Personal · School

March: The Month of Scholarships (That I Didn’t Get)

Originally posted on Apr 8th, 2015 11:43:29pm @

I am by no means a sports fan. Usually “March Madness” means nothing to me, or if it does, it’s because of the fun spinoffs it inspires, like Game of Totes or Poetry Madness. But this year I had my own March Madness in the form of college preparation.

March is an important month for aspiring college students. It’s when most students receive their acceptances and rejections. It’s when most schools send out their financial aid packages. And, for me at least, it’s when students hear back (or don’t hear back) about scholarships.

I have been an excellent student my whole life. Part of it is because I am blessed with smart parents and must have inherited some of those genes. Part of it is because I genuinely love learning and the achievement of knowledge, and because I subsequently have spent the greater part of my life working hard for those things. My grades, test scores, and, now, merit scholarships are units by which I measure the payoff of all the time that I have spent and the effort I have expended in the great pursuit of knowledge.

I will be the first to admit that the way that students are measured by the U.S. public school system is deeply flawed. The system is like a cute dress whose tag boasts “one size fits all”–the idea is lovely and looks great before you try it on. But for most people, there is at least one aspect of the mass-produced dress that’s unflattering. I happen to be one of the lucky few for whom that “one size” is the correct size, or as close to it as I will ever get. Because I know that the way my school measures me is an accurate reflection of my knowledge and capabilities of a person, I put a lot of stock into it. And for most of my life that has been a greatly rewarding system. The grades on my papers and scores on my tests have always been physical affirmations of my self-worth, and they’ve always been important to me.

Applying for colleges and scholarships brought a new dimension and aspect to this particular measure of my self-worth: merit scholarships, which go to only handful of people, or in some cases, only one person.

As children we are often taught that “there will always be someone better.” That doesn’t stop us from trying to be the best. I applied for 10 major scholarships this year–there are probably more that I don’t remember. Most of them required exhaustive applications; some of them were essentially their own college applications. Four of them were full rides, or borderline full rides, and therefore attracted a ridiculous number of applicants. The first three of those all rejected me before March, the Month of  Scholarships That I Didn’t Get, and each rejection was a punch to the gut. For the fourth scholarship, I actually made it to the semifinalist round and interviewed over Skype. And then came another rejection. That one was the most difficult: being almost good enough.

That is the difference between grades or test scores and merit scholarships: for the former, you are competing only against yourself, trying to put out your best work and to be recognized for it; for the latter, you are competing against hundreds and thousands of other people… and “there will always be someone better.”

It is difficult for people like me, the Type A personalities who are too hard on themselves and who place a lot of importance on achievement, to remember that our self-worth is not defined by how much money a college wants to throw at us, by our ACT score or our class rank. We don’t need to be awarded a scholarship to be assured that all the work we have put into our educations has paid off, to be validated or satisfied with ourselves. Our worth as a person is defined by more important things: by how we learn from our mistakes, how we treat other people, how we pursue our goals and how happy we are with ourselves.

Even though sometimes it feels like I have been rejected for more scholarships than I have even applied to, March has been a good month. I finally chose a school. I found a very cool roommate. I had a beautiful beach weekend with my family and boyfriend. I got some really comfy sweatpants. I spent a lot of time snuggling my cat.

I just have to remember that all of those things are equally as important to my success and satisfaction–actually, more important–than winning scholarships is.

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