I got a great note yesterday from a guy named Tony who’s in a tough spot, so I thought I’d use his letter as the basis for today’s post. Tony may just be the poster child for this time and place in our history, and I hope he’s in the beginning stages of what turns out to be a great American comeback story.
Read his story, read my advice and give him some of yours. He deserves your time and attention.
First, i want to commend you on your efforts to be brutally honest with people. That in itself is not always an easy job.
Thank you! You’re right, it does rub some people the wrong way, but I figure nobody else is doing it so why not me?
I have a question as to what the best approach would be for me when I apply for scholarships. I have read some pretty creative essays, as well as your blog, and I’m not sure which road to take. Here’s my background information:
I am 31 years old, a husband with 3 children. I quit school in the 10th grade to go to work to support my first child. I have worked in the transportation industry since. I hold certifications for equipment operation, and have “run” my own business as a contractor.
I was laid off a year and a half ago. I took that opportunity to obtain my GED through the local career center. I had tried many times to do it on my own, but I found a structured program was the key for me to concentrate on studies.
Congrats! I know it’s tough to get motivated to do that once you’ve taken off into family and career and you have the whole “life gets in the way” excuse to NOT do it.
My family is in financial ruins, from the lay off. Every penny we had saved, we had to spend to stay afloat at that time. We now live paycheck to paycheck and have NO extra income.
Gotcha. A tough spot that a lot of folks are in these days.
I have always been interested in heavy equipment and have 15 years in the industry. I have enrolled in a school for Diesel Technology, knowing it will be a good fit, given my experience, and new found motivation to further myself. My wife is also attending school for her Nursing Degree. Her job offers tuition reimbursement up $1000/year, mine does not. I will have to cut down to part time status at work to attend school..
OK — good to know you’re back into a job, even if it’s going to be part time. Also, good to know about your wife — nursing is a great profession in terms of demand and salary as well.
Do I mention the financial hardships and family situation?
Tony’s asking about his scholarship application/essay here. And my answer is definitely yes, as long as there’s some free-form essay portion where you’re asked to discuss yourself and your situation, then absolutely, talk about what’s happened with the layoff.
Not only that, but I’m absolutely in favor of you talking about dropping out of school in the 10th grade to take care of your child. I’m guessing you were 15 or 16 at the time. You were dealt a difficult hand and you took a tough road that you knew would probably limit your future options, and you did it because you wanted to do right by your new family.
Some will disagree with me here, for sure, but I’m a father of two children myself, and I say your decision to drop out is something to PROUD of. I don’t have to tell you this, but obviously life throws you curveballs sometimes, and you gotta do what you gotta do for your family. A lot of guys in your shoes take some sort of chickenshit route to duck their responsibilities — whether it’s denying paternity (although that’s a lot harder these days than it used to be), moving away, or just refusing to support or acknowledge the child. You stood up and took responsibility, which is what guys like us are supposed to do.
So, should you mention that? Hell yeah. To me, as a judge, it says you were made of the right stuff from a young age, even in the face of difficulty. People who make sacrifices for their families often think those stories aren’t worthy of writing about, but they are, and that’s why one of the first tips I ever wrote for my book was Don’t Forget About Your Family.
I know many others have experienced the same thing, so my situation is not unique in any way.
Well, yes and no. Sure, other guys have dropped out of school, and other guys have been laid off, etc. But nobody’s story is completely unique, and just because it’s not completely unique doesn’t meant it’s without merit. Not to get all Tony Robbins on you, but your story is unique to YOU — it’s the only story you’ve got, so tell it. There are two ways of looking at it — “I’m no more important than the next guy” and “I’m just as important as anyone else.” They mean exactly the same thing, but they’re worlds apart in terms of perspective, right? Choose the second one.
I have found many scholarships simply ask how the scholarship will help you and why do you deserve it. I am an honest person and not ashamed of my situation, but when answering these questions, I can’t help but feel like I’m sending an invite to a pity party.
That doesn’t surprise me. If you were the kind of guy that took every opportunity you had to showcase your situation and soak up the pity of others, then you probably never would’ve made it this far. You’re probably the type who suppresses the urge to do that sort of thing, and that’s probably good. It does make it difficult to reverse course, though, when the occasion arises where you MUST inform others about your hardships, like a scholarship essay.
The key, really, is in HOW you convey your situation. There’s definitely some subtlety involved; there’s a thin line between a compelling tale and a sob story. I have a few tips on that, and most of them I’ve written separate posts about, and when that’s the case, I’ve linked them:
a) Committees like stories of overcoming adversity. Your story sounds good to me so far — a guy who turned rough early circumstances into a successful life. Well, now you’re faced with adversity again. Are you ready to overcome it again? Committees like to hear this stuff. It makes us feel like we’re really helping someone.
b) Don’t act like you’re owed the scholarship. I doubt this will be a problem with Tony, but while you do want to mention your hardships, you don’t want to act as if you are OWED the scholarship because of them. That’s where Tony’s earlier observation about his situation not being unique comes in. Lots of people are in a tough spot, and that fact alone doesn’t entitle you to someone else’s money! You’ve got to make your case.
c) If you mention a hardship, say you don’t want special treatment (even if you do). This is gamesmanship, of course, but it’s acceptable gamesmanship. I mean, the whole scholarship application process is all about getting some special treatment, in the form of scholarship money. But there’s something about people who come right out and say they don’t want to be treated different that makes people want to sometimes — well, treat them different.
I have also found it difficult to find scholarships for adult students, as most applying are in high school or recently graduated. Fresh out of school with big dreams and goals, I am concerned my application will simply be set aside. I have goals, not just dreams any more. I am motivated and ready to take this head on.
Well, you may have just discovered the best angle to take in your essays. You’re right — a great majority of scholarship applicants are younger students with lots of dreams and their whole future ahead of them. After a while, they all start to run together. If I were you, I’d zero in on the fact that you’re NOT a teenager with dreams, but an adult with real responsibilities and a family to provide for. That’s a good angle to take — one that a lot of judges can empathize with.
With all that said, I have filled out the financial aid package and checked out the scholarships offered through the school I’m attending, but nothing fits (scholarship wise). The deadline has passed, you have to attend a particular location, or I’m enrolled in a program that is ineligible. I am willing to put in the time and effort to bridge the financial gap. I just need to find something that fits. Do you know of any resources for adult students? I appreciate your time and any information you may have available.
Well, I don’t know of any great clearinghouse of nontraditional-student scholarships, but I would say this, and I hope I’m not being Captain Obvious here — but I think that, in your particular spot, you should take all the student loans you possibly can. And I mean every single dime they’ll give you, subsidized or unsubsidized.
If ever there was a situation tailor-made for indulgence in student loans, yours is it — you’re trying to further your education and you’ve got a family to feed and you really, really need the money. Remember, student loans aren’t intended to be solely for tuition — they’re there to support you in whatever way you need support while you’re attending school. As in, tuition, books, food, shelter, living expenses, etc. Depending on how far you are along in your field of study, you should be able to get between $9,500 and $12,500 from Stafford Loans alone. Here’s the Department of Education’s student loan information.
My advice is to take ’em. You’ll be a diesel mechanic and your wife will be a nurse someday soon; you should be able to handle the payments, and it sounds like you could use the cash on hand. Good luck!
What about you guys? Any advice for Tony? Leave it in the comments section below.