Scholarship Screwup #8: Preach To Me

Scholarship essays are certainly about self-expression, and lots of applications ask open-ended questions about how you, the forward-thinking leader of tomorrow, might solve today’s problems. That gives you full license to come out with your ideas on how to change things, and in so doing, you’ll probably find yourself pointing out the flaws of society — i.e., the things that need to be changed. But be careful about getting on a “high horse” and sounding too judgmental or preachy, or giving the impression that solutions to the world’s problems are obvious.

Leave the moralizing and proselytizing to the televangelists.

Let me point out why this is important. There are legions of intelligent young people out there, but maturity eludes many of them. Intelligence is cheap. Maturity is priceless. If I had to choose a single most important quality in scholarship winners, it would be maturity. Show maturity in your essays and you’ll be much more likely to bring home a check.

Why is this? It’s because you’re headed into a make-or-break stage of your life when you hit college. The things you do there — even seemingly small things — will have an immense, life-altering effect on your future. And it’s maturity, not raw intelligence, that is your key to handling those situations successfully. You may be a wizard at literature or science or economics or whatever, but if you can’t handle the pressures of the world, you’re likely to flame out and not meet the goals you have for yourself right now.

As scholarship judges, we don’t want to give money to people who are going to flame out. We want to give money to the ones who are going to make it. Hence, we look for and place great value on maturity. Got it? OK.

So, how do we tell who’s mature and who’s not? Well, it’s an inexact science, to be sure. But one of the hallmarks of maturity in young people is their ability to balance their own big ideas with the knowledge that the world is complex, and that they still have a lot to learn. The world is a complex place, and solutions to society’s most difficult problems are hard to find. That doesn’t mean you can’t help solve them someday; it just means that, if we’re talking about a real problem, it’s not going to be easy to solve.

With that in mind, if you catch yourself writing overly simplistic phrases such as, “If more people would just…” or “The world would be a better place if we would just wake up and realize,” remember that the problems you’re talking about probably don’t have solutions as simple as you think. I’m not positive, but few major problems have ever been solved by a collective bunch of folks all spontaneously “waking up and realizing” anything. Your scholarship judges are educated and know this all too well. Preachy proposals will likely lead to some eye-rolling when your essay is being read, and that’s not good for you.

22 thoughts on “Scholarship Screwup #8: Preach To Me”

  1. I am very much appreciating your series. It’s all great information and I can spot my mistakes. I’ll write better essays now, and I thank you. Do you have any tips for people like myself, parents who have raised their children and are now finally pursuing a college education? I can apply much of what you’ve written already to my situation, but honestly, how much favor is given to the younger people over people of a half-century or older? I believe I will offer more to the job force with an education because of my experience.


  2. Yolie McLaughlin

    I appreciate all the information you’ve provided regarding “scholarship screw-ups.” Now, with this particular screwup, I have a very big problem. It seems that everything in regards to grants and/or scholarships is geared to “young people” and I just do not understand. After 40 years away from school, I returned to college and that has been the most beautiful experience in my life. And I am very, very proud to say that I have a 3.91 GPA. I have one more year to go before I get my BA in Social Sciences and then go on to substitute teach. I will be 63 and no one will hire me as a regular teacher. According to our society, once you hit 60, you’re out of luck.

    Come on, please give us a break.


  3. When we were in school life could be very simple especailly if we were living with our family and have our education and living paid by our parents. However if we go out to the external world to earn our own living.we would know that life is not that simply, everything is counted.

    When I was about twelve years old I had to go to some factory to work every summer so that I could have money to pay my school fee of new term. I understood how life could be. Nevertheless I was not mature because I was too young to understand that. As I grew older I had to earn money not only to pay my school fee but also to support my family. I then understood life was not that easy.

    When one got into a big firm right after finished his/her school he/she can only be in one position and learn no other tasks, but if a person starts his/her work in a small firm he/she has to do different tasks and not just one job. He/she will soon be able to handle many different tasks and becomes mature. This is because he/she has to face different type of clients and work everyday. So I would suggest people to start their career in small firm rather then big one.

  4. The maturity is really something rather difficult to get it for most people. There is a description including a diffirent one to one.And every one is very different to point out as a personality reflection.That changes one to one.So we have to change our mature after obvious age, if that does not change ,than probobly we have got a big problems on our personality which get to the deficiency of living or experiance on much things.This causes some problems which dont overwhelm until teenager ages.
    Really” stages of one’s own realizing is very importand in one’s life.” like Fraud said.
    I think it is so importand one has all realized all stages that has to be for one in one’life for being given a scholarship to somebody. Otherwise, one will never realize something one want in one’s own life.

  5. zackary childs

    Maturity is a principle point in life where you realize the steps you’ve made in the past and the work that you understood and did. The work of others in our lives is a sound that nobody really can understand unless you’ve been in the same position. I’m 20 and am a few credits shy of my associates. I am currently returning to college too finish my BS degree in Communications. My plan after college is too join the Navy or Airforce. I got a 73 on my ASVAB and am in good physical condition. Growing up is a scary and eye opening thing. With our without the scholarship I would succeed regardless. It’s not easy and it’s hard work. I’ve been on college radio in Bangor ME, for two years. Going on the air at 6:00am delivering the fresh morning news. Previously being on weekend mornings. I stay up too date on current affairs and have met people with hands on experience in those fields both family and professionals. I have had my class C License for a year and a half. I have had my open water diving license before which comes with CPR and First AID. I drive my room mates too work and pick them up afterwords. I keep most of my books I don’t sell them. So in closing… I need a job not a scholarship.

