What would you call a superhero whose superpower was applying for scholarships? ???
I know that sounds super nerdy, but humor me for a moment.
If you have Wonder Woman, could you have “Scholarship Woman?” If there’s Black Widow, could there be “Black Scholarship?” Or The Scholarship like you could have “The Flash”?
Okay, I’m probably getting ahead of myself now. Sorry about that. I’ve been trying to come up with a cool-sounding nickname for a long time and it’s proving to be pretty difficult.
But I’ll get back to that. Before that though, here’s my origin story.
My Origin Story
Like many of you, I always wanted to go college. Part of it was because I wanted to help my parents fulfill a dream that they never had the chance to fulfill. Another part was because I really did believe that going to college would be the only way to get ahead and live a successful life.
But all of that changed three weeks before I started my freshman year in college. One evening out of the blue, my dad found me in our living room and asked me to follow him.
He then sat me down at the dining table with a grave look on his face and my mom joined him, wearing an equally somber expression.
He looked down at the floor and said, “You know how I had mentioned that we’ve been affected by the economic recession?”
“Yeah…” I responded.
“All the investments we put in place for your college tuition is gone,” he muttered.
“ALL OF IT?” I asked in shock.
“Yes, all of it… including everything we saved for your younger sister and brother’s tuition as well. We don’t have anything left,” my mom reluctantly answered.
“Well, what do we do?!” I exclaimed.
“We should still be able to help support a portion of your college tuition, but the remaining $30,000 each year will need to be on you,” my mom said.
My heart nearly stopped as the news sank in. My entire world seemed to crash down on me, filling me with intense fear, dread, and panic. There was no way I would be able to muster up $30,000 in three weeks when I had barely a hundred dollars in my bank account.
To help make ends meet, my dad took on a third part-time job and my mom who had been a housewife for nearly 15 years mustered up the courage to start work again. She accepted the first job that would hire her and became a local taxi/Uber driver.
But despite all of their efforts, I knew it still wouldn’t be enough. Not for me, and definitely not for my two younger siblings that were due to start college shortly after me.
I eventually realized that if I still wanted to go to college as planned, I only had one of three options left.
Option 1: Work Part-Time
I knew my situation was desperate, but I didn’t realize how bleak it was until I started looking for part-time jobs. Since I didn’t have any special credentials or experience, no one was willing to pay me more than minimum wage ($8.00/hour before tax).
Even if I worked 25 hours a week, every week, on top of being a full-time student, it would still take me over 16 YEARS to pay off my entire tuition! And that’s if I don’t eat, pay for rent, or pay any taxes!
Option 2: Take Out A Boat-load of Student Loans
Another obvious option was to take out student loans. And I was really close to making this decision until I did some research. Did you know that according to the Department of Education, it takes an average of 20 years to pay back $20,000-$40,000 in debt?!
That means that I will be trading in 20 years of my life for a 4-year degree. Because of student debt, I will probably be delaying when I can buy a house, get married, have kids, or even retire. I will spend the rest of my life trying to recover from this debt.
Option 3: Hack Scholarship Applications
With only bad and worse options, I realized that I only had one viable choice: knuckle down and master how to secure scholarships. And I had to master this quick.
So with a scary ferocity, I threw myself at scholarship applications. I applied for every scholarship I qualified for and even applied for scholarships that I didn’t. I stalked my teachers, hunted down my mentors, and convinced all of them to write me a letter of recommendation – although I don’t know how good the letters really were.
Then for what felt like endless weeks, I lived out of my desk trying to squeeze out every story of adversity, trauma, and identity-crises that I could use for my scholarship applications.
Before I knew it, I submitted close to 100 scholarships. Having applied to so many, I was hopeful that maybe one or two of them would succeed. Even if it was one scholarship that came through, it would make a big difference in my situation.
I was so desperate for this to work that I even forked out all the change I could spare and mailed out one particularly promising application through the good-old postal service. I figured that a nice touch like that probably make a difference. Fingers crossed.
But it didn’t. Not a single one of the scholarships that I applied for came through. Not one. Some scholarships were kind enough to email me a message to thank me for applying but the majority of them didn’t even take the time to let me know.
I just waited and waited until it all became too obvious that no one was going to extend a hand to help. I didn’t know what was worse, being repeatedly rejected or having to wait until my last glimmer of hope disappeared.
I have no idea how I managed to pick myself up after such devastation. But when you are as desperate as I was, you didn’t have anything to lose when you try again. So that’s exactly what I did.
I reread every scholarship essay I wrote, examined them critically, and made notes of all the things I could improve on. Then I went through the tedious task of compiling a new list of scholarships I qualified for and went back to work.
This time, my efforts paid off. Within the first year, I received two scholarships. Then in my second year, that number jumped to five. Before I knew it, I had cracked the code and money started coming in like a paycheck, except I got a huge rise every year!
Testing Out My New Superpower
Now that got me really excited! Who would have thought that my financial desperation would help me develop such a unique skill?! And that got me thinking, if I could hack my way through scholarship and job applications, what else could I do?
It was almost like I was living the dream of a soon-to-be superhero. I was Peter Parker (Spiderman) when he was first bitten by a spider or Barry Allen (the Flash) when he woke up from being in a lightning-bolt induced coma. I suddenly woke up to my new skills and was flexing my muscles to see what else I could do…
I mean I wouldn’t know what I can do until I test it right? So I figured why not try my luck in hacking my way through opportunities. I mean how different could internship, volunteer, leadership programs, and job applications be from scholarship applications? They’re basically like siblings right?….
And it turned out that even though these applications are slightly different than scholarship applications, I didn’t fare too badly! In my 4 years of college, I managed to put together a pretty impressive resume (if I could say so myself ?).
I studied abroad for free in China, Switzerland, Germany, and France. I landed 4 internships in college as well as a scholarship program that guaranteed me a job after college. Not only that, I also had the chance to work in South Korea and Malaysia as well.
Not too shabby for this newfound superpower! ???
Taking On Even Bigger Opponents
At this point, I’ve become pretty experienced in using my superpower. But I know that the only way to continue improving it is to keep pushing my boundaries and challenging myself for what is possible. So what else is out there?
I’ve taken on…
study abroad programs ✔️
job applications ✔️
Then it hit me. Why don’t I try helping organizations apply for grant funding? If they secured the grant, I’ll ask for a cut of the earnings. I mean, what’s there to lose?
So that’s what I did and the money started rolling in! In fact, in 2018, I helped a women’s organization win a $72,000 impact award from WeWork just by writing two essays for them.
These essays were fairly easy to write and only took me 5 hours in total, but it helped generate massive value for them. If I divided the sum of the prize money by the hours I spent writing it, I would have generated over $14,000 per hour, making each essay worth $36,000.
Maybe that’s the real secret. Superheroes aren’t born, they are created from desperation. But in turn, that desperation can help drive you down an unexpected path of adventure.
And I wonder how many students are currently feeling desperate in the same way that I did. How many college dreams have been affected by COVID19 or the fear of taking a staggering amount of student debt crisis?
As long as there are motivated students out there, I know they can develop this superpower too. If I could get this far on my own, I wonder where we could go if every student that needed a scholarship embarked on their own adventure? Who knows how we could change this world?!
SCHOLARSHIP AVENGERS! ASSEMBLE!