(Photo Courtesy of The Gates Scholarship)

Interview with a Gates Millennium Scholar

(Photo Courtesy of The Gates Scholarship)

This year will be the first year that the Gates Scholarship will be rolled out and it will be 300 students from this year’s application pool that will receive the prestigious award. A new and updated version of the Gates Millennium Scholarship Application, the Gates Scholarship poses one of the greatest opportunities for students seeking higher education. According to their website, “the Gates Scholarship is a highly selective, full scholarship for exceptional, Pell-eligible, minority, high school seniors.” The program intends to promote the academic excellence of its scholars through college graduation and providing them the opportunity to reach their full potential. In essence, it hopes to propel minority students into and through their dream university in order to grant them the success that they’ve worked hard to get.

Timeline of the application process (Photo Courtesy of the Gates Scholarship)

In preparation for the process that’s to come, I sat down with Jennifer Diaz, a Gates Millennium Scholar, whose advice should still hold true, regardless of the scholarship’s name change. Here are just a few of the takeaways from a night with this scholar.

1. Be authentic and genuine in the application process.

Q: First and foremost, what is the number one thing all applicants should keep in mind?

A: Be authentic, real, and sincere. And I mean that sincerely. The application process should really be a time of reflection and introspection and when you lie or write a puff piece it shows!

Q: Really? How would the readers know you’re lying?

A: They just know… Yeah… I think it’s because the essays are really personal…and they should be personal. And when they’re not [personal] the readers, I guess, feel this lack of connection with you. And that’s what the essays should really be doing. Forging a bond with you and the reader.

2. Highlight your struggles in your essays, especially those you don’t even think about.

Q: So how do you that? (refer to the previous question)

A: How do you that…well. Well, you really have to be yourself. Oh, and make sure to highlight your struggles! By nature, humans are compelled to conflict

Q: Conflict?

A: Yes, conflict. They want to see you struggle. They want to see you persist. They want to see you overcome obstacles in a way that resonates with them. Oh. I’m not sure if they do this anymore, but it used to be that alumni of this program would review the applicants. While not everyone can relate to your struggle, it should be universal in the sense that we don’t empathize with you but rather see you in a different light….where we can get a better understanding of that person.

3. Three Other Key Pieces of Advice Summed up

1) Set strict deadlines with yourself and be organized. If you’re not a Type A person, become one to prepare for this application.

2) Have a fresh pair of eyes and a group of close advisors for your essays. You really know it’s a good essay when “you cry after reading it out of pride and joy.”

3) Know that the process of writing follows the three R’s.




4. Dream big and dream scary!

The biggest takeaway that I had personally was the idea that your dream should really be your nightmare. Jennifer frequently reminded me in our time together that you should not be comfortable when following your dreams. “If it’s not scary, you’re doing something wrong.”

Q: Why?

A: Because it’s simply not a dream unless it’s scary.

Q: Like a nightmare?

A: Yes! Your dream should be your nightmare. The very thought of it should overwhelm you and scare you. But overcoming that fear is the fun part. It’s afterward that makes it all worth it.

Since it was this dialogue that resonated with me the most, it’s the reason why I want to encourage any senior reading this to apply. Go ahead, even if you’re scared or don’t think you’ll get in, apply: