What Jim Carrey taught me about scholarship advice

Happy Friday, everyone.

One of my all-time favorite movies is “Dumb and Dumber.” When I got my first job out of college and was so broke that my bed was actually my couch, I used to pop in the VHS tape (remember those?) on my tiny living room TV and listen to it as I went to sleep every night. Consequently, I can pretty much quote every line from the movie.

One of my favorites is when Lloyd (Jim Carrey) has just been royally chewed out by Harry (Jeff Daniels) for accidentally driving 400 miles *away* from their destination of Aspen, Colorado. Harry is so mad that he jumps out of the van and starts walking along the road by himself, even though they’re in the middle of a cornfield in the boonies of Nebraska. Lloyd is crestfallen, and screams after Harry:

WELL EXCUSE ME, MR. PERFECT! I guess I forgot that you never, ever make a mistake!” And then he starts to blubber and cry a little, and Harry looks like a big meanie.

That’s how I feel sometimes when I’m giving out scholarship advice to students like you. I mean, just from memory, I can rattle off 20 or 30 big mistakes that will completely screw up your essay and get you eliminated from competition. And they’re all legit and you need to know them, but I also know that it’s hard to listen to a guy sometimes when it seems like all he can do is bark “Don’t do this!” and “Don’t do that!”

So in this email, we’re going to dial it back a little. Let’s be honest here — no one’s perfect, and the “perfect essay” has still eluded me after many years of judging and paying out scholarships. But the great thing about a scholarship essay (or a resume, or an audition, or an interview) is that you don’t actually have to *be* perfect — you just have to *look* like you’re perfect at that one critical moment in time when the bigwigs decide who wins the big money and who goes home with pocket lint.

The emails I send you are about getting to that point where your on-paper excellence can deliver the knockout blow to everyone who’s trying to compete with you, but we’re gonna take it slow. Today, we’re going to choose one, and only one thing for you to worry about: Spelling everything right.

Easy, right? Well, judging by a lot of the essays we receive, not really. Most people are not perfect spellers, and that’s not a problem. But on a scholarship application, you do have to look like a perfect speller. Remember, a scholarship application is your polished and rehearsed best effort — you’re putting your Best Foot Forward. Your toughest competitors will be doing exactly the same thing, I promise you, so you have to do it, too. Don’t even crack open the door to defeat, because if you do, a better-prepared student will kick the door down and leave you behind.

Not a great speller? That really doesn’t matter, actually. What matters is that you’re resourceful enough to hunt down those who are and polish up your work before sending it along. Ask a parent. Ask an English teacher — any English teacher, even if it’s not your English teacher. Tell them you’re applying for a scholarship and you want to put your best foot forward, and you’d like their expertise in proofreading your writing. Any teacher worth his/her salt will admire your desire to excel (it’s rarer than you think) and ought to gladly assist. If not, tell ’em I said they’re a lousy excuse for an educator, then move on to the next English teacher. It won’t take long.

I’ve written a longer blog entry on the spelling issue, and it involves a colorful story of a student berating me, Harry-and-Lloyd style, for correcting her spelling. It’s sad and hilarious at the same time, and I hope you enjoy it. Have a great weekend!


All the best,

2 thoughts on “What Jim Carrey taught me about scholarship advice”

  1. People shouldn’t be saying some of the things they write to you, because I think you are being totally honest and helpful. Right or wrong, I think the ease of applying for scholarships online has created an atmosphere of casualty to the process. I probably shouldn’t say this, but I’ve applied for a handful of scholarships over the last 6 months or so, always at the spur of the moment. Granted I’m not applying for $10,000 scholarships, but although I still use a spellchecker and proofread to the best of my ability at 3am, it is all way more informal than the scholarships I applied for 20 (gasp) years ago. You are reaching people, many are listening. Others are frustrated, and I know you probably can see through that. Just my thoughts…

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