Why you don't deserve a scholarship

You don’t deserve a scholarship.

I’d like you to stop thinking that you might deserve a scholarship. I’d like you to stop wondering if you deserve a scholarship. You don’t deserve a scholarship. I don’t mean that others do deserve a scholarship but you don't, I just mean that we should be very cautious about this concept of Deserve. It’s not the best way to think about admissions or scholarships.

First, let’s think about a different scenario. Imagine you’re on the Debate team (or Model U.N., or Thespians, or softball team, or whichever group you’re part of). You and some of your friends from Debate are going to go the movies tonight, and you ask another of your Debate friends to come along. “I’d like to,” she says, “but I don’t have the money right now.” You want this person to come, to be a part of your group, so you say “No problem. I’ll buy your ticket if you want to come along.”

This is how scholarships work, especially scholarships offered by colleges. Schools think you’re someone they would like to have in their community, so much that they’re willing to help you with the cost.

Now, you’re probably not going to invite that person along if she's a slacker who doesn’t contribute to the Debate team. That would make you less interested in paying for her movie ticket. However, you’re also not likely to say to a person “I don’t know much about you or if you really fit in with us, but you’ve done well on the team so you deserve for me to buy your movie ticket if you want to come along.” It’s about fitting into the group, not deserving.

Most of the funding for school scholarships comes from alumni donors. People who have graduated from a university give money to help others afford to go to the university. This is their way, across generations, to say “I’ll help pay for you to be part of our group.” So the best way to get that financial help is to demonstrate that you’re a good fit for that community. Yes, this certainly involves good grades—the best way to prepare for college is to be a good high school student. But it means more than that. It means being an interesting person who has found a community where you’ll be a good match and a good contributor. It means understanding that the scholarship is an invitation to be a part of a multi-generation group, not just a reward for high numbers on a transcript or tests.

Imagine another of those Debate members coming up to you and saying “I heard you’re going to the movies. I want to come, too, but I don’t have the money right now. But I’ve worked hard, so I deserve for you to buy my ticket.” That would be weird; it doesn't work that way.

But to make our analogy the most accurate, it would be probably be something more like this: you and your Debate friends are going to the movies, and you’d like to invite some of the younger team members along. So you let them know that you’re going and would love for them to come too. And if anybody needs some money, you can pay for one other person to go. Of all the people who come up and say they’d like to go but need help with the money, who are you going to take? Someone who is a strong member of the Debate team, sure. But you also want that person to be someone you’d actually like to hang out with at the movies.

Colleges offering scholarships are the same. Yes, they want people who have demonstrated they can handle the college curriculum. But they’re also more likely to give the money to someone who fits in with their culture. Or perhaps they're trying to expand the reach of their culture, so they're inviting you because they think you can help give a broader definition of what their community means. Work hard, but don’t forget to cultivate your own personal interests as well.

You don’t deserve a scholarship. But if you work your best in high school and become an interesting person who would be a great match for a school, you’re more likely to get one.