance, if your SAT scores are 600 Evidence-Based Reading & Writing/700 Mathematics on your first exam, and 670 Evidence-Based Reading & Writing/690 Mathematics on your second exam, we will count your score as 670 Evidence-Based Reading & Writing/700 Mathematics.)
  • What about the SAT Subject Tests?
    We do not consider the SAT Subject Tests (SAT II) in our process.
  • How do I have my test scores forwarded to the Scholars Program?
    Fill in code 2175 on the standardized test score sheet or send score report after registration from your online account. We will also accept test scores that appear on your official high-school transcript. To be considered, you must have taken the SAT or ACT before our submission deadline. Scores from the September 8, 2018, ACT and the October 6, 2018, SAT will be considered if you have designated code 2175 on your score sheet or had them sent directly.
  • Are writing scores on the ACT or the SAT required?
    We do not consider the writing section of the ACT or the essay section of the SAT.
  • Are Advanced Placement or community-college courses important?
    Yes. Taking such courses shows evidence of pursuing a challenging academic program. Transcripts reflecting college work and AP test scores must be included as part of your final application, and we must receive them on or before the application deadline. If your high-school transcript does not automatically indicate the scores you have earned for your AP exams, you should request that the College Board send them to us directly, using Code 2175 for the Flinn Scholars Program.
  • Does it matter what I list as my potential major or career interests?
    No. People intending any field of study and career can make outstanding contributions to their community, the state of Arizona, and the world.
  • Do my recommendations have to be from high-school teachers?
    Yes (with the sole exception being for home-schooled applicants). You may not substitute a letter from a family member, community member, or leader of your faith community.
  • Can I submit more than two recommendations from teachers?
  • Which teachers provide the best recommendations?
    Teachers who know you well will be able to speak more convincingly and in much more detail about your various strengths, experiences, and potential. There is no preference for teachers from specific subject areas.
  • How do my teachers and guidance counselors submit recommendations online?
    As part of your application, you will provide the names and email addresses of your three recommenders. They will each receive an email with instructions for completing your recommendation. Your counselor will also submit a copy of your transcript. Please notify your teachers and guidance counselor to expect email correspondence related to the Flinn Scholarship.
  • Can I accept other scholarship awards and the Flinn Scholarship?

    At any time, you may accept scholarships offered by organizations separate from Arizona’s universities. With respect to awards offered by Arizona’s universities, the Scholars Program maintains certain restrictions—in cooperation with the universities—to prevent “bidding wars” for Flinn Scholars. In most cases, well before your appointment as a Flinn Scholar-designate, Arizona universities will have offered you a merit scholarship package that includes the cash value of tuition. You keep that award when you are named a Flinn Scholar; the tuition component represents the university’s contribution to your Flinn Scholarship. (You do not get a second tuition scholarship for being named a Flinn Scholar.)

    Up to the point at which you are named a Flinn Scholarship finalist, the universities may offer—and you may accept—institutional, merit-based scholarships. After you are named a Flinn Scholarship finalist, any additional university merit scholarships must be conditional—an offer contingent on you not being a Flinn Scholarship recipient.

    If you are a Flinn Scholarship finalist, but do not ultimately become a Flinn Scholar, the universities may offer—and you may accept—additional merit scholarships.

    There is one exception to this policy: the offer by one of the universities of a scholarship for designation as a National Merit Scholarship semi-finalist, finalist or National Merit Scholar by the National Merit Scholarship Corporation under its guidelines and selection process. Flinn Scholarship recipients may accept these awards.

    During the fall semester, the universities should explain to all National Merit candidates the terms and dollar value of the available awards. The universities are bound by those statements (i.e., X dollars if you are a National Merit semi-finalist; Y dollars if a finalist; Z dollars if a National Merit Scholar). National Merit notifies the universities late in the spring of the status of its awardees, and so activates the offer made by the universities before Flinn Scholars were named.

    Need-based financial aid is based on an analysis of your federal financial-aid application; we do not consider need in our evaluations. The final analysis of need-based financial assistance for Flinn Scholarship recipients should take into account the support received through the Flinn Scholarship.

  • What if I am applying early to a college or university?

    We discourage students who are applying through a binding Early Decision process to an out-of-state college or university from applying for the Flinn Scholarship. (The one exception is the Questbridge Scholarship Program. Questbridge applicants are welcome to apply for the Flinn Scholarship.) Early-decision applicants commit to attend a particular institution if accepted; such students would not be able to accept the Flinn Scholarship if offered.

    We do, however, urge you to apply early to all three Arizona universities, as applying early may increase your chances of earning university-based scholarships besides the Flinn Scholarship. Arizona’s universities do not offer binding Early Decision options.

  • Why do you need to know the specific out-of-state schools that I have applied to?
    Knowing the schools you are considering helps the Flinn Scholars Program and university recruiters understand the undergraduate environment and opportunities you seek. This allows for more effective communication, and may also help reviewers better understand your academic and career aspirations.
  • What if I don’t have access to the Internet to submit my application online? Can I mail or fax my application to the Foundation?
    Your guidance counselor or teachers may be able to help you locate internet facilities for completing the application. Only under extraordinary circumstances will we make alternative arrangements. If you believe your situation is unique, please contact us at or call 602-744-6802.
  • Can you tell me the status of my application?
    It may require up to two weeks after the application deadline for Flinn Scholars Program staff to match transcripts and scores for all applications received. Once this process is complete, staff will contact applicants with missing transcripts or test scores, and they will be given an opportunity to submit those items.
  • What is the application timeline?
    Mid-August: Applications available.
    Early-October: Application deadline.
    Mid-December: 75 semifinalists notified.
    Early January: Semifinalist interviews.
    Late January: 40 finalists notified.
    Early March: Finalist interviews.
    Mid-March: 20 finalists offered award.
    Mid-April: Deadline to accept offer.
  • What feedback on my application or interview can I expect?
    We do not provide information regarding an individual’s performance to applicants, their families, or their teachers and counselors, during or after our selection process. All materials applicants submit, and all material generated during the review process (i.e., readers’ and interviewers’ notes) remain confidential, as do students’ teacher and counselor recommendations.
  • Can the Scholarship be deferred?

    Flinn Scholars may take a leave of absence from the Scholarship for up to four semesters, or two academic years. The semesters may, but need not, be taken consecutively.

    A student must complete one academic year in the Scholars Program, immediately following high-school graduation, before he or she is eligible for leave.

    The Flinn Scholars community, a critical element of the program, develops around shared experiences from the time of selection, through the undergraduate years, and beyond.

  • What does the Flinn Scholars Program expect of Flinn Scholars?
    Scholars submit an annual narrative about their coursework, on- and off-campus activities, career plans, and overall college experience. They must maintain a 3.2 cumulative grade-point average and participate in at least two Foundation-related activities each academic year.
  • Am I required to attend the group seminar to China?

    Yes. The three-week summer seminar in China—including time in the capital city of Beijing and a rural village in the Guizhou province—is attended by every Scholar after their freshman year. The Flinn Scholars summer seminar complements and broadens a Scholar’s field of study, provides experiences beyond degree programs, and provides opportunity to experience the culture and history of other locales and people. In addition, Scholars choose at least one other individual travel experience.

    (The Flinn Scholars Program will consider a compelling circumstance that would prevent the student from participating.)