Scholarship Screwup #3: Cry Me a River

Hardships: We all have them, right? If you read as many scholarship applications as I do, you’d certainly think so. With college costs spiraling upward every year and families pinched for cash to pay for it all, students are going all-out to make sure the committees understand how rough they have it.  But the truth is, we don’t all have hardships. We’re all busy, we all have pesky annoyances and long to-do lists, that’s for sure. But we don’t all have true hardships. Let me clarify the difference:

Zip it, kid.

* If your parents were killed when you were a baby and you were raised in an orphanage, that’s a unique hardship. If you were raised in Suburbia and had to share your 2,600 square-foot house with three wild and crazy brothers, that’s not.

* If you had to get a job at age 8 to help your family pay rent, that’s a hardship. If you had to get a job at 16 to pay for your first car, that’s not.

* If you were hit by a BMW and finished your senior year telecommuting from the intensive care unit, that’s a hardship. If you had to take a part-time job at the hospital to fix the body damage you did to your BMW by hitting that other person, that’s not.

Making sense yet? If you mention a hardship in your scholarship application, be sure it’s really a hardship. One thing you’ve got to remember when you’re applying for scholarships is that scholarship committees receive thousands of essays every week from students with thousands of different backgrounds, many of whom come from Third World countries in Africa and Asia. Some have led extremely difficult lives and have overcome obstacles so outlandish that Americans can’t even comprehend them. These are the type of stories that scholarship judges are accustomed to reading. By comparison, American student essays sound a little, well, spoiled and whiny. Here are a couple of examples of people with actual hardships vs. people who are just very busy:

Britney from Eden Prairie: “After running 3-5 miles every night at track practice, sometimes my body is so exhausted when I go home that I can barely finish my homework without falling asleep at my desk.”

Bungu from Ethiopia: “After running seven miles to get to school in the morning, I am so exhausted that I can barely stay awake. If we had desks, I would fall asleep in mine, but we don’t; we study on the cold dirt floor.”

Molly from Oak Park: “As a senior, of course, I have an extremely hectic schedule. Of course I’m in school all day Monday through Friday, but on Tuesday and Thursday nights I have advanced piano lessons for 90 minutes as soon as I get home from school, on Wednesdays I have church group and I work the breakfast shift at Burger King on Saturdays and Sundays. I endure this difficult life because I know that it will pay off in the end.”

Mbutu from Eritrea: “On Tuesdays, I walk 12 miles to the refugee camp at sunrise to receive our large bag of rice and flour from the U.N. so that my village can eat. Because the bag weighs 45 pounds, it takes all day and night Wednesday to return home with the bag. On Thursday, I pass out from exhaustion while my neighbors begin to cook flatbread for the children…” And so on.

If it sounds like I’m making light of other people’s misery, I’m not. These are pretty much spot-on descriptions of some of the essays I’ve read. So if you haven’t had to overcome insurmountable odds, that’s fine — that’s the case for most of us lucky enough to be born in the in the United States, at least. But don’t go overboard trying to convince the committee that your life is truly difficult if, in fact, it’s really only busy.

Now, a point of clarification: This doesn’t mean that just because you weren’t orphaned by Sudanese warlords at age 9 that you can’t win a scholarship by talking about any challenges you’ve met. You can and should talk about those challenges. Judges love to hear about challenges overcome. Just keep your perspective and resist the urge to call these challenges “hardships” or something similarly melodramatic, because trust me — we’ve read about every imaginable type of hardship, and we know and appreciate the definition of the word.

Until next time, good luck!

96 thoughts on “Scholarship Screwup #3: Cry Me a River”

  1. Umm… Do you have something against Africans? Why do the kids with the hardships have to be from African countries…? Some point attempting to be made? It would have been better for you just to use some U.S. cities–you wouldn’t seem so offensive that way.

  2. Brittany (not sure why you’re calling yourself Tiffany over on this post, but oh well):

    “Why do the kids with the hardships have to be from African countries?”

    Seriously? Do you really not get my point? I’ll restate it for you: Kids in the poorest of the world’s countries, many of which happen to be heavily concentrated on the continent of Africa, endure more suffering than those in the U.S. cities that you suggest I use as examples. That’s the entire point of this post. Using examples from American cities would negate the entire theme of the post.

    If you’re offended by the truth, then this is NOT the site for you.

  3. I would love to see some critiques (and solutions) of real submissions as well as some exemplars. Does your book contain these? I’m sure there are barriers to making these public.

    I’ve applied to several scholariships and fellowships, with little success (I got an honorable mention on one fellowship submission- I’d like to consider that a success). Though it is unlikely that I will receive feedback on my own submissions, I think it would be helpful to see the kind of comments one would provide given the time and opportunity. Essentially, I’d love to be a fly on the wall in a meeting of judges reviewing the the papers who make is to the finals and semi-finals.

    Anyway, thanks for the tips.


  4. Needs Clarification

    “Just keep your perspective and resist the urge to call these challenges “hardships” or something similarly melodramatic, because trust me — we’ve read about every imaginable type of hardship, and we know and appreciate the definition of the word.”

    So, let me get this straight. The whole point about this post was to discourage the use of the word “hardships” unless we were, of course, orphaned by Sudanese warlords at age 9.

    Okay, that’s some good advice, but better yet, I want to know how to avoid these questions that say: “Discuss any hardships you may have overcome:”. Those are killer questions! Quite frankly, I don’t blame Britney from Eden Prairie, because that may very well have been the only ‘hardship’/challenge she has had to face.

    No doubt most kids growing up in the U.S. have had a better life, but your post, despite the last paragraph, suggests that none of us have any chance of getting a scholarship.

    I’m by far not blaming individuals who have had a hard life, but it’s hard to compete with someone who’s walked 12 miles to school in the snow and rain for their whole life with 1/2 of a leg. My point: why should I bother filling out for a scholarship? I’m not living on dirt, but I certainly can’t afford the cost of college… then again, I’m lucky to have both of my legs and had a comfy ride to and fro’ school.

    The only hardships I ever had to face were long nights writing pointless English papers (I am now an Engineer, fyi), and I doubt I’d get much sympathy from the judges if I were to write about these “challenges overcome”.

    How can I gain sympathy from the Judges about something that simply isn’t there. The bottom line is that I can’t afford college, and so I need money, hence why I am filling out this scholarship. I have both legs, two parents, an old family-car which drove me to school, and I have a roof over my head. It’s impossible to get a scholarship!

    Sorry for my own sarcasm, but as opposed to writing an entire paper on why you shouldn’t use the word ‘hardship’ unless you really were faced with life-threatening conditions, why not write how to answer those tough questions which simply cannot be answered by the majority of Americans, who, despite our great fortunes, can’t fork over several thousands of dollars a year for a college.

  5. Josh, I completely agree with you!
    Tiffany: it is clearly stated, that american students generally do not even realize how lucky they are. You, guys, have probably never seen real hardships..and talking about ” a poor american student whose parents only bought him a Toyota instead of a BMW for his graduation” just makes me laugh. And I am not even from Africa- I am from Russia . So yeah, remember how lucky you are and enjoy the ride=)

  6. Nicole: Thanks! I try hard not to push the book in my advice in these comment pages — but since you did ask, yes — the book includes a lot of real-life, well-done essays that we hold up as examples. We don’t do bad examples in full, since those would be delicate to say the least in getting permission to use those. 🙂

    Needs Clarification: This probably one of the most common responses I get in people who email me personally. Definitely don’t blow the above tip out of proportion: it’s definitely not the case that you can’t win anything unless you’re an African war orphan. And remember the all-time, trumps-everything, rule no. 1 — follow the directions. If the committee asks you to discuss hardships, then you best discuss hardships, in detail!

    The tip above really refers to the sourest of whiners who really angle for the sympathy vote *in a free-form essay situation* where they weren’t specifically *asked* to write about hardships. I hope that clarifies a little bit?

    Thanks everyone! I answer comments as quickly as I can, so keep them coming.

  7. I am glad so many got the point of this… this was simply to tell people to quit whining about fake problems.. except he was obviously trying to be nice about it!

    I understand that few people have had an ideal life. At the same time, I dont understand how people are having a difficult time distinguishing hardships from simple misfortune.. or even self created bad luck. By that I mean.. making a poor decision that leads to a consequence that we may not like and they trying to label it a hardship

    I guess I could be a perfect example. I made a poor decision to get involved in a relationship and had a child at just 18. I did not finish high school and I had to struggle with different odd jobs. I had no family support and it was a very tough 3 years for me. However, I can’t call that a hardship because I put myself in that position.