    Zackary J Childs

  6. Its not an easy task for young college people not to be passionate about what they believe and to come right out and speak what truly drives them. The young collegiates of the late ’60 helped put an end to an educated man’s war (McNamara). This was accomplished both voical and literary. If all these people are saying the same thing Josh, probably an english composition class is all they need, not a continuing dialogue on what upsets you.

  7. Don’t we all Tiffany, don’t we all….

    Anyway I really appreciated this piece of advice it gives those immature applicants time to adjust the way they think and the way they write to persuade scholarship judges. The world is balanced based on morals, ethics, truths, beliefs, money and personal experiences. We have to take a lot of things in consideration in order to say “here’s my plan…” and go from there.

  8. Thank you, I see your point when it comes to maturity. For a long time (probably since elementry school) I have always believe that I could be mature if the need ever arrized, but in this last year I feel I’ve been doing alot of waking up; true I have always been open to opinions and have always defendended my own beliefs with a passion, but I realize that the world is not all black and white. I thank you for this tip I believe that if I can apply what you suggested, it will help a great deal, so again thank you.

  9. This advice really struck home. I have taken the Martin Luther King Jr. approach in my scholarship essays lately, talking about how I’ll “pioneer a new field and change the world.” I imagine myself with a booming voice creating fantastical images. The line about judges rolling their eyes made me realizing, my essays are probably causing that response.

  10. I really think maturity is a key factor in making it in today’s society. I agree with this piece of advice. You can’t just take on a huge problem with a sense that what you do is right and will fix everything. If that was possible, don’t you think people would have already changed some of the world’s greatest problems. Especially when you apply for a scholarship, it is important for the applicants to realize that things aren’t as simple as they seem, yet they aren’t as impossible, either.

  11. Angalina Canary

    Thanks so much for the info. It has really helped me with my writing. Essays have never been my strong point and this series had made the job a little less intimidating. Thanks Again!

  12. Maturity
    Maturity is a principle point in life where you realize the steps you’ve made in the past and the work that you understood and did. The work of others in our lives is a sound that nobody really can understand unless you have been in the same position.
    Immaturity is not confined to individuals alone. Sometimes, groups or even nations act quite immaturely, resulting in great misery and suffering to millions of people. It happened several times in the past and is still happening today, in many parts of the world, causing much misery and bloodshed to millions of people. Frankly many of our leaders and celebrity figures, the icons and role models of our society, are immature. They hide it behind a façade of pomp and power, but betray themselves often through their actions and decisions.
    We see people exhibiting immature behavior in sports and competitions, public, media, many major national and international forums and institutions, legislative and government bodies and even the UN Security Council and general assembly. It is expressed in the way we react to things and situations, the movies we watch, the words we use, the lifestyle choices we make, the emotions we express and the way we manage our relationships and finances. Truly speaking, on a cosmic scale, ours is still an immature civilization and we may require a few more centuries to be able to look at ourselves and our actions with complete objectivity and maturity.
    We know, more or less, what physical growth means and we know from appearance, when a person reaches adulthood. It is easy to understand and recognize physical growth, because it is visible, measurable and does not continue beyond a particular age, except in certain ways, such as gaining body weight or the changes that come with aging. Almost every normal individual attains physical maturity after a certain age. Only and rarely, a few unfortunate individuals fail to grow normally, because of a rare disease or abnormal situation.
    Mental growth, however, does not proceed along the same lines as physical growth. The brain cells do stop multiplying after a certain age, but mentally we continue to grow in awareness and understanding till old age. It is difficult to say when an individual actually stops growing mentally and whether he stops growing mentally at all till the end. People also differ in their ability to grow mentally because a number of factors influence mental growth.
    THANK you

  13. when do we know if we’ve won the scholarship?
    i know this sounds a lil bit out of place from your usual comments, but im just curious. but ur stuff is really great to hear. i look foreward to reading them every morning. so thank you for sending us these tips.

  14. Maturity is a process where everybody is heading and everyone should be.Attaining that status is somewhat tiresome but fulfilling.

    And I’m in that process…..please provide me sponsor for my study in theology at Messiah College so that I can fulfill my calling for God.

  15. Hi I am very greatful for the crews that you have giving us and I would say maturity comes with time and someone acquires maturity automatically and some of the attributes of it is self esteem and being of high intergrity

  16. I love this article, because as you grow up you learn that there is no such thing as a right or wrong answer, just a bunch of different shades of gray. No matter how much you try, there is always a side of the story you can’t see. If you look at the other persons side of the story, you can even understand telemarketers and feel bad for them. What is maturity,maturity is when you realize that you do not control the world, that life never has an exact answer, and will always try to understand the people around you (even people you don’t like). Also thanks for putting these articles, they are very interesting, I am not just looking at this for scholarship essays, but how judges work in general, letters to unknown people, and any type of writing at all.

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