By Wuchuanren 五川人, translated by Stefanie Wang 王梓歆, a 2019 scholarship winner
In the past ten years, I used my free time, both online and offline guiding students and their families in applying for scholarships, summer camps, colleges, and competition programs. Through this experience, I realized some fundamental techniques in achieving success: first understanding the application requirements, then exhibiting one’s background and appeal through the application essays, while at the same time utilizing specific examples, bringing the student out amongst the thousands of other students vying for the same limited opportunity.
In the past month, I was the head reviewer for the 2019 Ai Ling Guan Memorial Scholarship. For the first time, I was the one in charge of selecting the top 15% applicants who would receive the scholarship.
This was a challenging role, with both the high level of responsibility required and the fact that this was my first time doing such a job. I read all 171 applications and discussed with the other reviewers the guidelines for selecting the top applicants. Today I would like to summarize some of the key characteristics of the 105 student applications and bring up areas of improvement. I hope that this can provide some helpful feedback to this year’s applicants and can aid future student and teacher applicants in preparing their applications not only for this scholarship, but also for other scholarships, summer camps, competitions, and even colleges.
First, like all other scholarships and competitions, this scholarship program has its own unique mission and special requirements. The reviewers read through the applications and select the ones closest to meeting all the special requirements as the final recipients of the scholarship. This scholarship’s mission statement says it awards students and teachers living in the USA and Canada who have demonstrated extreme persistence in either their dedicated learning or their outstanding teaching on the Chinese language. There are some keywords that can effectively summarize the characteristics the scholarship is aiming for in applicants:
Dedicated, extreme persistence, outstanding, learning and teaching.
A basic question is: are there any differences in requirements between this scholarship and other scholarships/competitions? We’ll answer that with a very straightforward yes. Most other scholarships/competitions stress the importance of:
Excellence, achievements, contributions, background, etc.
Simply put, this scholarship values the actual process instead of the end result. The process-focused programs look at how the things are done in long periods of time and effort, revealing important traits of the applicant as a result. However, competitions focus on the final result and the amount of results without context consideration.
Now, let’s look at the scholarship application. Most of the questions are multiple choice, with only 3 questions that the applicant must fill out:
- Personal information, including the applicant’s Chinese name and address
- Name of the person writing the recommendation letter
- A short essay based on a given topic: Using around 600 Chinese characters, discuss a story/experience about you attending a Chinese class or using Chinese elsewhere
As seen above, the application for this scholarship is relatively simple and straightforward. Interested applicants should clearly understand the requirements of the scholarship before applying, instead of applying only due to the simplicity of the application.
However, a portion of applicants did not take the time to fully grasp the meaning behind the requirements of the application. Below are some examples of poor applications:
- In the basic information section, a select few applicants did not provide a Chinese name although their last name was Chinese.
- About 15% of applicants filled out incomplete addresses on the application
- A portion of applicants wrote their essay as if it were an essay competition, using stories that do not reflect the prompt or just listed past competition accolades.
- A few applicants who have applied for other scholarships in the past submitted their previous short essays without even editing them to fit the essay prompt.
- Most of the short essay is grammatically correct. However, the actual story is on how the applicant used to hate Chinese class because it was too difficult.
- A couple 6th and 7th-grade applicants wrote beautiful short essays regarding the topic. However, their basic information was completed incorrectly and showed a lack of sincerity.
- Some short essays mainly discussed the applicant’s experience speaking Chinese with his/her grandparents at the young age of two or three, with little emphasis placed on his/her older years. Other examples include stories about the applicant’s friend, and not him/herself.
- Short story topic is too cliche. Some common examples are: communicating with grandparents, understanding Chinese history and culture, eating Chinese cuisine, performing during a Chinese holiday, acting as a bridge between American and Chinese cultures, etc. Only two applications mentioned present-day China—one about watching Chinese TV shows, and the other about the possibility of interacting with Chinese companies in the future. Many applicants do not understand the long term benefits of knowing how to speak Chinese.
- The short essay and recommendation letter are too similar and overlap in many areas, providing too few perspectives on the applicant.
- Many applications showed signs of heavy editing, with characters used that do not reflect the applicant’s age.
On the other hand, there were also exceptional applications. They stood out amongst the many other applications we received. They are mainly excellent in the following areas:
- Applicants living in an environment in which Chinese is not spoken have written very vivid portrayals of their unique journeys in learning Chinese.
- Some applicants explained how their motivation for learning Chinese was to help their parents with their jobs, to take care of their siblings, or to communicate with their grandparents.
- In order to maintain effective communication with their parents, applicants wrote about their continued usage of Chinese at home.
- Using their Chinese backgrounds, applicants told their story on how they helped those that could only speak Chinese.
- Applicants talked about how they spent lots of time learning Chinese in a location without many opportunities to do so.
These stories tie directly with the essay topic, expressing their hard work and perseverance while learning and using the Chinese language.
The Ai Ling Guan Memorial Scholarship began this year, and it has already become a fierce competition. Like other scholarships, for applicants to receive the final scholarship, their applications must express their sincerity.
I hope we can receive even better applications next year.