    I think people should stop whining and hit the books, write the papers, and do the best you can. The thought of paying back a student loans stinks.. but you do what you have to do to get things done.. and that is what is comes down to.

    P.S. I graduate nursing school on Thursday. If I can do it.. you all can to!

  8. this is actually a great piece of advice, not just for writing scholarships, but for going through life as well. i was born in the philippines, came here at the age of 9. one of the first things i noticed about the kids i first met at school was that they would complain ALOT especially about things that i thought were cool (i.e. towards the end of the school year when it would be blazing hot “its too cold in here” because of the air conditioning)…i would keep the thought to myself of “how can she complain about the a.c.??? in the philippines its hot as h*ll, any person would be considered rich to have an air condition running throughout their whole house! then as years went by, i saw the same trait in grown people and just came to the conclusion that, the more privileges/gains/advantages, the bigger the problem.

  9. This is absolutely hilarious….
    I can remember some of my papers while reading it and this is really helpful
    I dont think its too brutal…

  10. After reading the passage my first thought is not to apply for any scholarship any more. This is because there are still many people living in very poor condition, they even do not have sufficient food and clothing and live in huts or just some shelters. When I was a kid in Hong Kong my family was very poor and we had to obtain flour or rice and old clothes from organization operated by Christains.

    However after I got problem with walking due to a fall from hiking in year 2000 I cannot do my usual job (classroom teaching for engineering work) and I took the chance to learn something else so that I may be able to use other way to do such job. So I completed master study in education early this year and would like to continu with doctoral study in fall this year. Nervertheless I do not have sufficient fund after the master study to carry on doctoral study and would like to apply scholarship for that. Topic of my research is “Online Learning for Maintenance Workers”. I do hope this study will give a solution for those workers for learning without disruption to their daily work.

  11. Mr. Josh,

    Yes, we all have problems and some are exactly the same problem just different outcomes.. Now, I do not know what exactly your problem is about helping others get an education because they “cry a river” of problems. Well my god isn’t thats the reason students apply for scholarships. Now, if you want dramatic stories for a college student well there all the same as you had mention. You will never here nothing different. Mr. Josh, you need to step back and re-evaluate why you are a judge for STUDENTS applying for scholarships IT IS FOR FREE MONEY…. If you want dramatic stories go the near by hospital beds, burn centers, nursing homes, and cancer centers that is where you will hear stories of life struggles. Your tone is very condescending and I do not understand how this company can let you put YOUR reading frustrations on the writer. Please go take a vacation because with make this company seem fraudulent about it’s scholarships.

  12. Your last two posts have been fantastic. I’ve never read this type of honest advice about scholarship applications anywhere. Keep up the good work.

  13. I have a question. this is very helpful, as have all these tips. My question is, I don’t want to make myself look like a sad story and be very needy. I have a single mom and my father passed away. I didn’t know how much I should put on an application without seeming desperate. Thank you, and possibly e-mailing back would be very helpful.

  14. That email is a bunch of BS. I understand the point you are trying to make. I see it very clearly and I agree. There are many kids that complain about the hardships that they have in life because they do not realize how good they have it in life. However, there are many students who have not had any hardships that performed extremely well in school and never see any reward for it just because they have not been through a hardship. It is criminal to rob hard working students of scholarships just because of their social standing. Rich or poor, hardships or not, hard working straight A students deserve scholarships more than anyone simply because they are hard working. It should not depend on the parents, financial standing, and especially race, but sadly enough, it does. If a student works hard, they should be rewarded. That is the bottom line.

  15. I believe that what I have been thru falls under the category of a hardship. I realize that we are considered the richest country in the world, and most americans would have empathy on the students over in Africa. However look to your own country, if you think there is not pain and insurmountable suffering here you are blinded to the truth. Sure we may have more resources here than Africa but I myself have been thru molestion, abusives husbands, two divorces due to drug use on their part and the attempt to take my life because of stressors. So if you knew me personally I could spend 2-3 hours explaining my life story. Take for instance in my formidable years I lived in sleezy prostitute ridden motels because my mother was too poor to give us a home. The motel had snails coming thru the walls when I showered. When we were hungry we went across the street and dug in the day old bread and ate the cake and bread because we had no mony to buy anything. In the motel room there were 5 of us and two full beds, one of which was held up by a coffee can. So dont tell me the students in Sudan are the neediest on this continent. Shame on you there is suffering here in the US the difference is it is masked and not visible to all. Where over in Africa there suffering is visible to everyone. America has and always will be there for all races, but lets not forget our own people. I am 43 I served my country with an honorable discharge and my childhood sucked and left its mark too on me. Just like I am sure the lives of the students will stay with them until they take their last breathe. You are shallow in mind to think that only outside the US are those students deserving of grants. That is hog wash, your job as judges are to be fair and equitable in your decisions. If you base your decisions solely on how badly things were for them in AFrica and what they have done to pull themselves up by their bootstraps, then good for them. In your own country you have people that have and are doing the same thing, maybe they are not as poor or maybe they are, and you just assume that. I believe I would benefit from a scholarship from your company, but I see my chances are slim at best to ever recieve any dollar amount from you. I have a disability does that matter no, I am not from Africa, I was molested does that matter to you folks, no I am not from Africa, I am a single mother of 3 with no family, does that matter no I am not from Africa. I suffer from Bipolar 2 which makes learning hard and focusing harder but I am trying. Does that matter no, I am not from Africa. You dont walk the walks of people in America Josh, you posted some ignorant e-mails I agree but not everyone is like that, I AM NOT. There are really some very heavy financial needs in AMERICA so how about you contemplate that.

  16. I am well aware of the difference between hardship and whining. By the rest of the world’s standards Americans are spoiled. So what. This person is clearly anti-American.

  17. When your husband shots himself in the mouth in his new baby’s room and this causes the needy student some prolong pyschology disruption (post tramatic stress disorder) and they are resilient enough to overcome this and find a way to finsh school to provide for there family.

  18. This is ridiculous! I am sorry but yea maybe compared to these children I did not have any kind hardships in my life but that is because i am a middle class white child from america who’s family worked very hard for me to have advantages in life. It’s not my fault I had parents who loved me and made it available for me to do things that kept me “busy” I worked hard all throughout highschool I did everything u can think of to get a scholarship did i recieve one no , but the girl who made poor choices and had a baby when she was 16 did because she had a hardship. Don’t get me wrong it’s great they give kids from third world country scholarships but our country needs to start taking better care of it’s own citizens.

  19. Other than growing up in a dyfunctional family with an abusive dad & an alcoholic mother in an 1800 square foot house with 6 sisters, (I was the oldest), the rest of my life, in comparison to what I have seen in Mexico & Guatemala, is not what one would consider a hardship. I worked for 27 years in a blue collar profession, saved my money, & lived below my means. Now I am living off my savings, taking out loans for school & working towards becoming a nurse. In no way, would I even be considered a hardship case, unless by chance I end up with a major illness, can’t find a job when I graduate & end up welfare. Even then, would that be considered a hardship? No because at least in America you have a fighting chance as opposed to other places in the world.

  20. I do not appreciate how stereotypical these “examples” are. Being Eritrean, I can understand the message of hardships the writer attempted to portray. However, the names that were chosen are far from Eritrean (and I’m pretty sure Bungu is not a name given in Ethiopia); they are stereotypical “African names”. Yes, we must travel several miles both ways to get to higher level schools, so the Ethiopian submission is plausible, but the Eritrean one bothers me a considerable amount. We no longer have refugee camps in Eritrea and if we WERE to obtain “45 pounds of rice and flour” for the village, a child definitely would not be performing that task. An elder would.

    A major scholarship screwup is being too vague, too generic, or too stereotypical. I would have to throw Josh’s submission out.

  21. What are your feelings on overcoming addiction? I am a recovered addict and alcoholic, and while some might say that I created this “hardship” myself, nevertheless my experiences with drugs have been a defining moment in my life. I have been clean for a couple of years, and am very active in the 12-step community helping fellow addicts to recover, but it is difficult to anticipate how someone will respond to my situation, especially a scholarship judge trying to decide if I am worthy of their financial support. Thanks for any help you may be able to provide.

