Happy Easter from the wind-swept plains of Western South Dakota! Where the usual surprise (not really) April blizzard hit us overnight, and is providing good cover for the Easter Bunny as he creeps nigh.
Wow, we got a ton of great responses on my hate mail post yesterday, and one of the best was from a lady named Terry Schultz. I’m editing out most of the stuff about hate-mail guy to focus on her individual problem, which is the focus of today’s post: Why am I (or my child) not winning any scholarships that I apply for? Terry writes:
My daughter had straight A’s in high school – top 4% in our County, (and is still making the Dean’s list at a top midwestern university), a high ACT score, a pt job and lots of extra-curriculars, yet no scholarship offer from any state schools…He seems to feel like he’s entitled to be given a scholarship just because he’s over 30 (?) and worked his ass off. Yeah, you and everybody else trying to get ahead in this world…
Only three sentences total, but a world full of sentiment that millions of parents experience every year (and I don’t think “millions” is an exaggeration here).
On the one hand, you hear messages all over the place telling you that there are “billions of dollars in scholarships available!” if only you’ll just find and apply for them, and that “millions go unclaimed every year.”
On the other hand, you’ve got a bright kid who works her ass off doing all the “right things” that she’s supposed to do (grades, job, extracurriculars) — and ends up getting what amounts to a big middle finger from the state schools who are supposed to be rewarding that kind of achievement with scholarship money and grants.
So what gives? Where’s the disconnect in all this?
Well, it’s a complicated issue, for sure, so keep your pants on while I ruminate. Seriously, I’m trying to be pensive and thoughtful here. 🙂
When I hear those sentiments, I can’t help but draw a comparison to those of us in the adult world who come to the same crossroads at some point in their professional lives. It’s some variation of this: “I went to college, I worked hard, I got a job, worked hard at that, did everything I was supposed to do…. and somehow I’m still broke and/or strapped and/or unfulfilled and/or unhappy. Why did this happen?”
And whether we’re talking about students getting scholarships or adults and their occupational crises, I don’t want to write it all off to the old adage of “life’s unfair.” Because even though that’s true, it’s also invoked way too often as a substitute for doing everything you can POSSIBLY do to make it happen for yourself — whatever “it” may be.
OK, so we’re setting aside the “life’s unfair” argument for now and we’re going to examine why exactly it is that you can do everything you’re “supposed” to do and still get stiffed by The Man. And while every situation is individual and different, there’s one answer that I think is most generically applicable:
Some people market and sell themselves better than others. You must get better at selling and marketing yourself.
I think that’s the core issue here with Terry and the millions of other students and parents. Let me explain what I mean as concisely as I can (but probably not that concisely, since I tend to write a lot).
There’s a perception, especially as a student with fewer years and experience under your belt, that the world is just going to automatically notice, appreciate, and assign value to the things you’ve accomplished. That goes for grades, test scores, extracurriculars, etc. And while a relative handful may get lucky and “get noticed,” it simply doesn’t happen for the majority of students. You can’t “sit back on your heels,” so to speak, and hope to get discovered.
No one tells you this when you’re younger. This is a knowledge gap I’m trying to fill with this site.
And I know you’re now thinking, “but what else am I supposed to do except fill out the application and wait?” I know — that’s all you can do. What I refer to in this case, though, is HOW you fill out the application and essay; the words you use to describe yourself and what you’ve done. That’s really what every single article on this site is about, but let me point you to a couple in particular that explain some specifics about how you can do this:
- Show some industry.
- Don’t be afraid to admit your past shortcomings and explain how you turned things around.
- Be specific about how your future plans will benefit others.
- Don’t forget your family.
- Committees like stories of overcoming adversity.
Understand this ugly truth: College applications, scholarship applications, and after college is over, resumes — these things are sales letters. Pitches. Elevator speeches. They’re nothing more than your best effort to sell yourself to someone else. If you’re one of these people (like me) who thinks, “God, I’d hate to be a salesperson, I HATE trying to sell things to people” — well, you’re out of luck in this department. You’re gonna have to give it your best shot anyway!
And your sales efforts can’t be meek, even if your credentials are outstanding. Why? Because the next 10 or 12 guys in line aren’t going to be so meek. They’ll be aggressive self-promoters who grab the judges’ attention and steal it away from you — and they’ll take that scholarhip every time. And they’ll go to college for free, graduate with no debt, probably grab a great job and great salary and have no student loan debt (because they got that big scholarship).
(If you’re a parent reading this, you can probably think of a handful of examples of how this has happened in your workplace; a guy with equal or lesser qualifications than his peers who gets fast-tracked nonetheless because he’s a confident self-promoter).
It’s the same with scholarships. It’s the same everywhere, really. Pure meritocracies are rare.
So, does that mean you have to be an obnoxious, slam-my-foot-in-the-door vacuum salesman type to win a scholarship? Call the committee six times a day and ask to come in for a personal audition? No. But it does mean that you have to seize every opportunity — and in a scholarship situation, this is usually done on paper, in your application and essay — to show leadership, confidence, and potency to those who are going to decide your fate.
I’ve got an idea. Does anyone out there in Internet-land want to submit a scholarship essay and have me break it down, identify problems, help fix/rewrite them, then polish it up — all right here in public, on the blog? Theory is all well and good, but everyone who visits the site will be served by a hands-on example. Anyone out there up to the challenge?
I am a guy who loves transparency, so I’d prefer someone who’s not afraid to share their last name and identity, but who knows, I may not find anyone like that. So even if you don’t want your identity revealed and you want to throw your essay in the ring, email me.
OK, I’m off to sneak some Cadbury eggs out of my wife’s dresser drawer and down here into my office. There’s a multi-toddler playdate going on upstairs. I’ll need the sugar rush this afternoon because I’m building a website for my cousin Tim Malson, who does incredible masonry, brickwork, stonework, and all that kinda stuff, in Tennessee and Kentucky. Just in case you need some of that sorta thing done. 🙂
All the best,
“Judge Josh” Barsch