You know how high school counselors always tell graduating seniors to apply to scholarships because it is so easy to win free money?
I’m here to tell you it is not.
It’s taken me three years to finally receive a scholarship, just as I am preparing to leave my university and start a new chapter of life.
Unfortunately, I wasn’t one of the kids who received any money from their university. And somehow, FASFA doesn’t think that putting three children through college classifies us as “in need” of financial assistance.
Freshman year, I began applying and searching for a scholarship that seemed applicable to my career goals. When that scholarship didn’t amount to anything, I decided to try again the next year and to add on a few more.
Scholarships are hard. Beyond writing a subjectively amazing essay, you also must meet very specific criteria. So when I reapplied to this same scholarship the second time, I planned ahead and contacted the two people I wanted to write a letter of recommendation months in advance. They both complied and I began writing my essay.
A week before the scholarship deadline, I contacted my references reminding them of the deadline to submit their letters. One said yes. The other did not respond. Who does that? I gave her a few days then contacted her again. No response. Seriously?! Then, the day before, literally hours before the submission deadline, she responded.
At 8 a.m.. as I’m walking into my very first class of the day, I read her text: “Hi…sorry! My computer isn’t working, and I can’t submit your letter.“
That was all. Nothing more. I couldn’t have been more upset and disappointed.
Unfortunately, even though I found a replacement, I still didn’t receive the scholarship. To this day, I am still salty. I truly hope she got her computer fixed because to not have it working for over two months is a serious issue. So is not having the courtesy to let the person depending on you know a few days before the deadline that there will be no letter.
But my junior year finally became the year that I reaped the rewards my high school counselors promised. I spent the past two years scraping by, using up my savings and attending events promising free food.
Thanks to one morphology lecture in my Linguistics class, I know how to properly make nouns into verbs, thus coining the term “scholarshipping.” These are the steps of procrastination and complaining that eventually lead to writing a scholarship essay:
- Complaining about not having enough time
- Conveniently not putting aside enough time to really search
- Whining that you’ll never even get one so why even apply
- Realizing if you have enough time to binge a whole season of Big Little Lies in a day, you have enough time to write 500 words
- Coming to terms with the fact that you really need the financial help, so you open up your laptop and start typing
Thanks to my awful record at applying to scholarships, I didn’t feel too jazzed about writing this essay. But, reluctantly, I started making a list of all the scholarships to apply to, marking deadlines and looking at essay prompts. And honestly, it wasn’t that bad. It actually turned out to be pretty easy to manage, even while keeping up with my Netflix shows.
Fall semester, I settled on 11 different scholarships all pertaining to my current major, class rank and career interests. I scoured the criteria. As far as I could tell, I was qualified. (Helpful hint: Universities typically offer a search engine like this where you can literally narrow scholarship search results). Technically all that was left was writing one essay that introduced myself to the awarding committee.
A quick Google search taught me how to write a great scholarship essay: make it personal and heartfelt. Unfortunately, elaborating on how I’ve been influenced by several strong independent women and how all of my volunteer work with children lead me to want a career in education, was not enough to satisfy the selection committee.
Because slowly after that November deadline came and passed, so did my hopes to ever win a scholarship. I guess I shouldn’t have expected it to be so easy. I received update after update that I was: not qualified, not selected or my essay was still under consideration (later becoming not selected).
Scholarship rejection really sucks—it feels like college admissions all over again.
But I tried again Spring Semester, this time applying to 10 scholarships. With a few more experiences to pull from, I felt a little less discouraged applying. Next thing I know, I’m sitting in a rolling chair, signing my name on an attendance sheet, staring across the table at some bug-eyed first-year student looking back at me. I don’t know how I ended up at this scholarship writing workshop. But it turned out to be helpful.
The woman enthusiastically elaborating upon her own success at earning enough scholarship money to put her through all of her undergraduate education (sounding like a great candidate for a high school counselor), told us one helpful thing making this worth my time: Apparently, even if university scholarships give a general prompt, do not submit the same exact copy. Make a few intentional changes.
And that’s exactly where I went wrong the first time.
After rewriting my essay and visiting tutors at San Diego State University’s Writing Center Resource, I submitted seven different versions of my essay to all 10 scholarships.
All that was left to do now was submit everything and wait patiently. The selection committee likes to take their time.
The deadline was February 8. I thought nothing would come of this. But, so far: I have not been selected for three, for various reasons, four essays are still being reviewed, and one scholarship, with a later deadline still needs an essay and more revisions.
Drumroll, please! Thanks to hard work, determination and perseverance, I was awarded a scholarship of as of March 8!
For the record, I still really hate scholarships. They take hard work and there’s no guarantee that it’ll pay off. But I realized that the second you give in to the lies and thoughts that encouraged you to not believe in yourself and procrastinate, that’s the moment you stop achieving.
To “scholarship” requires planning, prepping, evaluating accomplishments, writing, checking eligibility, rewriting, keeping up with deadlines and editing again. But regardless of the award amount or even if you are awarded, it’s about growth and learning. I sure did. The next time I apply to more scholarships, I will start off strong and remember to add variety to all of my essay submissions.