Have you ever thrown a scholarship application against a wall? Perhaps into the recycling bin? Maybe against a younger brother’s face? I’m guilty of all three. I’m also guilty of enjoying that last one.
When I was a high school senior, I had no idea what to write on scholarship applications. I grew up in Dillingham, a fishing community in Southwest Alaska. I’d gone to school for most of my life. I babysat kids. I had a driver’s license. Do you find any of that particularly compelling? No, you probably don’t because it is all pretty boring. I didn’t think there was anything super interesting about my life either, but I knew that I needed scholarships to go to college unless my parents discovered buried treasure in our yard. Our yard had old boat parts, nets, gas cans, bikes, and dogs in it, but no oil wells or gold mines. Or pirate shipwrecks. So, surprise riches were unlikely.
I finally forced myself to write something. I wrote how nice I was, that I showed up to school, and that education was important. I threw in some stuff about responsibility. I wrote that I loved school, which wasn’t exactly true, but I was desperate for things to write that sounded smart.
Are you impressed? Yeah, no one else was either. Fortunately, my dad was wise enough and patient enough to help me out. He explained that being nice, attending school, and taking education seriously were things I was expected to do; there was nothing impressive in meeting basic expectations. He addressed the not-true part about loving school with one of his stern looks over the top of his reading glasses. Then, he gave me the key to scholarship applications: focus on things you’ve learned, not just things you’ve done.
It’s important enough to repeat. Here it is in yelling-all-caps: FOCUS ON THINGS YOU’VE LEARNED, NOT JUST THINGS YOU’VE DONE!
Don’t worry if you don’t get it yet; I didn’t get it at first either. It took couple of examples. Think about babysitting. If you just say you babysat, people are unlikely to be especially moved. Babysitting is just a thing you’ve DONE. There is a ton of stuff babysitting teaches you: considering the needs of others, being trustworthy enough for adults to leave you in charge of their homes and children, knowing how to check whether a situation is safe or not, etc. The things you’ve LEARNED from babysitting go beyond just babysitting:
- Considering the needs of others is especially important in careers like teaching, social work, and healthcare.
- Being trustworthy enough to be in charge makes you especially valuable in fields like law enforcement, emergency response, the military, finance, and teaching.
- Checking the safety of a situation especially applies in law enforcement, emergency response, the military, construction, welding, and for pilots, mechanics, and miners. And teachers (good teachers have a huge number of skills).
- One way to write could look like this:
Babysitting and flying planes might not seem to have much in common, but things I’ve learned from babysitting will help me reach my goal of becoming a pilot. In babysitting, I had to get comfortable with checking the safety of a situation. Before I can get my pilot’s license, I will need to get just as comfortable with checking weather conditions, aircrafts, and any crew as all of those things are part of a pilot’s responsibility regarding the safety of situations. I already learned to be mindful of safety as a babysitter, so I will build on that as I learn what safety means to pilots. Being a safe pilot will be one of the things future companies will value about me. It will also be one of the ways I can care for others through my job.
Wait! Suppose you don’t know which career path you want to take! Yay, the strategy still works! You just change it a bit. Be clear about things you’ve LEARNED, how that matters to what you care about, and connect that to possible future opportunities:
- If moose hunting taught you to keep going even though you are tired, perhaps that is because you care about your family having good food or maybe because subsistence is important to you. Caring about people having good food could lead to careers in nutrition, food science and regulation, or the restaurant industry! Believing that subsistence is important could mean that you might become a lawyer to defend subsistence rights or a biologist working to keep moose populations healthy so that hunting is permitted. You don’t have to commit to being a lawyer or biologist now.
- One way to write could look like this:
When I am moose-hunting, I keep going even when I’m tired because subsistence food is part of my family’s way of life. Due to this, I might pursue a law degree so that I am able to defend and preserve subsistence rights in Alaska. I could also become a wildlife biologist to help manage healthy numbers of moose in Alaska so that hunting traditions can continue. No matter what I eventually choose to do, I already know how to keep going even when I’m tired. I will finish what I start.
In your scholarship applications, emphasize how things you’ve LEARNED connect to future opportunities whether you are ready to be specific about those opportunities or not.
You can do this! Start writing! Yes, you can get your scholarship applications done without throwing them around!
Blog Written by: Stephanie Sanderlin, RRANN Student Success Facilitator | UAA
RRANN (Recruitment and Retention of Alaska Natives into Nursing) began in 1998 with federal grant funds to recruit and mentor Alaska Native and American Indian students in the pursuit of nursing degrees. RRANN helps students in all major regions of Alaska: Aleutian Islands, Far North, Interior, Southcentral, Southeast, and Southwest. This includes rural communities with populations below 100 to urban communities in large cities.
- RRANN has proudly seen over 300 Alaska Native and American Indian students graduate from the School of Nursing.
- 100% of RRANN students are Alaska Native and/or American Indian.
- RRANN serves Alaska Native and/or American Indian students from communities across Alaska.