Sycophantism 101

So, I was thinking back to when I got rejected for a Spring/Summer scholarship, way back in February.  The letter I sent to the financial aid office rather firmly asked them to reconsider their decision, that my recent grades should speak more loudly than my grades from prodigal years. They did reply, saying their decision is final, and that they can’t ignore any grades.

It makes sense that they didn’t give me a Spring/Summer scholarship, since those are strictly grades-based. But I also dismissed my chances of receiving a Fall/Winter scholarship; I was ready to apply for federal financial aid and finish off my undergraduate career, business as usual. I’d already resigned to commit to more debt because I was commited to earning a degree. What’s one more year, anyway?

Maybe you can understand my surprise when I received notification about the scholarship. While it’s true that Fall/Winter scholarships are need-based as well as academic, if you fill out the comprehensive application, you also get to submit three essays in some sort of last-ditch effort to prove your eligibility for a happy philanthropist’s money. I guess the financial aid office also considers the FAFSA, but not nearly as heavily as one’s character and intellect.

Those three essays really had to capture my character and intellect. Before I returned to BYU, I applied for a scholarship, and they seemed to regretfully inform me I wasn’t going to receive one. I understood that as well: it had been seven years, and my academic record before the hyperextended hiatus (called New York City)  was pretty shameful. But this time around, while I didn’t quite earn 4.0s, it did look like I was trying to redeem myself. The grades reflected my determination, which spoke for my character; and they also somewhat indicated that I have the smarts.

I couldn’t count on grades being enough, because BYU doesn’t look solely at grades with semester scholarships. Near the beginning of this year, I remembered the application deadline coming quickly, and I didn’t know how I could write three dazzling essays. Nevertheless, I took a deep breath, told myself they were only three three-hundred word essays, and that I had nothing to lose. I typed away.

The three essays are the same topics each time: 1. Tell us about yourself; 2. What do you want to accomplish at BYU; 3. What have you accomplished in the last five years. While I agree to advise people to be honest and sell themselves while writing these essays, I must also have to say it’s sort of a balancing act with saying a few things the scholarship committee wants to hear. It’s part of the business and art of writing in world: of course you have your craft, but if your work doesn’t affect someone, somewhere, then why bother?

The essays follow, behind the cut. I tried treating them as one long essay split into three parts with a few overlapping ideas. Truth be told, they’re not my best work, but I believe they made a difference in the committee’s decision. I’m glad someone decided to share a bit of their fortune with me. That someone reading what I had to say turned something relatively low-risk into a great blessing.

Continue reading


Apparently, while I was failing a final exam last week, this message from the financial aid office landed in my student account:

Dear May:

Congratulations on your commitment, preparation, and citizenship.  Brigham Young University is pleased to award you the following:

Semester Scholarship Amount Required Hours
Fall  2011 Brigham Young $money.yay! 14
Winter 2012 Brigham Young $money.yay! 14

This scholarship is awarded based on the financial information you provided on your Comprehensive scholarship application.  We encourage you to complete the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) to apply for federal financial aid for the 2011-12 academic year, if you have not already done so.  Details on how to apply may be found on the Financial Aid website.

Please note that this is an undergraduate scholarship.  If you will be a graduate student for the semester(s) indicated, you are not eligible to claim this scholarship.  If you wish to defer or decline the award, please visit the Scholarship History page in Route Y. To access this page, log in to Route Y, click on School, AIM, and Financial Aid and Scholarships.

Tithes of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and offerings of generous friends of the university fund BYU scholarships. Following established procedures, we award these resources to encourage continued commitment to spiritual and intellectual growth. By claiming your award, you accept certain responsibilities. Specifically, you commit to:

Use this investment wisely to prepare for meaningful service to your family, community, and the world.

Express gratitude by writing a thoughtful letter of appreciation to those who fund your scholarship.

Comply with the policies that govern the use of your award.

Exemplify good citizenship within the university community by abiding the Honor Code, encouraging others to do likewise, and, whenever possible, attending the weekly campus devotionals and forums.

Provide a minimum of 15 hours of meaningful service, which you define and pursue on your own, for each semester of scholarship awarded.

Replenish the university’s scholarship funds as circumstances in your life allow.

Please refer to the Expectations of BYU Scholarship Recipients below for additional explanation and specific instructions about these commitments.

Please note that scholarships are not automatically renewed. To be considered for future scholarships, you must apply by the published deadlines.   No late applications will be accepted.

Scholarships provide financial assistance, but they also represent a vote of confidence in you. We celebrate the gifts and talents you contribute to our student body.


Financial Aid Office
Brigham Young University

So, I have to write a letter to the scholarship donors, be an all-around grateful student, and basically stop feeling discouraged so easily. The message made my day; it reminded me of what I’m capable of doing.