Don’t quote pop-culture icons.

We’ll talk more about quotes as this book goes on, but here’s a good start. If you’re going to use a quote, do yourself a favor by not extracting your quote from the pages of Us magazine. No Madonna, no Tupac, no Michael J. Fox, no Arnold (even though he’s the governor now). It’s not that they and their counterparts have never said anything inspirational – they all have. But remember that your audience in the committee is likely much older than you and probably sees Tupac and Madonna in quite a different light than you.

When you quote people from pop culture, it makes you look shallow and poorly educated. It makes you look like you glean your philosophy of life from gossip websites and reality shows, which will not impress your scholarship judges. This may be unfair, of course — hey, for all I know, Stephen Hawking is inspired by Ludacris and reads Perez Hilton thrice daily — but that’s life, and that’s how you’re perceived.

Not to mention that the legacy of pop-culture icons can change from day to day. For instance, three years ago you may have used a quote from Mel Gibson that sounded very dignified and profound. However, after his DUI arrest and anti-Semitic tirade, that same quote will be viewed very differently. And once you’ve put it on paper and sent it in, you can’t change it.

You’re safer using a quote by a historical figure – the quote will be time-tested and the speaker’s legacy secure. Plus, it’ll make you look like you actually know some history, which is a lot more rare among scholarship applicants than it used to be.

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