  22. As an experienced judge you surely should know that Americans have “hardships” just like anyone else in the world. I do to a certain degree understand the point that you are trying to make, in that on a larger scale poorer countries (and I say poorer because America isn’t doing that great either) do have a harder time obtaining an education and even the basic necessities of life. That is why, even though I do not have much to give, I give when I can and sometimes when I cannot but I know someone else needs it worse than I do. I send things, to the Philippians, to Africa, etc, but I also give donations to organizations in our own country because there are a lot of people right here at home that really need the help as well. I know for a fact there are many children within 50 miles of me that do not have enough to eat, parents at home, clothes, or supplies for school. There are adults who feel it is impossible to go back to college because they cannot afford it… I even hear stories from educators that I am close to that their students opt to go to summer school because they are guaranteed two meals a day, whereas at home they are not. There are children right here in our country that fail school or drop out because they have to be the parents. I can keep going on and on, but I hope you get the point. Do you honestly not consider these things hardships? I think it is in more abundance here in America than most people realize.
    There are different variations of what a hardship can be whether it is financial, emotional, social, or all of the above. Different things affect different people in different ways. But, is a person considered less worthy because they are American?
    I know myself personally, I have been through things in my life that would give most people nightmares, but I do not speak to hardly anyone about those experiences much less a complete stranger on the internet. I would say that possibly it is just the way I was raised, but I know a lot of people who feel that way. So, maybe it is a different cultural aspect that you do not understand. It’s absurd if you think that you truly know someone, or their situation, just by reading an essay. People can understate or fabricate their situations, and there is no way for you to really know. I agree there are people in America that do not understand how spoiled they are, but is it not possible that a few of these people you are referring to have had a pretty rough go-at-it in life, and do not feel it is necessary or proper to share the details?

  23. Josh, your scholarship screwup notes have been a nice break from schoolwork for me. Thanks for the laugh. It can be discouraging, but some of the responses above, I think at least, are completely disrespectful and unappreciative. You don’t have to be doing any of this, and people can stop reading if they wish. Your recent emails have put a smile on my face and actually encouraged me to apply for one more scholarship, so thanks even if I don’t win.

  24. I came to America in 2002 from Iraq I was wondering if that would be a fit topic for “hardships” considering I had to learn a completely new language and adjust to a whole new life. I will be graduating from high school in 2011 so that would be 9 years…. is that too long to identify it as a “hardship?”

  25. It’s funny how you compared spoiled whiny suburban American kids to third world country kids. There is a DRASTIC difference. I wish you would have added something like: “Shaundra from Chicago: When I walk home, there is always a drug dealer and a group of thugs on the street corner right next to my apartment building. They hassle me, and harass me with their cruel sense of no direction but to the penitentiary, or death. Gun shots muffle the air and pollute my mind with, pain, death and loss. Hoping that one day I will not cry the tears over another dead brother or sister.” To give a little bit more variety to it.

    Needs Clarification: Everything Barsch says you find a conflict with and blow it sky high, I thought people like you were smart enough to know the difference. Obviously not. His point was, find a hardship. The special word here is, hardship. Not “OMG, like, I am so, like, mad because, like, I can’t get the Dolce & Gabana sweatsuit I’ve always wanted!” They wouldn’t mind reading about how you worked hard to be the top of your class and what you had to do to get there. You have to believe in yourself that you deserve the scholarship but don’t forget there is always someone who is in a worst position then you. Remember, hardship. He was making a parody of it but it’s the truth of the matter with teens like that, they need reality checks. 🙂

  26. I’m sorry Annie, but your reply sounds like something Brittany’s mother would say..

    I completely agree with this article, because it is ridiculously annoying to see people complain about something that isn’t a real problem. It IS possible to actually write a winning essay without being melodramatic (and by being realistic) about one’s situation. I know because I’ve done it before. Just because he isn’t sugarcoating the truth doesn’t make him condescending. It would be nice if you could take the advice he gives you instead of ripping his article apart.

  27. How about we help the Afican country by making a scholarship for them and use funding for doctors to go over there to help. How about we lend a hand over to help other people instead of always trying to look good and have an appearance that is so fake. Put your effort into other things not worthless things. What about the people who show partiality towards one another here in America. Put that energy to use and help someone. Stop forming so many clicks and start forming a big heart. It is so easy to get money through gigs, promotions, street teams, people who will donate, modeling, extra work, and marketing. Use your brain a little more and your ambition to get to where you need to go. So what if you work at burger king for a while. Just do your best and use it as a learning experience. People wonder why such a pretty girl work so hard at work when there are others to do the job but wont. I am a hard worker and care about my company even though I just found out I have been getting cheated in my pay checks. I work so hard I didn’t even pay close attention to my checks. I had to stand on corners in Las Vegas heat just to make money for rent. I didn’t have to but I wanted to see how it would be if I actually wasn’t spoiled with all that I have. I was able to pay rent with three gigs I found on the Internet. It was hard because I barely ate anything. People would see me on the corner in a cow costume and they would buy me slurpees and drinks to help out. People in America are friendly and are willing to help too. Lets gear the help in the right direction.

  28. Thanks for the email I usually never read my emails. I am glad I have read. One other thing is here in Vegas I have Ethiopian friends who work here then send money back home. I would like a scholarship that help the students to see what goes on in other countries. An educational scholarship that will help us help others and learn more about other countries. I’d love to help.
    Josh Barsch you seem to have a lot of authority and are able to reach many. This is great! I like to see people who give their opinions and find a collective people to do something about it. You can join my team anytime. I look for opportunities to help others.

  29. Hardships……Im literally living out of my car and barely able to eat everyday and you want to tell me about african americans who have their own problems…I get it everybody has problems, hardships to overcome…then again some do not and it’s a shame that these were some of the first scholarships I’ve applied to and I am now reconsidering even going to college because of that rude reply of an email…what else do you scholarship judges want from us ?? I could be making millions off of my art work….I’ve won so many awards…silver and gold key awards, an american vision award in which only 5 students out of the USA recieved…my artwork was even sent to New York for nationals. Well thx for making my dream a real winner……………………….

  30. ……..i mean seriously you work for a company where students apply for scholarships because they dont have that kind of money to further their education and you a judge of these hardships in which these people need the free money and actually want to do something with their life, want to make a joke of it …”cry me a river”…how professional here we are telling you whats happening and your basicly throwing it back in our faces…….so why even apply….

  31. To Whom It May Concern (basically I believe: Everyone):
    There are times when I truely believe that everyone durning some point of his/her lifetime has cried out “Why me?” or in other cases, “Why not me?”. There will Always be someone less fortunate then otherselves. You just have to remember Always to be thankful for “what you do have”. I am including myself in these statements by the way. Sometimes I forget about others needing more and deserving of more. It is not “just” people of other countries…but it is also people in the United States as well…(perhaps maybe even our neighbors next door).

    Oh yeah, if I wanted to claim hardship or misfortune ober even blame my current situation upon my horrible traumatic childhood…(I think you get the picture!)…Tell me, why should I? I want to move forward. The past is in the past. Done and over with. It has been a challenge…it has made me, I believe, a much more empathetic human being. There are “dream makers” and “dream breakers”.
    I want to help others find their voices And to dream the impossible…then LIVE it.

  32. What a bunch of crap. I don’t want to hear your dribbling about sudan and “hardships”. Maybe affirmative action will solve this problem, I “HOPE” so

  33. seriously do you call your self a judge…hahahahah i find that halarious…you know what you make it seem like the money that were applying for is like 10 thousand dollars ..i dont even want tour god damn money . this is a waste of my time there are many other scholarships out there that i can apply to, your bull shit that your saying about people and hardships has nothing to do with anything just keep it to you self and i truly think that you have a problem against africans. i sujust you keep your racist comments to your self!

  34. wow, lots of respect to you! (finally! someone who understands that most hardships we face are nothing compared to other people’s!) i am so glad you put up these scholarship screwups! (i wont be applied to any colleges yet but its good tips for everything) please keep writing these tips! (My parents don’t speak much english and my counselor at school is not willing to help me too much so these tips are great to keep in mind) and i apoligize for all the nasty comments out there (i know that they are not my responsibility or anything but they are absolutely disgiusting and they are just so ungrateful that they make me want to vomit!) please please keep writing!

    with the most grateful thanks

  35. Charlene Harris

    When I think about my struggle in life I mean no harm when I say this but when I feel like its getting hard on me I’m not thinking about anyone else at the time becaue that’s not going to help my situation nor is going to help theirs. Struggling comes in all shapes in forms one struggle may be greater of course that’s always the case,. but I wouldn’t like to look at it as I shouldn’t say anything about my struggle because someone in Africa didn’t eat or maybe someone’s homeless a struggle is a struggle however you look at it whether it’s in Africa or America.

