When you think of a scholarship committee, what do you think of? What do you see in your mind? If you’re like most of us, you see somewhere between 5 and 10 middle-aged academic types sitting around a large table, giving each essay a great deal of scrutiny, debating with one another the merits of each applicant. Except, of course, when your essay comes up for review, in which case you imagine them all agreeing on how exceptional and wonderful you are, and lamenting that they don’t have a few thousand more dollars to toss your way.
Now, I’m not saying this never happens — sometimes, somewhere, I’m sure, committees do sit down at such tables and review applications together, somewhere in between lively discussions of Chaucer’s influence on Shakespeare and the implications of the war on terror on globalization. Much of the time, though, that’s not the case. Why not? Well, this is something you’re going to hear over and over again throughout this book, so get used to me saying this: Committee members are busy people, just like all other people in the world. Allow me a tiny tangent here to explain what I mean:
Everyone’s busy. Seriously, I mean it, everyone. Kids of every age are busy with school, activities and friends. College students are busy with class, activities and of course, their social lives. Adults are busy with their jobs, friends, spouses/significant others and children. The older you get, the bigger your family gets, the more complicated your job becomes, and the more stuff you have to obsess about. Even retired people are busy. What’s the most common question you hear people asking someone who’s retired? It’s this: “Are you keeping busy?” Even though these folks (usually) are no longer working or raising families and are finally in the stage of life where they can kick back a little, we still expect them to keep busy! And they do not disappoint: usually, when asked, retirees assure us that they are indeed staying busy, even if it’s busy napping, golfing and being nagged by their spouses.
So there you have it — everyone’s busy already, even without volunteering to be a scholarship judge. For those of us who actually DO volunteer to be a scholarship judge, then, life is quite a bit busier, even. Judging thousands of essays is an enormous task — a task stacked on top of all the other responsibilities in our lives: our day jobs (and our night jobs, for some of us), spending time with our families, etc.
For some reason, though, we tend to imagine scholarship committees in a vacuum. They’re perfectly unbiased and fair (much more on that subject later) and they always choose the most accomplished applicant without much difficulty or struggle, always with plenty of time on their hands to spare.
I’m here to tell you: it ain’t so.
Ever wonder why the essays you submit are never returned to you? No, it’s not because they’ve been rushed to the Smithsonian Institute for Incredible Essays. It’s highly likely that it’s got barbecue stains on it because the judge was reading it over lunch at a restaurant, or it has scribbling all over it because it was accidentally used as a piece of scratch paper during the judging, or it’s got a perfect “coffee circle” on it because the judge decided to use it as a coaster. Maybe it was accidentally shredded when it mistakenly ended up on a stack of junk mail bound for the paper shredder.
All of these are distinct possibilities. Why? Because scholarship judges are extremely busy people.