SCHOLAR SPOTLIGHT: Christopher Guilcapi (Scholars ’10, Union County Magnet School ’14, Lehigh University ’18) Meet Christopher Guilcapi and hear his tips for scholarship applications!
How awesome is it to hear about young people who see something that they want, and say, ‘I am going to go get it!’? Imagine taking that approach with all of the decisions in your life, including the college application process. You must be willing to sacrifice your free time – including Facebook, Instagram, and Vine surfing time – to research, write, and research some more to do whatever it takes (with integrity, of course) to make your journey to your dream college come true. In making those dreams come true, you sometimes have to think outside the box, and apply for big and small scholarships.
Meet SEEDS’ alum Christopher Guilcapi, who recently graduated from Union County Vocational Technical High School, and is heading to Lehigh University in the fall of 2014. Attending schools like Lehigh University can be super expensive, and Chris knew that his dream of going to Lehigh was not going to happen with his financial aid package. Therefore, he took the chance and time to apply for scholarships.
What are some of the scholarships that you have obtained, Chris?
I originally applied for 7 scholarships, and received the Gates Millennium Scholarship, which covers all unmet financial needs, and can be used to fund up to a doctorate degree in specific courses. I received the Buick Achievers Scholarship, which varies in the amount of help it provides; I received $25,000 that goes directly to the school to help my tuition. I also received the Hispanic Business Council Scholarship, which have me $3,000 that I can use to pay for books and the Coca-Cola Regional Finalist Scholarship, which awarded me $1,000 that I can use to purchase a computer for school. Lastly, I received the College Week Live Scholarship, which awarded me $2,500.
What motivated you to research scholarships for college?
I did not want to worry about having to pay for college or making my college expenses a burden to my family. I heard about some of these scholarships through summer programs that I did (such as E2@MIT). I also had relatives and academic advisors from SEEDS talk to me about researching scholarships. I realized that all you have to do is tell your story, and you might get picked. So I decided to give it a try and go for it. I did a lot of my own research to find out about all of these scholarships like the Buick Achievers Scholarship and the Hispanic Business Council.
What helped you in your research for scholarships?
I researched the scholarships through multiple scholarship websites like fastweb.com, scholarships.com, and cappex.com. I also did simple Google searches for specific scholarships that connected to my interests and identity. For example, I would Google search terms like “Hispanic scholarships” or “popular college scholarships.”
How did you find out the scholarship deadlines?
Usually, the deadlines for many of the scholarships were due in the winter and early part of the spring (December, January or February). It is important that you look for the application deadlines on the scholarship’s website and mark it in red on your calendar. The earlier you complete the application, the more time you have to proofread your work. I would recommend taking two hours each weekend to complete the application essays. It is also wise to complete the application one month prior to the due date. This will allow you to receive feedback from your English teachers and Guidance counselors.
What did you notice about completing the scholarship applications?
I noticed that many of the scholarships asked similar essay questions. I realized the biggest step was typing the first drafts for all of the essays, because writing the essays for scholarships gets easier with practice. I noticed that I was able to reuse some of the main ideas for some of the essays I had written.
I also realized all of the applications needed multiple essays and teacher recommendations. So I approached teachers that really knew me well enough to not only talk about my academic performance, but my character as a young man and asked them to write multiple recommendations for me, because each scholarship was different. Some had recommendation forms and other required a letter of recommendation. Recommendations are very important and can really make you stand out from other applicants.
How did you pace yourself in completing the applications, while balancing school work and your extracurricular activities?
The most important thing I did was remember to not forget my main obligation, which was doing well in school. During my spare time, instead of watching TV, surfing the web and/or playing video games, I completed my applications and brainstormed ideas for my essays. I was able to manage my time and stress levels because I paced myself while completing college and scholarship applications. Each week, I completed a task for each of the scholarships to ensure I did not stress myself.
How many times did you have someone read over your essays?
I had my essays proofread by my English teachers and my school counselor. In all, I had three people proofread and edit each essay. I did because I wanted to know what their perspective was and to learn if my story was clear and concise. I wanted to hear their feedback as it related to grammar, structure, and if the essay sounded as if I was being true to myself and to ensure I was representing myself effectively.
Do you have any final thoughts you would like to share, Chris?
Sure! What I have learned is that you cannot be afraid of anything, especially when it comes to your future. You have to apply for scholarships, even if you think you may not have a chance to get them. You have to do this, because your story might just be what the scholarship committee is looking for. Perseverance is key, so give yourself options and run with it!
To help you write your scholarship essays this spring and summer, we at Story To College are partnering with College Greenlight to break down scholarship essay questions each Tuesday over the next month. This week, we’re starting with the first half of the Gates Millennium Scholarship.