  36. Nice try, white guy. But Mbutu is not an Eritrean name (try Kenya–btw, the two countries are on *opposite sides* of Africa). Way to stereotype Africans, though: even though you may not like to admit it, Brittany has a point. Also, the Africans most likely to have internet access are not the ones you cite in your examples–refugees.

    If you exagerated third-world horror stories to make a point, fine (it made you look ignorant and myopic, but whatever. You’re the one voluntarily broadcasting your ignorance across the internet). But due to the utterly unrealistic exerpts you used in your post, I suspect you made them up completely.

    That’s not to say that some American highschoolers, who are young and have very limited perspectives, do not overblow their ‘hardships.’ But the nature and veracity of your counterexamples drastically alters the dynamic of your argument.

  37. Kati, K. Esto, Allyson, Graz, Kitolito: Thanks!!

    Annie Pittman: You are entirely wrong. Plenty of dramatic difficult life stories are conveyed in scholarship essays. Plus, as the founder and administrator of more than a dozen scholarship programs, it would be counterproductive for me to hang out in burn centers and nursing homes. No one there wants our scholarships.

    Matt: The death of a parent is nothing you should feel timid or ashamed of writing about. It’s probably the event that will most affect your life from now going forward. Absolutely, mention it all you like.

    Sean: I think you’re trying to say that hardworking students deserve recognition even if they haven’t been through any hardships (which, of course, is a good thing, after all). I agree with you. It’s tough, though, when you’re in competition with other hard workers and high achievers who HAVE been through a hardship. I feel your pain.

    Lisa: I agree with you completely, and I would never knock your story as not being a true hardship just since you’re not from Africa (boy, everyone’s prickly about this Africa thing, aren’t they?). I only mean to point out the particularly spoiled American kids who think any exertion of effort constitutes a hardship.

    Quez: Um, ok.

    Kim Oliver: My goodness, that is terrible. Yes, that’s a hardship all right. No argument here, and if that’s a true story, you have my deepest sympathy.

  38. Nichole: I know what you mean: you are definitely in the Bermuda Triangle of scholarship applicants. But I wouldn’t say that this tip applies to you — I’d never read your application and think that you were a whiner or a kid who doesn’t understand the difference between hardship and inconvenience.

    Genet: You are 100% correct: these are stereotypical African names and, as you know being Eritrean, not well thought-out with regard to country and nationality. They are caricatures of many of the essays we receive, and are caricatured to make a point to first-world students who aren’t aware of the circumstances of students worldwide. I certainly apologize and did not intend offense.

    Christy: Thanks!

    Stefan: I think overcoming addiction is the hardest thing you’ll probably ever do, and that most people could ever do, and I think it’s a fine topic to write about. Is there a risk that some judge with a stick up his ass might think you created your own problems? Yes. However, I think that’s outweighed by the fact that people love a comeback story.

    Cheryl: I think I’ve probably spoken to this point in other responses, but: Of course I realize that there are many people in America who go through great hardship. The tip doesn’t say that Americans have no hardships and shouldn’t talk about them (hell, I’m not blind or crazy). The most important line in this tip is: “If you mention a hardship in your scholarship application, be sure it’s really a hardship.” If you’re sure, then feel free to write about it, warts and all.

    Jill: Thanks! It’s ok, I have two small children so I am used to people screaming in my ear and climbing on my back. And occasionally urinating on me, for that matter. 🙂

    Summer: YES! Write about that.

  39. Tempest M: Absolutely spot-on about everything you said, including your suggestion about the Shaundra from Chicago comment. Thank you for one of the best comments yet on this site.

    Judy: Yeah! Thanks for sticking up for me!! 🙂

    Shante S: That’s a great story (and I’m glad you clarified that whole “standing on the street corners” thing, because I didn’t want our crowd to get the wrong impression. Especially in Vegas). Keep up the hard work!

    Megan: Well, that’s no attitude to have. Don’t stop trying to go to college just because I’m a smartass.

    Charlene: Please contact Megan, because she could use some of that serious uplift that you’ve got going on.

    Eman: Two words: anger management.

    Some Girl/Mina: You’re welcome!

    Charlene: Agreed, struggles can come from anywhere. Just keep them in perspective, but by all means, if you’ve got a legitimate hardship, write about it!

    Anonymous: See my response to Genet. Certainly no offense intended and yes, of course, the stories were quite obviously exaggerated for effect. I think that, due to almost every response above other than yours, the examples had the intended effect.

  40. I imagine the reason why so many students write their essays on this kind of pseudo-hardship is because we feel it’s a necessity. The counselors and teachers can say all they want, but everyone knows that you need a sob story to earn a scholarship. Taking for example two of my friends who graduated this past year: both had similarly high GPAs, and several of the same extracurricular activities, both lower-middle class students. However, one had some sort of family turmoil that the other didn’t, and though she applied to fewer scholarships, she won 3 of them. The one without the hardship won none.
    As I’m watching acquaintances apply for scholarships, and seeing what comes back to whom, it often feels like hardship is the only thing that counts. And so we dramatize, for lack of a better idea of what will work.

    I’m a diploma holder in Medical Laboratory Sciences (DMLS ) interested in the aforementioned. I come from Kenya , aged 29 yrs.I love doing voluntary work but i need to further my studies in Hematology and make a history as others do in the field. How can i be helped and yet i hail from a poor background ?

  42. Carolyn Harrison

    Thank you so very much, you have just confermed something I think about from time to time. Truthfully I feel I’ve lived a very blest (but not priviaged) life, and because of this I feel that I can not fully comprehend on the horrible things that happen to my friends and others around me. I feel rotten and spoiled and I hate it, worst is I don’t know how to fix it, but now I want to thank you because I don’t have to feel obligated to blow the miner challenges I’ve face out of perpotion. Some day maybe if I overcome so of my inncecurities that will be a really accomplishment but until then I’m glad I don’t have to borderline lying for someones approval.

  43. People apply for scholarships because the price of a higher education is more than they can afford
    that sounds like a hardship to me
    The whole time we’re teenagers all we ever hear from adults is “go to college! go to college!
    you don’t want American kids to have these scholarships don’t offer it to them
    As hard as it may be for people to belive not all American kids live in a big fancy house and have parents who buy them cars
    I grew up in a brooklyn homeless shelter with eight brothers and sisters and a disabled father
    Now I’m sorry my father made sure we didn’t starve to death
    but I still have alot of painful memories that I have to deal with
    and I don’t appreciate them being dismissed like their nothing
    There is always going to be someone worse off then the next person
    that dosn’t mean your pain dosn’t matter
    There are plenty of kids who grew up worse than you did
    but I bet you wouldn’t like it if someone told you to shut up if you were talking about a bad memory from your child hood
    But I get your message loud and clear I’ll be applying for scholarships somewhere else

  44. there seems to be so many angry comments regarding the word hardships. some of the examples that are used seem valid, however those are a little harsh for America s eyes. granted i could use the help in obtaining a scholarship to help me become a nurse someday but since i had to use loans i really cant afford school right now………..someday i will…….i just hope if u (Josh decide to grant someone a scholarship winner be sure to expand your thoughts as far as the challenges one faces)
    in my case i am overcoming obstacles to get to work in the mornings, i am deaf in one ear and i still continue to get up and face the next day, as if i am on a roller coaster ride……sorry i am rambling on but i am glad that i am able to be able to read, write, and thank my lucky stars that i am here everyday to see my son’s smiling face

  45. ok. i’m kind of getting sick of everyone critisizing josh… This guy has his own life and is taking time out of it to try and help some from making mistakes he sees everyday that we may not. He doesn’t need to do this, he could let us all wonder why our essays are rejected time after time, and I’m shocked that he doesn’t after unappreciative jerks just pick apart everything he writes. His advise is here for those who want and need it, the truth is the truth and if you dont like it, theres a little red button with an ‘x’ on it in the top corner of this screen…

    ‘dont bite the one who feeds you’

    thanks josh, i really appreciate your posts. This is all really great info, and its great having ‘eyes on the inside,’ knowing what goes on in the minds of the judges.


  46. I really think that you are trying to get good points across, but there’s just one thing, I’m not American, I’m Canadian, I really don’t appreciate that you just assume everyone is American and that only people from 3rd world coutries can have a rough life.

  47. When you throw a rock into a pack of dogs, the one that barks the loudest is the one that got hit! At least that’s what my grandma always says…but she only got up to the 6th grade.LOL

    I think that sums up all the angry, defensive, and downright silly responses.

    This is probably the best tip you’ve posted, keep it up!

  48. As I’m going through my emails and focusing tonight only on josh’s recent emails, I would like to note several things.

    –I am disturbed by the lack of civility and good manners displayed in many of these posts. Conveying one’s opinion/beliefs does not require offensive language. Disagreement expressed respectfully and thoughtfully carries much more weight than the “shouting” of rudeness and crudeness. (People might want to check their spelling and grammar, while we’re at it.)
    –I don’t necessarily agree with all that josh says nor with how it is said, but the point of one reading his info is to get info and use that which is helpful. Keep in mind that you are reading his suggestions voluntarily.
    –I hear a lot of anger and a lot of shoving for attention in a figurative manner. Many on the various threads sound so angry; so desperate; so bewildered….The way to accomplish goals whether educationally or in other venues is not to let it all hang out, but to find people who are willing to lend a hand. Need a counselor? Need scholarship advice? Need financial counsel? Need a friend? There are places to find the help you need. Some sound as though josh is supposed to be a psychologist, a punching bag, a shoulder to cry on, a money tree, or all of the above. I don’t mean to minimize anyone’s needs, but keep in mind the purpose of josh’s emails. He can’t be your pastor or psychologist. Many truly deep needs have been expressed–find the energy to get them properly addressed, because you need to care for yourself.
    –My husband has been telling me for 30 years that “life isn’t fair”. So when we want to get emotional about needs (emotional, physical, financial) or GPAs or bad bosses or terrible teachers or truly awful childhoods or marriages or….fill in the blank…Awarding scholarships will never be completely fair, either. There is no 100% fair way to do most things. Sometimes we need to cut others some slack, just as we want others to do for us.
    –I appreciate being able to comment on josh’s emails and I (mostly) enjoy reading of others’ ideas. As a homeschooler for 25 years, I approach education perhaps a bit differently from most of the readers/posters. Education continues all of our lives–we are responsible to educate ourselves, whether in a classroom or not. If you are old enough to be in college, then you are old enough to take it upon yourselves to learn–and learn the right things–and learn well–and apply that learning to your life, whether in a career or in relationships, and apply it all your life long.

  49. Maybe I should change my name to Ochmella Patel for a FREE United State government tax dollar paid scholorship instead of me having to work a f/t and p/t job to pay for my own tuition out of pocket. Oh, my taxes pay for YOUR education to boot while I scramble for loans, get denied based on “financial breakdown of banks”, I make “too much money” (Mind you, I live alone and pay ALL my expenses), and my parents are on social security in a retirement home.

    Don’t get me wrong, it’s great to help others but at what cost where Americans constantly have to foot the bills for foreigners. Let THEIR government do something about it.

  50. Firstly i’d like to thank you for setting this discussion board up. Its really helpful reading others’ comments and learning from all these posts. What some people say are so intense lol…

    i think that if the person is rich, then why wont they just give the scholarship to others that really need it and do not have the money? I agree that hardworking students deserve to be rewarded, but they are rewared with the outcome; their acheivements and what they get from their education. Not everyone is fortunate enough to get sponsers. Some really try hard and yet they cannot get a scholarship. If the rich or people who can pay for their tuition, would give the opportunity to people who really dont have the money and wants to make a difference in the world, then why not let them? This is what I would call considering the less fortunate and not just ourselves….

  51. Hey there, I’m not trying to be rude at all, but I have a bit of a complaint about this hardship rule. I understand what your saying when you talk about people from other countries, like Africa, don’t have things as easy as we do here in America or that their lives are sometimes hard and far worse than some of the people who claim they have hardships. My problem is, does that mean we Americans don’t deserve a scholarship just because we didn’t grow up in Africa and experience the “real” kind of hardships your talking about? Just because I didn’t have the worse life possible or get into a car accident and finish my senior year in High School through the intensive care unit does not mean that I don’t have what I would consider hardships in my life. You are obviously a boy and have NO idea how hard it is to raise two young children by yourself working at low wage jobs trying to pay $700 in rent, electric bills, phone bills, car payments, gas money, clothes and food for your family and much much more. I understand that these people from Africa that you talk about do have it much worse than me sometimes but like I said, that doesn’t mean that I’m not struggling just as hard as they are sometimes and that I do not deserve a scholarship because I’m not struggling enough to get one. You make a good point about the judges not wanting to hear everyone cry about their sap story but maybe you should change the way you say it because when I read it I felt as if you were trying to say that if your not from Africa and didn’t live in a shack swarming with flies, with no food to eat or clean drinking water, and so on, that you shouldn’t dare mention that you’ve ever had a hard time in life or your essay may get thrown into the trash. Like I said, I’m not trying to be rude, I just have a different view on hardships than you do and I wanted you to know what I felt you meant when you wrote this rule. Thanks for your time, and honestly I agree with most of your other rules, they were alot of help but I just had a problem with the way you made this one sound.

  52. Just because I live in United States does not mean that I am rich and don’t need to get some scholarships to get Higher education. As most AFRICANS know, American Higher education is really expensive and some people like myself sometimes have some financial issues and especially paying for college and university classes. I know, probably thousands of people that have been raised in Africa are extremely poor but I am not responsible for not am stooling their money or scholarships. I think we all have money issues and those scholarships are open to everybody so that means that Judges should not be considering just sad stories to select a winner. I really feel sad and sorry for them but I need to considered that I also want to get graduate from college and need money to get it. Although Africans and Americans deserve the same scholarship chances because it’s based in some educational factors rather than just personal stories.

    I think, all of us deserve the same chance to win this scholarship. Although I think my case is different because I am not us citizen nor resident. I am an hispanic illegal living in Us. Because of that, I can not apply and get any Federal aid which would be awesome. That force me to apply to those scholarships. I think some africans would not considered it as something important just just would say he lives in United States so he’s receiving thousand of dollars for paying for school. Sadly, that is not my situation.

    I really wish that Judges considered us equally not caring about personal issues and some backgrounds!!

    Thanks and have great day alll you!!

  53. Does this mean that it’s wrong to use “busyness” (worthwhile activities that detract from earning money, such as studying or volunteering,) not as a hardship, but as an example of why you’re worth the scholarship?

  54. Josh, I would like to talk to you about e-mailing this to some of the students in my college preparedness program and if it would be okay with you to do so. So, please send me a private e-mail.
    Thank you

  55. Yeah…the scholarship does considers the differences of the situations for the people applying for it. I concur that most of the people in the world suffer difficulty at any given point in time but I believe that those who are really experiencing hardship should ofcourse really be taken regard of and with deep sympathy. Our family is poor but atleast we can still eat twice a day compared to those individuals out there who really have severe misfortunes. As for the whiners, sorry for the busyness but remember that our world is not perfect and so are we, it’s way different from hardship.

  56. I think that this scholarship tip is quite ridiculous. I understand that people have hardships, some people grow up in worse situations than others. But I feel it unfair to assume just by a simple essay or two who has justified hardships, and who is blowing hot air. Sure, i was lucky enough to be blessed with a family that could eventually assist me in some ways financially; however when i was younger we lived off donations, shopped at goodwill, and were kept from the homeless shelter by weekly paychecks and smart budgeting. It is important to remember that there is no part of your question for getting these scholarships that says, “describe the hardest setback you ever had to overcome.” Some people may just be telling a part of their current daily lives, not attempting a sympathy vote. Some people may be too ashamed of the hardest parts of their lives to include it in an essay to people they don’t know. I think that this is an unfair rule for scholarships, and it is very discouraging. Judging who gets aid by who had to walk to school versus who had parents to drive them, or who had desks or who had to “sit on the cold dirt floor” should not be a factor.

    Another problem i have is that both of the examples you give are from other countries. Are there not hardships in the United States? I did not realize that this was a scholarship for foreign students only. I think a little more passion and thought needs to be put into this scholarship screwup tip.

  57. Dear Josh Barsch, the Judge,

    When I signed up for the services provided by I had only one thing in mind – getting scholarships given to me. I surely had no idea that I would be privileged enough to receive one of your “Scholarship Screwup” rants in my inbox every other day. Josh, do you get paid to review scholarships? I don’t know whether or not you do, but I am kindly requesting that either way (and especially if you’re being paid) that you stop your bitching. Please. I know it must be very hard to read scholarship essay after scholarship essay all day long, and I’m sure you must have some pent up stress to vent, but seriously, find someone else to complain to. I haven’t even submitted an application yet, and I’m already feeling annoyed and pretty disappointed in the services provided by, because, Josh, I don’t care how many of these essays you have to read – I refuse to believe that it’s really that bad. Subjecting your users to your own bitching and ranting, ABOUT THEM, is not helpful or professional, despite what your inflated ego allows you to believe about the value of your words.

