With each new academic year comes another chance for students to compete for national scholarships like the Rhodes, Marshall and Fulbright. These scholarships offer extraordinary opportunities for travel, for learning, for prestige.
Yet winning seems like a crazy dream. There are only 32 Rhodes and 40 Marshall scholars each year. The Fulbright is much larger–with over 700 grants in the US Student program alone–but the competition for them is fierce, too. What good could come from competing, even if you’re likely to lose? Here are a few thoughts:
1) You might win. If basketball players began the season certain they would lose every game or sure they would never advance in a tournament, they would never step on a court. And yet they know that there can be only one champion. What makes them compete? The knowledge that they could win. And you could, too.
2) You need to be well prepared. Let’s stick with the basketball analogy. Players don’t just wish they can win. They work hard to prepare for winning by practicing, training, pushing their bodies. Someone dreaming of a Rhodes can put in the same level of work and dedication to building a stunning record of achievement worthy of the award.
3) You need a good coach. Players lack the vision and experience to know how to compete, how to be strategic, and how to best use their energy. Scholarship applicants need the same help from faculty, staff, and mentors to know how to build skills, focus research proposals, and prepare winning essays.
4) Start small, end big. No team goes to the NCAA tournament without winning in regional or conference tournaments. You can’t expect an invitation to a Marshall competition without gaining confidence and resources from smaller successes, such as winning a travel grant for research.
5) Consider the wider payoff. Many professors just don’t get the student-athlete. They don’t see the value in the game, the thrill of competition and the confidence that comes of leaving it all on the court. Failed Fulbright and Rhodes applicants know the value of those games. They gather skill from crafting an application, focus by thinking clearly about their future, and desire to remain in the hunt for life’s rewards.
We know the fall will end with a handful of scholarship winners, and a lot of disappointed students, parents, faculty and institutions. But if you approach these competitions with skill, determination and support, you can win. And if you don’t, you will still be a winner.