For a long time, scholarship applications were challenging for me. I felt that I needed to concentrate my entire human existence into a few pages, cramming twenty years of life into a short resume or essay response. There are so many things riding on what is usually a relatively small paragraph and a list of past jobs, achievements, and community activities. During my time as a member of NSHSS, I have applied for two awards: the Claes Nobel National Scholar Award, which I was awarded in 2017, and the Di Yerbury International Scholar Award, which I received in 2019. Each time that I have applied to an NSHSS scholarship, I have learned certain lessons for the future and refined skills that have and will continue to prove useful in college, the workplace, and beyond.
First and foremost, I have endeavored to let myself shine through on my application materials. It all depends on context, of course, but you want to set yourself apart from all the other applicants. For example, many NSHSS awards request a resume that is fairly broad in its scope, so share skills and experiences that are unique to you, such as a foreign language that you know or a summer camp at which you volunteered. I have often felt that I have not done anything “exciting” or “unique,” but rest assured: We all are the sum of our experiences and, with some thought and a little ingenuity, most of what you have learned and done can be presented as something that has contributed to your development as the invaluable person and student that you intrinsically are.
Secondly, while completing various applications, I have recognized the value of writing clearly and concisely. As a writer, I enjoy waxing poetic and employing a more, shall we say, literary style of word choice and syntax. But when one has a maximum of 500 words to explain why he or she should receive a scholarship instead of the hundreds (or, sometimes, thousands) of other students who have also applied, being short is indeed sweet. Do not think that I am suggesting that you write two sentences and submit them as your “essay.” Rather, I am saying that you should use as much space as required to get your point across but no further. A good writer can summarize a few paragraphs into a few sentences, and doing so will make your application essays not only easier to read but also more complete in that you have more space to incorporate other information, anecdotes, etc.
Thirdly, I have reminded myself many times to stay focused. Some prompts may be open-ended and seize those opportunities to express yourself and your interests. But, in my experience, most application questions are designed to evaluate your ability to address a specific topic within a limited set of parameters. Thus, I recommend that you check, double-check, even triple-check that your final application meets all stated requirements and answers every prompt. This may appear to be constricting at first, but you will soon find it easier than trying to accomplish what is, in my opinion, the impossible task of providing a sweeping overview of yourself that would sufficiently convince the application reviewers to award you the scholarship. That is the purpose of the resume, and while I strongly encourage making your essay responses unique and personal, to let yourself shine through, never lose sight of what you are being asked to do.
Having read these few suggestions—and they are simply suggestions—you may feel more overwhelmed, confused, or disheartened about your scholarship prospects than you were when you started this article. But take heart, my fellow scholars: As I have said, I did not think that I was anything special or unique, and yet I have been awarded two scholarships by the Society. You can do this and so much more.
The awards that I have received from NSHSS have contributed greatly to my academic career as well as my development as a human being and global citizen, specifically by giving me the means to study abroad. Last year, I had the opportunity to spend a month in Germany, where I studied the German language, history, and culture under the Nazis, during the Cold War, and after the reunification of the German Democratic Republic (commonly referred to as East Germany) and the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany). It was a fascinating experience: I stayed with a German host family for the month, and I commuted every day to the institute where my cohort met for our German classes. On the weekends, our group took excursions to Leipzig, Wittenberg, and Nuremberg, where famous personages such as Johann Sebastian Bach, Martin Luther, and Albrecht Dürer made history. During our one “free” weekend, when we could travel anywhere we liked, a friend and I took a train down to Salzburg, Austria, which is known for being the home of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Maria von Trapp, upon whose life the musical The Sound of Music is based.
This past January, I spent a month in Northern Ireland, and I detailed my experiences in my last blog article, "My Personal Journey to Leadership." Both study away experiences were unforgettable, to say the least, and each was made possible by an NSHSS scholarship.
I have been truly blessed to travel and learn hands-on about the world around me, and I am grateful to the Society for helping me pursue my dreams. So, I exhort you, fellow scholars, to seize the possibilities before you and watch where your journey as an NSHSS member takes you.