    And just to remind you that the hardship of reading essays isn’t really that hard, a case in point:

    Josh from Fuckallanywhere, USA: “I have to sit around reading shitty essays all day long. I hate my life, and this job that I’ve chosen, of my own free will, to do. Boo fucking hoo.”

    Stereotypically African-Sounding Name from Eritrea: “On Tuesdays, I walk 12 miles to the refugee camp at sunrise to receive our large bag of rice and flour from the U.N. so that my village can eat. Because the bag weighs 45 pounds, it takes all day and night Wednesday to return home with the bag. On Thursday, I pass out from exhaustion while my neighbors begin to cook flatbread for the children… AND OH YEAH, I also have access to the internet and I write scholarship essays to Josh Barsch all the time. This is a totally true story.”

    Josh, you are an ignorant (and in your ignorance possibly racist) bastard. Go fuck yourself.



  58. If you folks (commentators) have a problem with him and what he is saying, then you should unsubscribe from his email list. That might change his attitude a bit.

  59. ….somehow i see that many of the posters lack perspectival skills , the understanding of why the post was created and the knowledge of the contents on other post on this site. how can u tell someone who is giving you the opportunity to win FREE MONEY to go f**k yourself when yourself in need the money in the first place. i mean is that not the main reason we are all reading this post and others on this site. judges have to decide who win and be far they ,the winners, are not all needy African children, if you don’t believe me go check the winners on the scholarship sites. You don’t knock out advice from someone without giving it an honest ear, otherwise arrogance will narrow you field of vision immensely. even more so the advice is free. Read the post on humility. i understand that Josh’s post probably ( i had no qualms with it but did see that it was too generalize) was too polarized but the essence to what needed to be conveyed was clearly brought forth. it even complies with common sense that a person who calls their “difficulty” a hardship (pseudo-hardship to me) will lose when compared to someone who has had it truly hard regardless of the country of origin, nationality ,gender or race .to me a hardship impacts profoundly on a person on the firstly physiological, mental, or vastly below the poverty line (socioeconomic). Generally i.o.w ,something that was forced upon you that limited opportunity to have a relatively NORMAL and happy life. however, like everyone else’s opinion, it still is a bit bias.Nothing, however, gives THE RIGHT TO BRASH OTHERS FOR THEIR OWN OPINION, it is a basic human right. you can comment on their opinion but not attack the person themselves for saying something you don’t like. that equivalents you to an “Internet thug”. no one can say that i done opposite as i have not name anyone specifically and have not attacked any vaild post.just as a person who robs robbers is still a robber, and a murderer who murders other murderers is still a murderer, one who says that i did and has done so has no right to do so.

  60. Stanley, trust me it wouldn’t, because i read his other post and he will probably say something like that it is less work for him to do as it his own free time and others that gets used away. for others please remember the defination of free, it will save both your time and his on this site when people write post here.

  61. I was two month old when my father drop death, uptill now i am still srugling to stand on my own because the resposibility of my aged mother and yonger siblings fall on me. I dont want to remember my past experience, because it is hetic. in retrospect i dont want to pass tha way again.

  62. So if my essay topic is to write about hardships Ive had to overcome to achieve my educational goals, but I don’t have any serious hardships, what am I supposed to write?

  63. He recibido tres consejos a la hora de realizar ensayos para recibir ayuda económica. Me parecen lógicos y aunque son bastante directos nos sirven para aprender a redactar ensayos coherentes. El que no me gustó fue el de no aburrirlo con nuestro promedio académico. Desde el primer grado he recibido calificaciones de A que he tenido que trabajar prácticamente sola para mí es una satisfacción enorme y creame que me lo he ganado ningún profesor ha sido bondadoso, por que soy una nena linda y tampoco tengo padres que sean maestros ni de dinero. Durante mi bachillerato me quemé las pestañas y hacía todo lo posible por obtener buenas calificaciones en una ocasión fui a tomar un examen con una cesárea de una semana y la bebé para poder cumplir con mi responsabilidad. En la prueba de Certificación de Maestros obtuve una puntuación de 142 de 160, o sea no es que sea una genio, pero hice mi mejor esfuerzo. Sé que he hecho todo lo que me ha dicho que no haga, pero nada sólo quise expresarme y al menos no estoy escribiendo el ensayo para ganarme la beca que tanto necesito. Gracias por sus consejos seguiré leyendos. Jainys García Cruz, Puerto Rico

  64. Josh, I have to say, I think that a lot of these messages that you have for us are great, but I feel that the presentation could be better. As a reader of many essays, you probably know that sarcasm is not the best way to get a point across, and to me, these posts seem more blunt than necessary. I’m certainly not saying that you should sugar-coat your information, because a lot of it needs saying, but umbrella statements such as “Some have led extremely difficult lives and have overcome obstacles so outlandish that Americans can’t even comprehend them,” is a very cruel statement to a large amount of American people that probably have faced “outlandish” situations. Also, you should not condemn a person who cannot comprehend a hardship simply because they have no way of understanding what could be worse. If you think about things from Molly from Oak Park’s point of view, perhaps that is all that she can handle, and that should be enough for any one person to be responsible for.
    Don’t get me wrong, I think that your advice is important and useful, but I feel like the tone leaves a little to be desired.

  65. So, we’re all pretty much aware that we come from an extremely “spoiled” or more politically correct, “privileged,” country, but can we please resist the urge to continuously reward those who come from third world countries?! I know, we should be so happy that everyone wants to come to college in the United States.. blah, blah, blah.. but I’m tired of seeing scholarship money that’s rightfully OURS go to everyone else. We don’t go to school for 12 years studying to get into college to be denied for scholarship money because a poor Ethiopian applied, also. Don’t they have colleges over in their own countries? Or can we at least establish scholarship funds especially for students native to the United States? It’s great that people who truly come from communties/countries that are plagued with what this article refers to as “hardships,” but I think it’s extremely important to continue to stimulate the youth of our own country, because chances are, that middle-class college student will take that scholarship money, earn a useful degree, and implement their new-found knowledge for the good of our economy and country.
    Good for those students who overcame obstacles such as poverty to come to college, but I think it’s important to reward the students of our own country sometimes, too, regardless of how insignificant and “whiny” their hardships may seem. American students work just as hard as those from other countries.. whether it be in different ways or not.

  66. Only Africa has orphans,hunger? You won’t have to travel far out of your town to see hunger,orphans etc. You don’t have to go over seas for that.Yes I have hardships,not so much as others and for that I am thankfull and stronger as a person.I have overcome adversity as a single mom,and head of house hold providing for my ciblings without a father or husband.the point Im trying to get across is that I am a strong woman that can overcome any obstacle!! With a helping hand anyone can!

  67. Do you just send all ten to everybody? If so, why not just say, “Hey, check out this site that will help you.” I have gotten emails for the first three Scholarship Screwups and in my essays I did not mention anything pertaining to religion or politics or my opinion on any topic of interest; I did not mention my GPA at all or my grades or how well or poor I perform academically; and I did not write about any hardships that I may have growing up in “suburbia.” Do you randomize who gets what? Do you actually read these? Are you a real person or a computer program?

  68. Hello,

    You said not to feel frustrated about these e-mails and I do understand that you are trying to be helpful but please let me understand why it is that I am taking about 2-3 hrs everynight of my time looking up Scholarships for my two daughters?
    A little about myself, I have a college degree and work at a Full-time job in the Medical Field where I make a decent wage.
    In order too get where I am I have had to be diagnosed with MS 10 years ago and have almost lost my house etc due to an addiction of compulsive gambling that my husband of 25 yrs came out and told our family 5 yrs ago.
    You talk about hardships, and no I don’t live in a 3rd world country, but please try to live in my shoes and see how you wake up everyday and wonder will “I” be able to walk to work today in order to be able to put my daughters through University. Putting the girls through University has been financially draining but it is something that we choose to do for them yet “winning” a Scholarship would help out tremendously.

    I am finding it very frustrating as I am being constantly reminded that there are alot of Scholarships out there and granted there are. But if you are not a minority, disabled, brilliant academically or a “nerd” that has all the time in the world for volunteering you just don’t meet the criteria for these awards.
    I have two average daughters who go to University full-time and work 1-2 jobs (because of the financial position their Dad has put us in). My one daughter has been on the honor roll with Distinction has done some volunteering and even this past year was the team Captain for the MS Walk to raise money for MS Research. Yet we are constantly turned down.
    Yes, I put in the work for them by finding the Scholarships, but they actually do the work as far as essays go.
    Am I waisting my time or do I suck it up and perservere?

