One aspect of my service with College Possible that has been the most frustrating and the most rewarding at the same time has been my past month of working with students on their scholarship essays. The frustrations are obvious and inevitable; students ask you to read their essay the night before it’s due, or you have a pile of 10 essays to read, critique and workshop, all while staying on top of other duties. It was an overwhelming feeling, not only because of the workload, but also because of the significance of the work. These essays will determine whether a student receives a full-ride scholarship or not; that scholarship might decide whether a student can afford to enroll in college at all. The financial consequence of not winning the scholarship could be what buries a student in debt for the next 10 years. All this, not to mention the impostor syndrome in my ear, telling me that I am not qualified to be helping students with such important tasks.
The new year brought a new challenge: forty-some students all working on the same scholarship, due at the end of the month. I anticipated some of the difficulties and was looking forward to hearing about which students won the Buffett scholarship. I did not expect the gratification that I would get from this month of helping students.
By reading essay after essay, I learned a lot about my students. In addition to details about their families, hobbies and pasts, I also learned what they can do when faced with an opportunity. I read essays from students who barely spoke in group sessions, and they showed impressive writing and reflection skills. I read essays that had been edited and tweaked and labored over for hours. I saw my students work on this scholarship essay with more determination than I had ever seen from them in the past. It felt amazing to know that I wasn’t the only one rooting for these students; they were actively engaged in seizing the opportunities in front of them. I sat with one student for hours, editing and rereading his essay. He refused to stop until he felt it met his high standards. Any other student might have given up and said, “Good enough,” but this student worked straight through lunch until he was, in his own words, “creatively drained.”
I have been so impressed with these students’ work in the past month. Editing and critiquing essays was not a task I was looking forward to, but thanks to the dedication of the students in my cohort, I will be happy to guide them however I can in the future, no matter how many grammar errors I have to fix and words of encouragement I have to offer.
This Great Story was written by Katie Klopp, an AmeriCorps member for College Possible Omaha.