Confessions of a Scholarship Chairperson

substitute teacher quandry

When I attended college, I had a friend tell me about a scholarship for sophomore students that I qualified for. She was part of the scholarship committee and gave me some insight into what exactly they were looking for in a scholarship applicant, so I had a really good chance at winning. 

I put in the work and applied, but ultimately, was denied. 

I was devastated. Why wouldn’t they choose me? If only a few people had applied and there were multiple winners, why wasn’t my application chosen? It was a really good scholarship application! I felt like they hadn’t even read what I had submitted or cared about the work I put into it. 

Fast forward several years later and I become the scholarship chairperson for Honors Graduation. It was exciting that I could be behind the scenes of a scholarship and have the opportunity to choose the winners! Little did I know what emotions were in store for me. 

Each year I read through so many scholarship applications and in the end I can only choose five. Five winners out of all of the applications we receive. 

What I didn’t realize when I applied for a scholarship of my own several years ago was how emotionally intensive it would be to read through so many hardworking, deserving students’ work and have to deny the majority of them. I’m sure when I applied for my scholarship years ago, I wasn’t actually “just another applicant” that they disregarded. Instead, I think my application was one that they poured over, read and re-read, discussed, and came to the conclusion that the scholarship wasn’t for me. 

Because I’ve been in those shoes now, doing the exact same thing with our scholarship applicants. 

Over the next two weeks, my time will be filled with reading and re-reading applications over and over and over until I nearly have them memorized. It’ll be time spent calling the applicant’s references to verify projects and hear what stellar and incredible students they are. My time will be spent building a bond with each of these students and their projects, just to have to make the hard decision at the end on which applicants are the top five and deserve the scholarship money. 

So when that hard rejection email hits your inbox, just know that it’s hard on our end to choose the winners, too. I’ve been on that end of rejection, and it hurts. But maybe it feels a little better to know that your application wasn’t thrown in the reject pile, but read over and over and appreciated, even if you didn’t win. 

Lessons Learned From Awarding Multiple $10,000 Scholarships

Our 2021 scholarship has come to a close and the winners have been chosen. This was my first year as scholarship chairperson and I am going to be completely honest with you, it was not what I expected. 

I expected applications to come in, I would read and review them and then choose the winners. However, there was a lot of in-between that I didn’t see coming. Applications did come in, and I did read and review them. But instead of just casually choosing a winner, I read the applications again, and again. And then I tried to determine which applications should be considered finalists. And then I read the applications again. After that, I spoke with mentors of these students to verify projects and receive a little more insight on them and the project they were carrying out in their community. After every single conversation, I was convinced THIS was the student that deserved the scholarship. I made 15+ phone calls, but could only choose 5 winners. 

Needless to say, it was stressful! However, it was still an incredible experience. Here are a few things I learned along the way. 

There is so much good in this world. So, so, so much good. 

A lot of this good is coming from the youth in our communities. 

I underestimated what 17 to 18-year-olds were capable of. 

They are also more empathetic than we give them credit for. 

Our future is actually in really good hands. 

Reading through each project that these students submitted was incredible to hear more about the struggles in their community and how they sought out to find a solution and fix these problems. Becoming a scholarship chairperson was quite possibly the best decision I’ve made. These kids truly do deserve so much recognition, whether they won the scholarship award or not!