    Frustrated Mom in Calgary

  69. Dude, fuck you. Dont give me the scholarship. I could not care any less. Scholarship screwup #1. Profanity and too many simple sentences.

  70. To everyone:
    I agree with Kelsey. Stop picking on Mr. Barsch because he used stereotypical African names/situations and whiny Americans as examples. That’s not the point. The point is that he’s trying to help scholarship applicants understand what a scholarship judge is thinking about when he/she reads hundreds of these hardship essays. This is extremely useful to me, at least, as I’m looking for how to use his tips as opposed to nit-picking the details in his emails.

    To Mr. Barsch:
    Thanks for all the advice! But what should I do when a hardship essay is REQUIRED and I’m blessed with a two-loving-parents upbringing in an upper-middle-class area? AND I’m white? I understand that there are people out there who desperately need scholarships more than I do, and the last thing I want to do is disgust judges with a whiny essay, but any little scholarship I could get would help. When a hardship/challenges essay is required, are these examples okay?:

    -When I was in middle school, my right eye was deeply scratched right on top of my pupil, and it got ulcerated and infected. The scar covered up my field of vision, and I was temporarily blind in that eye. There was a 50% chance that it would remain blind forever. It was one of the worst experiences of my life, as I had to see not only an eye doctor, but also a cornea specialist every day for 2 weeks, take steroid eye drops, and take another eye drop once every hour (including during the nights, which was terrible.) It was extremely painful. If I wrote an essay about this, I could write about how something that we take for granted and seems so basic to our everyday life, such as seeing, could vanish so quickly and change our lives forever.

    -This isn’t so much of a “hardship” as it is a “setback”. I seem to always try my best to win, and then I just barely lose. Making the last cut of the team… but then not making the team. Running for the highest position a student could have in the 142,000-student county, the Student Member of the Board of Education, putting in hours of work, becoming preoccupied with school system politics, letting myself be known to thousands of students… and then barely losing. Every loss in the lacrosse season being a loss by 1… and taking the blame as the goalie. Running for President of the Countywide Student Government… and then barely losing. Somewhere in that essay, I would come up with an uplifting positive outcome, like how Michael Jordan didn’t make his high school basketball team yet became an NBA all-star.

    Any thoughts?
    Thank you!

  71. The fact that we Africans are searching for scholarship does not mean we are poor.Why is it that u guys don’nt use US in your examples.Anyway, i am proud to be an African.And i believe the God i am serving we never live us to suffer.SOMEDAY WE AFRICANS WILL SMILE.

  72. I think that judges should be more exact about what they want. If you have an easy where you want to reward or help people who have had hardships, you should describe that. Then it would make sense to tell the kid with a car who had to work for a change that it’s ridiculous to apply. However, if you’re asking someone to tell you about themselves, and they describe their “growing experiences” as hard, then I think you’re taking their purposes out of context.

    Overall, I think this was a good tip and wasn’t meant to be offensive. But I resonate a lot with the students who think it’s unfair to neglect your own country since other countries have it worse. Frankly, if the US doesn’t start paying attention to the way citizens are becoming complacent and dumber, people have to borrow money to make it anywhere, and how easy it is for someone like you to make fun of students mistakes when those students never had anyone to tell them of how judgmental judges can actually be, you can’t be surprised when they try to cater their papers to what they think you want to hear. I mean I’m sure those students answering questions like “tell me why you need/deserve this scholarship” are just trying to give you some reason to take pity, because you’ve just made a question that seems to be implying you think the needy are the ones who should get the scholarship.

    I think students try to give the person with the power what they’re looking for, they’re not actually telling you that they think their life is harder than life is for people in third world countries. People describe themselves in comparison to their own environment.

    Last but not least, in your comments you said something like most students do not know about other countries and their circumstances. That’s probably very true. But you’re also not acknowledging how other countries typically teach about other nations through their curriculum. America teaches people to be self-righteous, profit-seeking, go home and watch “reality tv,” and if you watch news, it better be tragic, entertaining, and scary. It’s unfortunate that growing up in this country sets you up to fail unless you put yourself in the shoes of someone who is not in this country.

  73. Mehmood Ul Hassan Soomro

    What a nonsense if you are unable to pay me scholarship do not wast my time and energy refuse my application clearly.I am not borrowing a single penny from hungary
    wolves you are showing me the problems created by your Multinational Companies
    in all third world countries do not ask for an application for scholarship you only pay to your blood relations/ neighbors justice is for away fro you go hell bye

  74. I understand the difference between an actual hardship and just being unappreciative now. I use to whine when I was in middle school because at the time my mother could not afford braces for me. I eventually got the braces in high school, but I now realize that having not so perfect teeth is not that big of a deal, it is a petty issue. I also use to whine because my dad was not around for me like he should have been. I learned to be thankful that he at least paid child support, but that still did not excuse his not being a father to me. I have watched plenty of infommercials about starving children who have no clean water, or clean places to sleep. Those kinds of things make me thankful for the luxuries that I have had in my life. I think “my life isn’t so bad” after watching things like that because compared to those kids my life is perfect. I know better than to write a so-called sob story about not being able to afford a car when I got my license because I know that it is not that big of a deal. I still had transportation, food, shelter, and love when I got my license and that was enough.

  75. I see what’s the difference between hardships and being busy. I was born a crack baby along with one of my other sisters. My mother was doing many drugs so she lost all 8 of us. Never really tried to get us back or even draw close to us until now. My auntie took me in as a child so i wouldn’t have to go in the system and my grandmother took my sisters in. 4 of my brothers are still lost in the system and I don’t know where they could be but I hope to find them soon. One of my brothers i keep in contact with because he was found by my aunt. He’s a foster kid but it doing well. Still everyday I wish and wonder what could have been if my mother wouldn’t have made some of the biggest, stupidest mistakes in her life.

  76. Hello = )

    I am so glad I signed up for these updates. They are very entertaining and the sarcasm is completely appreciated! Especially compared to the dry style of my university textbooks (but, that’s another topic…)

    I have the same thoughts as Amy. When a scholarship requires you to discuss a “hardship” you are experiencing (or have experienced and overcome) and you don’t have one to discuss what do you write in the space? I have, in the past, described some challenges I have experienced, but I have clearly defined them as “challenges.” Is this a good tactic to answering the question or could I be writing something that is more effective?

    Thanks again for these tips and please keep them coming!

  77. What do you mean? Going to finishing school in Switzerland then working dead end jobs instead of college isn’t a hardship? Just kidding.

    I’m there with you-not crying into my macbook. If I can sit, typing responses in my over-expensive apartment (biding time until evicted, no less) instead of trading my day’s sustenance for a sheet of paper, so I can write requests for financial help then I count myself fortunate. It doesn’t mean I’m not going to try to obtain education funding. Recognizing and appreciating where we are, what we’ve done, and how we’ve lived is important. I don’t buy toys for my child though he stomps like a brat. Welfare doesn’t grant enough to buy ample toiletries, let alone Lego sets. I’ll tell you though, we have food, health coverage and education. Everywhere you are, in the Land of the Free, community support and assistance to meet every demographic, is set up on some level, so that no one has the grounds to expect cheese with their whine.

