When taking the approach of simply writing MY story

There is a very specific sense of intimidation that occurs when starting a high stakes scholarship application. At first, I worried about whether or not I was really qualified to apply; and after the confidence boost of realizing that I am qualified, I was quickly knocked down by the reality that everyone applying for the same scholarship is just as, if not more, qualified. Some of my friends were applying for the same scholarship: I would look up to them with such admiration for their merit and drive, but also feel almost threatened knowing the possibility of all of us being granted $120,000 was less than slim.

However, at the same time, there was a great sense of camaraderie between us all— the same sense of intimidation, the same pressure under the looming deadline, the same disdain for the overly-vague essay prompts, etcetera. With the same intensity we advocated for ourselves in our applications, we supported one another throughout the process.

Like many others, the highest hurdle for me was the essay portion of the application. When the purpose of the written questions is for the reviewers to know more about you as an applicant, student, and overall person outside of academic settings, it forces a massive amount of introspection. Who am I outside of my grades and extracurriculars? What experiences really formed me? Where do I actually see my future heading? How would receiving this award impact my life past college tuition? I think this is where a lot of students, including me, would hit a writer’s block because, unless you’ve already applied to something like this before, this is the first time that high school seniors would be prompted to truly think about and articulate 300 words about themselves, rather than how literary devices build up an author’s main claim, or how the 2nd amendment continues to be debated today.

Writing a personal essay cannot be approached the same way a graded school essay would be. I say this in the sense that you can’t be aiming for a thesis point, evidence points, or anything that would constitute a “good score.” I started writing my first drafts in this way, and I found it so much easier to fall into a detached, robotic, mechanical, and cliche answer. I was no longer writing my story, but a sales pitch only on the most eye-candy-like parts of myself and my life.

When taking the approach of simply writing my story, my essays more truly express my authentic growth, mindset, downfalls, recoveries, and the resulting person in totality of all of those experiences. However, these can only be reflected clearly if the writing follows a thorough self-examination and exploration, which is never easy. Neither is holding back tears while typing out your vulnerabilities onto your application, but I concede that opening the application in the first place and subjecting myself to this inevitable process was the most significant act of courage of this whole process.

Two o’clock on a Monday morning/Sunday night was when my cursor hovered over the “Submit” button for the last time. Relief washed over me as I sent away my courage with my application to the scholarship foundation.

And now we wait.

- N. J.
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