The Gates Millennium Scholarship

~b762812All over the nation, homes were filled with the clicking and clacking of keyboards as students furiously typed the night away. Rushing to unleash the eight stories of their lives, these student kept in mind that those essays would be the summary of their academic success, adversities, and commitments as a potential leader. With those eight stories, there could be a chance that they will create a life changing moment, determining the fate of their future, and their financial support in college. Being one of those students, the night before the deadline, at 12:15 AM, I sat back with a sweet sigh of relief after smashing the submit button five times (grateful that the site did not crash on me), and from there the waiting began. 

January 13, at 11:59 EST, was the final deadline to submit the largest scholarship opportunity in the US for students of color. The Gates Millennium Scholarship was established in 1999 by Bill and Melinda Gates. Just in case you didn’t know, Bill Gates is the co-founder of Microsoft, known as the world’s largest PC software company. With the $1 billion grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the goals of the Gates Millennium program is to provide outstanding minority students an opportunity to fulfill their highest academic potential, without being hindered by a financial barrier, so that they can create more diversity in different career areas including education, health and sciences, and mathematics, while also providing better opportunities for future leaders, and offering full support for both undergraduate and graduate programs. Only student of colors are eligible for this scholarship, including African American,  American Indian/ Alaska Native, Asian American/ Pacific Islander, and Hispanic American. Other requirements include:

  • US citizenship or permanent resident;
  • GPA of at least 3.3 on a 4.0 scale or have earned a GED,
  • demonstrate leadership and commitment to community service, extracurricular activities
  • Eligible for the FAFSA
  • Will be enrolled in a US accredited college/university as first year students

Students who are rewarded with this scholarship will have their entire college tuition covered at a 4-year institution, and depending on whether the student chose to pursue careers in the sciences, mathematics, or education fields, six years of their graduate degree will also be covered. Being eligible is one small step towards an amazing opportunity, but being able to sacrifice time and effort requires a great commitment.

For the process, students would complete an extensive application with basic demographics and a profile, including your ethnicity, parent income, and self listing your classes and grades. The short descriptions must be included when listing your your leadership roles, community service positions, and jobs you have attained. Some students feel intimidated when they notice the five spaces given per category and worry about not being able to fill all five spaces with large contributions like being class president or team captain. Leadership in this case is just your participation in activities where you have a role and purpose. You don’t have to obtain a high or significant position to be considered a leader. However, the time spent completing the application itself is nothing near the amount of time spent writing the eight essays.

The person reading the essay is only able to identify students as an individual based on the content of the essays. Within those eight thousand words, applicants should be aware to use words wisely and creatively so that those eight thousand words will paint a clear portrait of who they are as a student of color both in their community and at school, leadership capabilities, and educational devotion. By portraying the descriptive details of the particular moment that is unique to only themselves, students are able to explain how their personal characters represents their worth towards this scholarship. 

The essay prompts are as follows:

  1. Discuss the subjects in which you excel or have excelled.  To what factors do you attribute your success?
  2. Discuss the subjects in which you had difficulty.  What factors do you believe contributed to your difficulties?  How have you dealt with them so they will not cause problems for you again?  In what areas have you experienced the greatest improvement?  What problem areas remain?
  3. Briefly describe a situation in which you felt that you or others were treated unfairly or were not given an opportunity you felt you deserved.  Why do you think this happened?  How did you respond?  Did the situation improve as a result of your response?
  4. Discuss your short and long-term goals.  Are some of them related?  Which are priorities?
  5. Discuss a leadership experience you have had in any area of your life; school, work, athletics, family, church, community, etc.  How and why did you become a leader in this area?  How did this experience influence your goals?
  6. Discuss your involvement in and contributions to a community near your home, school, or elsewhere.  Please select an experience different from the one you discussed in the previous question, even if this experience also involved leadership.  What did you accomplish? How did this experience influence your goals?
  7. Other than through classes in school, in what areas (non-academic or academic) have you acquired knowledge or skills?  How?
  8. Is there anything else you would like to tell us about that may help us evaluate your nomination (i.e., personal characteristics, obstacles you have overcome)?

The Gates Millennium Scholarship uses the same application every year, with the same constraints, and the identical eight essay prompts. The majority of the prompts are rather specific, and although you should grab the reader’s attention with a detailed story, it is also particularly important to give a clear answer in your conclusions. Although the minimum requirement for the essays are 500 words, it is encouraged that students make the best out of the 1000 word maximum.

Think that the organization will only take your word for everything you say about yourself? Nope. The application also requires students to seek recommendations from two individuals who are capable of recognizing your achievements and identify who you are as a suitable applicant. One person has to be the nominator and another a recommender. The nominator is often a teacher who you most connect with. It is crucial to ask someone who recognizes the importance of this scholarship in order for them to incorporate how much effort you have put in towards this scholarship.

The scholarship is very competitive with about 64,000 applicants each year. However, the faction of students who complete the application or fulfilled the requirements of at least 500 worded-essays leaves us with a 1 in 16,000 chance to be among the 1,000 students who will be winners. In mid-March, applicants will be notified on how to access the status of their application to see whether they made it in as a finalist. After that, the finalists will have to submit additional materials including transcripts, tax returns, college acceptance letters, and other information that determines their eligibility before announcing the actual winners. Not all finalist will be awarded the scholarship. By mid-May, finalist will be informed of the outcome of their applications.

Between 2000 and 2014, $845,713,056 has been awarded to the Gates Scholars, with and average award of $12,492 per scholar.

Unfortunately, the Gates Millennium Scholarship Program will no longer be open to new applicants after this round due to the lack of funds left for future students. This shocking news became a major motivation for students to complete their best work for the scholarship, recognizing that their younger siblings and peers will no longer attain the same opportunity to become a Gates Scholars.

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