  78. Look, I appreciate the idea of this post, but when I got this email, I just had to come here to comment. I understand your position Mr. Josh, but I resent the implication that you have to cross the Atlantic ocean to find hardship.
    “Some have led extremely difficult lives and have overcome obstacles so outlandish that Americans can’t even comprehend them. These are the type of stories that scholarship judges are accustomed to reading. By comparison, American student essays sound a little, well, spoiled and whiny.”
    I am white, upper middle class, and was raised in a crime free neighborhood with all the benefits of being an an American in the $100,000 – $150,000 tax bracket. I was fine until 8th grade, when I came down with schizoaffective disorder. As a psychotic symptom, I was left unable to speak, write, or even move for over a month. I was fed with a tube and sponge bathed, until an appropriate medicine could be found. I actually did do the freshman and sophomore years of high school from a hospital. After the catatonia lifted, I had pain hallucinations daily that I can best describe as spilling acid over one’s entire body, or like Tabasco sauce, just everywhere conceivable instead of your mouth. My mother did not like to take me out of the house, because when this happened, I would fall to the ground and scream and cry for about an hour. I have attempted suicide three times. Only in the last year or so have I found the will to live and I have decided to go to graduate school. Forget about me for a second. Let me tell you about two of the other people I met in special education, both upper middle class, white, protestant, Anglo-Saxon, suburban Americans with good insurance.
    Nichole is bipolar II, and bulemic. Her parents did not intend to have her at all, and let her know on a regular basis. She often showed up to class disheveled and unshowered with bruises and lacerations all over her body, claiming that they were due to various “accidents”. The last I heard of her she was kicked out of her parents house and was living out of her car. Nichole always wanted to go to a liberal arts college to study poetry.
    John is bipolar I. John was also homeless for years. As a young child, his father committed a burglary and was imprisoned. He did something to upset the Chicago police department, because they were constantly arresting him, even though he was never actually charged. His mother also kicked him out, on Christmas eve. Whenever he would try to come home after that, she would call the police. The final time they did this they impounded the car he was living in. To escape, he hitchhiked here to Colorado to sleep on the futon of a friend of mine. John is interested in becoming a psychiatric nurse.
    I know that rural Africans have it hard. I have seen Slumdog Millionaire and and Blood Diamond, so I get the picture. It took over 13 years to find treatments for me that work well enough that I can go to college, but I guess if I was from Rwanda that I would never have had that option. I confess that I have a 2003 silver Chevy Tahoe and an Xbox and a Motorola android, so I think I am fortunate *enough*.
    What I am trying to say is that a hardship is always in the eyes of the beholder, and you don’t have to travel 5,000 miles to see it happen. Since in this case, Josh the scholarship judge is the beholder, I don’t know whether I have actually known hardship, because I am not Josh. However, if in an essay I was asked to describe hardship, I think I would compare well to “didn’t get braces in middle school”.

  79. As usual, when I come back to read what I have posted the next day I look like a flaming idiot. I’m sorry. I promised myself I would stop contributing to Internet flame wars, and I have failed. My point is basically that if you are asked to describe the difficulties in your life, I think you should just write about whatever you have. If there was an objective, quantitative scale for how hard your life has been then we wouldn’t need scholarship judges. There would just be a standardized test, scaled from 17-99 points, and the application would say “you must have a score of 83 to apply”. Since there are 6,697,254,041 people in the world, I think it’s safe to say that there will always be at least a few of them that have had it harder than you or I. Nothing positive ever came from comparing my hardship to other people’s hardship in the past. Although I am excited about the idea of winning a prize for it, I would just as soon have gone without it and skipped the prize as well.
    The point of scholarships, I thought, was to unlock doors for people who have either little money, or great merit (read: potential to contribute materially to society). I have a decent amount of money, but my hardship does not say anything about how much merit I have. It just explains why I was not an overachieving class president and valedictorian and Amnesty International volunteer and so on (although I did manage to squeeze in an Eagle Scout).
    Regards again,

  80. Okay? I have applied to sooo many scholarships. I don’t know what else to do anymore. Every time I return to the website and sEe the winning essay it is from a student who is from another country. A student who had and has to walk ten miles to get school, hunt and gather their food, so they won’t starve, has ten brothers and sisters to care for, has to walk miles to get to a camp where they can get free supplies and toiletries and what ever else they need!! My family believe me is not rich, I’m not even probably considered working class. However, my story will never ever ever ever beat a story of a student from an african country or china or what ever other country outside of the US.It sucks it really does. No scholarships=no financial help=no college education for me. I’ve applied again to several others which I most probably won’t get either because I have no stories like those students. Its not fair Josh. Do you have any advice? Any thing I can do? Maybe other options? I have great grades but that still has gotten me no where. My life nor academic achievement is helping. Makes me just wonder if I will ever get any help.Thanks you.

  81. Dear Judge Josh,
    I just want to say that everyone faces hardships and defines them differently, depending on their circumstances. For example, I have to travel by road to another country in order to get cheaper education, and then I arrive school very exhausted and homesick and I see this as a struggle while someone who is forced to go to a primitive school because of money problems and still climb hills might see their situation as worse than mine and therefore think they need aid and I do not. So my point is that we all do have hardships. Anyway, I think I must start talking about the struggles I’ve had when writing for a scholarship. Thanks a lot for your advice.
    Kind regards,

  82. From my point of view, I think you could have been a little more specific on the word ‘hardship.’ I live in America and I will admit that I have it better than kids from Third World counties, but hypothetically speaking, I’m from Moss Point, Mississippi and kids in Atlanta, Georgia have it better than I do. Why? Because their city is larger and more money is being made vs. my situation; I live in a small town with fewer businesses meaning lesser monies are being made, so I wouldn’t have a choice but to get out and, for example, pay for my first car. You can’t fault anybody for thinking that their hardships are actually hard to them. Why run seven miles to school when that’s what the bus is made for. Uhhhh hello!!…MY PARENTS DON’T PAY TAXES FOR NOTHING. If you wanted to hear about hardships from kids living in Third countries then make a scholarship for kids only in Third World countries.

  83. Pulheeze I wish I had never given u my email w all the spam I get. Who cares what u think a hardship is. U have no idea how real people live. I wouldn’t take ur scholarship even if it meant a free ride u liberal a@@wipe

  84. Thank you for your response. I will always bear in my mind what have you advice on me. I appreciated that we have same perception about the issue of GPA. I am not confident that my GPA will really help me in applying for this scholarship because I know many students have higher GPA score than mine. But I am confident about my courage and willingness to finish my studies. Since, I am in my elementary grades I really dreamed to become a professional nurse. So i tried all the options to help my parents in sending us to school. This courage would really help me achieve my goal. So I convince my mother to allow me in selling fried peanuts,rice cakes and ice candy at school during break time for our allowance and save the left money for my tuition. Even though our principal warned me that I should stop selling because I am here to study not to sell foods. I just cried but I cant say it to my mom because I know she will be hurt if she will hear it and may be she would really command me to stop selling food in school so I kept it secret. Sometimes I felt being shame of selling at school but I tried to stand forward to show that I can do it,anyway it is not a bad/illegal act and this is a great help for my allowance. Now even I am already in my college years I still continue selling snacks at our lodging house. I fry peanut,cook some pastries and packed it every night then after wards the remaining time before going to sleep I assure I can read my notes and answer my assignments although I am really tired I assure that before I sleep I pray to almighty Allah for guidance and help in our family especially for my mother who is sick. I am threatened that I can stop schooling this year because my parents income and my income from selling some snacks are not enough to buy medicine for my mother’s maintenance and to support me to continue my studies. I really need financial assistance to finish my studies to achieve all my goals in life. So, I tried to apply on this scholarship, because may be I can have that miracle to be chosen as one of your scholars. I am begging for your help. Thank you very much. God bless

  85. wow that is kinda interesting……. I am an African and i love being an African…… Yeh hardship now mingles with us but i am sure one day its going to be okay for us…… Busy(ness) yeh all people are busy when it comes to work and the family…. I am praying that i get this scholarship with the help of GOD…. Thanks very much…….

  86. I strongly believe the program is real and I hope it will go a long way to help African and third world countries to develop their educational sectors.

  87. Judge Josh, I have to admit, I am disappointed by this article. I understand what you’re trying say: that quite a students fail to realize that they’re making mountains out of molehills, so to speak.

    But the overall tone of the article seemed to be something along this line: You are from America; therefore you don’t really have challenges, so don’t try to act like you do. But here’s the catch: you asked the students to discuss their challenges. To them, these are challenges. Maybe they’re not on the same level as challenges for students from Sudan. Maybe it’s something that you would’ve easily brushed off. But to that student, it was a hardship that he or she had to overcome.

    Like I said, I understand what you’re trying to say: “Really, guys, I understand that everyone has challenges they have to face, but is it really as big a deal as you think it is?” I just wouldn’t recommend sarcasm next time. It’s not something you can easily pick up through text.

  88. Well, the post talks about complaining and whining and that’s what most people are doing in these comments. Americans believe their life is miserable because they live in a bubble and cannot see far more than their little world, especially teenagers. I completely agree with your suggestions.

  89. Wow, I wonder where Josh got the idea about whiny Americans from? I have no clue when looking at some of these comments!

  90. What counts as a hardship? Does a car accident, a robbery, a mugging, a house burning down, and a restaurant failing all within 6 months of each other count? I’m not trying to sound sarcastic, I just really want to know. Unfortunately, government programs like the FAFSA don’t count these problems as “financial hardship” and I was wondering if scholarships do.

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