After I finished the Posse Foundation interview process, my winter schedule was filled with college application deadlines. It was still December, but in another month, the applications for New York University, Syracuse University, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and the Gates Millennium Scholarship would be due.
My winter break was no doubt going to be quite busy and hectic. Additionally, considering that I still had family matters to attend to, I knew it was going to be a challenge balancing my workload with babysitting, chores and shoveling snow. Yet, I took the conflicting responsibilities as an exercise, merely more practice for real college homework assignments and spending a little more time into the night finishing each application and to ensure they contained every piece of information they required before being submitted.
The Gates Millennium Scholarship -- also abbreviated a GMSP -- was one my most important applications over the winter break. I first learned about the scholarship during my freshman year of high school at a college information session; yet, it wasn't until my junior year that I was inspired to apply because I learned that one of my school's former senior students had won the scholarship last year. With only a week left to complete the application, it was her diligence and perseverance that astounded me the most; her hard work and her time spent on this scholarship was what influenced me to start on the application last summer. Looking over the application for the first time, I was surprised by the number of essays required. At eight essays, I could see the stress that my fellow senior student experienced when trying to sharpen her responses to each prompt along with submitting her financial documents. Yet, I was not afraid of the challenge of completing the scholarship. With a little research, I was able to fully understand the benefits of the scholarship and its reward for hard work and determination.
To start off, the GMSP is a scholarship for minority students, which consist of African Americans, Hispanic Americans, Native Americans, and Asian Americans, that provides a grant of up to $200,000 to cover unmet need, towards college fees including tuition, room and board, and even personal expenses. With over 20,000 students applying for this scholarship each year, the competition is often very stiff and highly selective; only 1,000 applicants are chosen to become Gates Scholars, but becoming a Gates Scholar is a very high honor and ensures that the student will indeed be able to pay for his or her college expenses.
The other benefit of becoming a Gates Scholar is that the student is given the opportunity to go back to school at any time during the course of 10 years starting from the year they received the scholarship, while providing mentorship services that encourage academic excellence and access to college internships and information about certain career fields. The application process for the scholarship is broken down into two rounds: during the first round, I was required to complete the application before January 15, 2014. Whoever is chosen to participate in the second round, which begins in March, is then required to submit financial documentation like the FAFSA in order to determine how much aid would be rewarded to the winners of the scholarship.
However, to be completely honest, it was difficult to get started on the first portion of the application process. Submitting information about my academics, leadership positions, and estimated financial need were easy enough, though, but it was the eight essay prompts that somewhat gave me a nervous edge. Each essay could reach a limit of 1,000 words, but whenever I would sit myself down to write about my life goals or the time when I was treated unfairly, the writer's block would creep up my fingers; I admittedly could not come up with a potential answer without trailing off into another topic, and it was frustrating to me. I kept going back and forth in my Google Drive through my other essays that I had previously written for Posse Foundation and Chicago Scholars for ideas, but still the WordPad document remained blank or appeared bland with what I did manage to write. For the first three months of school, I struggled trying to type up the essays, repeatedly putting them on hold whenever I couldn't produce even a paragraph of free writing or whenever my school schedule did not give me time to write them.
This was when I finally decided to dedicate my winter break to complete the essays on top of my other college applications. With January coming sooner than expected, I felt the pressure on my shoulders. By this time, though, I could have given up on the application entirely, but I still had enough willpower to keep pushing onward. After I submitted my college applications on January 1, I set straight to work on the scholarship essays. I focused on one essay per day, referencing ideas from my other essay writings and expanding upon them. Coming back to school on January 6, I had all eight essays reviewed, edited and sharpened by my Saturday ACT program mentors. After the storm of typing and mind-boggling stress, I felt at ease and confident that I had completed a major portion of the application. With the essays completed, I now had to make sure that all other documents were submitted, which included transcripts, leadership positions, personal information, financial information and parent consent. Once again, I breathed a sigh of triumph. I had completed a major scholarship!
January 15 was only two days away when I finally submitted my application. Looking back at winter break, I realized that I had done much for myself regarding my future college plans. With four more college applications and a major scholarship completed, I saw that I had followed through with my goal to continue applying for post-secondary education. I feel proud for having spent my winter break working on these important applications, especially the Gates Millennium Scholarship. Instead of wasting it away playing video games, I used my time wisely to plan my future.
Now, I can see how competitive the application process is and how many students are doing their best to get into their dream college, including myself. If I would have spent winter break doing something else rather than college applications, then I am sure I would have been lagging behind in the race to get to college. This is how I learned that every minute matters, and every minute wasted cannot be recovered if it was spent playing around. All of this was possible because of my determination and encouragement from teachers and mentors. I could not ask for a more surprising senior experience such as this: yes, there is a lot of stress involved this year, but I've learned that dealing with it is better than giving up on all the hard work I have accomplished throughout my high school career.