Every year around this time, I review a bunch of applications for a foundation offering college scholarships. It’s a lot of tedious reading and extensive note-taking. Literacies all around. This year, I did the math and found that I covered anywhere from 35,000 to 40,000 words just for the essays and recommendations alone. But it is so rewarding to see a group of young adults deserving of opportunities to attend a college or university anywhere in our country. Many of the institutions they have been accepted to are well-known, such as Penn State, University of Wisconsin, or Cornell, but I’ve found myself googling other colleges and universities out of curiosity. It’s not long before I begin to feel college-bound myself, wondering if I’d like to go here or there. Or what field that would be inspiring. Speaking of fields, the choices are far-ranging, from medical school to actuary science to geology research.
Like a novel, reviewing applications is reading about characters, settings, and plots. In reviewing the components of each application, I try to get to know the candidates personally as fledglings embarking on their journeys away from home. I always start with essays. I read transcripts, the kinds of classes taken, and grades and rankings. I check demographic information, where they come from, and tax forms. I go through long lists of honors, extra-curricular activities, and after-school jobs. I read with concern about special circumstances. And I read all of the recommendations.
It might be easy to just rank the applications on the basis of their grades, accomplishments, and packed resumes, but I try to determine if the essays brought forth authentic personalities and ambitions. Some essays come across as short biographies, but others are so delightful that I wish I could share with those around me. I look for depth and breadth in the recommendations or if the writer just cobbled together a canned list of quality traits and good deeds. And I always think about special circumstances that may point to a need for equity. Of course, this past year brought impacts from the pandemic—online classes, frozen in-person recruiting for sports teams, and significant financial loss.
Selecting and ranking so few out of dozens of highly-qualified and ambitious students is an agonizing process. I am relieved that I don’t do this alone; there is a group of us reviewers along with a board of directors.
Every single year, I wish there was
Enough to go around
For all of them
And for all of us to benefit from their desire to make this world
A better place.