The Gates Millennium Scholarship provides renewable undergraduate (and postgrad) tuition to students of color who demonstrate significant financial need. That means a full ride to the school of your choice. While the deadline, which falls in mid-January, has passed for 2014, this breakdown will provide this year’s juniors a chance to get ahead. It will also model for approaching scholarship essays with similar questions.
As with any application, you should get to know the values and goals of the place to which you are applying. The GMS describes itself as founded on the vision of leadership: specifically, students of “extraordinary promise” who will make a “significant impact” on the American landscape after their graduation. Their application is designed to figure out if you have the grit, perseverance, ambition and compassion to be a powerful change-maker in the new millennium.
Take a deep breath. That sounds scary, but the GMS readers are looking for the same thing every reader is looking for: you. You stand out by revealing your character through telling specific stories. Read the student profiles in their 2012 Annual Report, and get a sense for the kind of details that they’re looking for. Here are some tips for making an impression in the first three questions of the Gates Millennium Scholarship Application:
1. Discuss the subjects in which you excel or have excelled. To what factors do you attribute your success?
Don’t be fooled: this question is not asking for a laundry list of your successes. Nothing is more guaranteed to make a reader’s eyes cross. That second sentence is crucial. When they ask “to what factors do you attribute your success,” they’re really asking if you can reflect and identify your own strengths. Reflection is a crucial skill of all leaders; this will come up again and again in the GMS application.
So take a moment. Reflect. What subjects have you excelled in, and why? What personal characteristics have made you successful in them?
Next, find a moment when you had to rely on that characteristic to excel. Did you need to be a creative thinker in robotics? Did you have to use your humility and curiosity to reach out for extra help in Chemistry? Consider defining “excel” in non-traditional ways. What does success mean to you? (Do keep in mind: the GMS is an academic scholarship particularly interested in successes in leadership, community service, and academics, with a leaning towards science and math, although they support students with interests in all fields.)
2. Discuss the subjects in which you have had difficulty. What factors do you believe contributed to your difficulties? How have you dealt with them so they will not cause problems for you again? In what areas have you experienced the greatest improvement? What problem areas remain?
Like the first prompt, this question is interested in your ability to reflect. Here, they want to know how you deal with hardship.
The most important part of this question is the third sentence: How have you dealt with them so they will not cause problems for you again? To answer this question effectively, you need to explain not only how and when you struggled, but what you did to overcome that difficulty. Keep this in mind, so you don’t get bogged down in that swamp of “all the times I failed.” Keep your brainstorming focused, actually, on your successes!
Then address the last two questions: how have you most improved, and what remains to be done? Think of this essay like a three-act play: describe your difficulty, the climax, and finally, the forward-looking resolution. To stay memorable, use specific details that are unique to only you, like dialogue or description.
3. Briefly describe a situation in which you felt that you or others were treated unfairly or were not given an opportunity you felt you deserved. Why do you think this happened? How did you respond? Did the situation improve as a result of your response?
This question is asking about your conflict management. Remember, the GMS is looking for leaders. You want to show you can handle prejudice productively.
Brainstorm a list of injustices you’ve witnessed or been subjected to. Be real and honest. Sometimes that means a story about the lady at the supermarket, or being pulled over by the police. Sometimes it’s your friend’s mom, or a substitute teacher, or the bullies in sixth grade that are inflicting the unfair treatment. We’ve all seen it. Don’t reach: reflect.
You don’t have to be a superhero, though. Sometimes, unfair things stay unfair, no matter how we handle them. That’s how the cookie crumbles. Take the opportunity to discuss what you would do differently, or how you want to make a change in the future.
I talked to our CEO Carol Barash for more advice on this question. Here’s what she said:
“It’s really easy to get lost in your thoughts in a prompt like this, which is one of the biggest mistakes students can make. Don’t talk about ideas. Show actions. Your actions reveal your character to the selection committee more compellingly than any claim of ‘responsibility’ ever could. Finally, use this essay to demonstrate that you share values with the mission of the Gates Millennium Scholarship. That will make an impression on the readers, and show that you are the type of student they want to empower and support.”
Want to see examples of essays that worked? Click here! Have other questions about this or other scholarship applications? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, or leave me a comment below. I’d love to know what other scholarship questions you’d like to see tackled! See you next week for the second half of the GMS application.
Sophie Herron taught high school English in Houston, Texas, as a Teach For America corps member. Since then, she received her MFA in Poetry from New York University, where she was a Goldwater Fellow, instructor of Creative Writing, and Managing Editor of Washington Square Review, the graduate literary journal. She teaches as an instructor at Story To College and as a teaching artist with the Community-Word Project. She is a poet and podcaster.
Photo Credit: Gates Millennium Scholars