South East High School

Op-Ed: How I won ‘The Gates Scholarship’

When I found out that I won The Gates Scholarship, I felt so much weight off my shoulders, because I would no longer have to worry about how I have to pay for college. The process was tiring and, honestly, a bit of a self-esteem killer, but I triumphed.

After a year hiatus, the scholarship made a comeback. I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to possibly alleviate my family and myself of the financial hardship of having to pay for school, so I applied.

The first two rounds asked about basic information such as family income, high school grades, standardized test scores, and involvement in extracurriculars.

I was surprised when I found out that I made it past the two preliminary rounds and into the semi-finalist round, which was the essay round of the scholarship. That portion was difficult because I had writer’s block during the two months I had to complete the essays. I began and finished my essays the day they were due, which is something I advise against.

It was not the best choice to procrastinate about something so important, so my hopes of getting the scholarship absolutely went down the drain.

I was trying to get the most help as possible, so I applied to more scholarships, such as the Milken Scholars program, the Coca-Cola Scholars Program, the META Foundation scholarship. After rejection from those scholarships, my self-esteem went fell to an all time low. I felt as if no matter how hard I tried, I was not succeeding the way I hoped.

I remember the day I found out I made it into the finalist round. I was at practice at the tennis courts, and I jumped up in the air. People were worried, because my shriek of excitement sounds a lot like a shriek of panic.

I was surprised, because I thought my essays weren’t as strong as expected, but when I re-read them, I was shocked at how I was able to encapsulate the downs and lows of my personal and academic life in so little time.

The finalist round was the interview stage of the scholarship and it was nerve wracking. For previous college admissions interviews, I did not prepare and would unsurprisingly do a horrible job. I would stutter, give unclear and short answers, and not answer the question quite well.

I had about a week from the time I found out I was a finalist until the interview date, so I decided to dedicate my life to preparing for the interview. I asked peers, teachers, and administrators to give me the most tips possible. I had mock interviews with myself in the mirror to practice what I said and how I said it.

As the interview approached, I felt like something was punching me in my gut. I was completely nervous, but I kept my cool. The interview was a Skype interview, so I wore jeans with a button up shirt and tie to seem professional.

My interviewer asked me questions about what I like to do at school, so I elaborated more on my extracurriculars. While I don’t do many, I do become completely invested and gave my full time and attention to the process.

The question that can make or break an interview: “Is there anything you’d like to add that was not reflected in your application?” was the question where I shined bright.

I talked about how I always seek to improve and innovate things I do and things I participate in. For example, I helped our newspaper create a design that is sleek and pleasing to the reader’s eye. I also helped our school’s Interact Club grow its membership to the biggest in years because of sharing my experiences in the club and how I’ve benefited from being a member. I also helped the tennis team grow from a mere sport that was constantly ignored to one of the sports with the most participation because of my experiences of growing into a student-athlete where I can perform to my fullest potential in the classroom and on the court without giving up one or the other.

After my interview, I was confident about receiving the scholarship because I gave some of my best responses, and I could tell that the interviewer was impressed with what I said.

I had to wait about a month and a half for April 20, the day I found out if I had been awarded the scholarship.

On that same day, our tennis team had a playoff quarterfinal match, so I felt the pressure mounting. We lost our match and our season came to an end that day, but I had yet to hear the response.

I was waiting for other matches to finish when the email I dreaded for over a month came in. The email read, “Congratulations! We are delighted to announce that you have been selected as a Gates Scholar and a member of The Gates Scholarship Inaugural class of 2018.”

I jumped off of the bench I was sitting and yelled “OH MY GOD!” I immediately called my mom to tell her the news and we started crying on the phone. I felt a weight off my shoulders, because, although I had not chosen the most affordable university to attend, I did not have to worry about being a financial burden on my family.

The last time I went to Panda Express, my fortune in my cookie read, “You have to kiss a few frogs before finding Prince Charming.” I was surprised that the fortune became kind of true, because, after being rejected from other scholarships, I received the most rewarding of them all.

My advice to people seeking to apply not only to The Gates Scholarship, but other scholarships and to colleges and universities in general, is to put forth your best effort both inside and outside of the classroom.

Get involved. You don’t have to be in a lot of clubs, but find something you are interested and passionate about and do something related to your interest outside of school.

Always do your work on time and do not procrastinate. Constant procrastination will not get you very far. Don’t be afraid to seek for help from others because their help will get you very far.

You don’t have to be the smartest person to receive opportunities like these. I’m not at the top of my class, but I do believe that I go the extra mile compared to others to achieve what I have, so never be discouraged because of academic standing.

2 Comments

  • Reply Nancy Hur May 9, 2018 at 2:46 pm

    Congrats! What did you write about? How many students applied? Is it a four year scholarship? WHat do you plan to study? How thoughtful of you to think of the financial burden to your family. Most young ppl forget about the significant student loans will have on their own life.

    Like

  • Reply Richard Coca May 11, 2018 at 9:17 pm

    See you in Texas! :)

    Like

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