Scholarship essays are certainly about self-expression, and lots of applications ask open-ended questions about how you, the forward-thinking leader of tomorrow, might solve today’s problems. That gives you full license to come out with your ideas on how to change things, and in so doing, you’ll probably find yourself pointing out the flaws of society — i.e., the things that need to be changed. But be careful about getting on a “high horse” and sounding too judgmental or preachy, or giving the impression that solutions to the world’s problems are obvious.
Let me point out why this is important. There are legions of intelligent young people out there, but maturity eludes many of them. Intelligence is cheap. Maturity is priceless. If I had to choose a single most important quality in scholarship winners, it would be maturity. Show maturity in your essays and you’ll be much more likely to bring home a check.
Why is this? It’s because you’re headed into a make-or-break stage of your life when you hit college. The things you do there — even seemingly small things — will have an immense, life-altering effect on your life. And it’s maturity, not raw intelligence, that is your key to handling those situations successfully. You may be a wizard at literature or science or economics or whatever, but if you can’t handle the pressures of the world, you’re likely to flame out and not meet the goals you have for yourself right now.
As scholarship judges, we don’t want to give money to people who are going to flame out. We want to give money to the ones who are going to make it. Hence, we look for and place great value on maturity. Got it? OK.
So, how do we tell who’s mature and who’s not? Well, it’s an inexact science, to be sure. But one of the hallmarks of maturity in young people is their ability to balance their own big ideas with the knowledge that the world is complex, and that they still have a lot to learn. The world is a complex place, and solutions to society’s most difficult problems are hard to find. That doesn’t mean you can’t help solve them someday; it just means that, if we’re talking about a real problem, it’s not going to be easy to solve.
With that in mind, if you catch yourself writing overly simplistic phrases such as, “If more people would just…” or “The world would be a better place if we would just wake up and realize,” remember that the problems you’re talking about probably don’t have solutions as simple as you think. I’m not positive, but few major problems have ever been solved by a collective bunch of folks all spontaneously “waking up and realizing” anything. Your scholarship judges are educated and know this all too well. Preachy proposals will likely lead to some eye-rolling when your essay is being read, and that’s not good for you.