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Author Topic: Need help/opinion
Lyrhawn
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Apologies in advance, as I feel like I do more than my fair share of asking for help on things like this, but, other than damaging my reputation, I don't really see the harm in asking again. So:

I have to write an essay for a scholarship I'm applying for through my university, but I have a bit of a problem: I suck at talking about myself. I can write essays with the best of them, and actually I generally consider essays my strength in most classes, but that's when I'm trying to argue a specific point from evidence. When it comes to just talking about myself, I never know what to say. And actually, this is the first time I've bothered to apply for any type of scholarship. My grades in the past haven't been what I consider good enough to even try applying. As is, my GPA is barely acceptable to me, but I think it's worth trying.

The essay needs to be 500 words or less, and the question is basically just "tell us why you think you deserve this award." It's through the Alumni Association, and it's a general award for the College of Arts and Sciences, and asks for basics, like GPA, two recommendations (which I have, and they're quite nice), a list of extra curriculars, which is basically non-existent, and and this essay.

Here's what I have so far:


My time at Oakland University has been characterized by maturation and perseverance. I struggled early and often in my academic career to define a goal for myself, in part because I did not know what I wanted to do with my life, and because of personal issues that kept me from focusing in my studies. When I began the fall 2008 semester, I hadn’t completed a full-time semester of coursework since winter 2005. Meanwhile, I had dug myself an unenviable hole. I had nine classes with a grade of zero, and my grade point average was a dismal 1.89. I knew that, to use a cliché, it was make or break time. Furthermore, I knew that the next four semesters would have to be done at my own expense. Having fallen far behind the Satisfactory Academic Progress requirements for completing attempted credits, I was ineligible for financial aid, despite being very much in need of it.

Since that semester, I have successfully retaken eight of those nine classes, averaging a 3.7 in retaken classes. I also succeeded in raising my grade point average from a 1.89, to a more respectable 3.53. If not for the fact that I am unable to retake the ninth class – for Oakland University no longer offers it, and offers no other recourse – my grade point average would likely be a tenth of a point higher.

I have come a long way in the last two years. I know now what I want to do with my life, and my education. I decided last semester to major in English as well as history, to flesh out my interdisciplinary knowledge base. Next fall, I plan to apply to graduate schools with the intention of earning a fellowship and entrance into a PhD program for history.

Why should I be awarded this OUAA scholarship? What you’re reading is an Oakland University story of perseverance and success. I grew up a lot while at Oakland, I discovered a passion for history, I worked hard and struggled to get to where I am, and in the process I have strung together multiple semesters of outstanding academic success. This spring I will be presenting my HST 300 paper at the Phi Alpha Theta regional conference, where I hope to earn more honors. My participation and activities have been limited by the fact that I commute to school, and because of financial aid problems, I have had to work in what little free time I have. Next year, my last, I hope to move to housing near campus so I can be more involved in the campus community, and in the various honors organizations I am in the process of joining. Moving closer to campus may not be the wisest course for me financially, but I feel very strongly about spending my last year at Oakland giving back to a university community that has given me so much. Were I to win this scholarship, that goal would become much more achievable.


It's 499 words as is. I guess my problem is that, I feel like I have to defend both my transcript and my lack of extra curricular activities, because those are things that don't really speak for themselves. I couldn't be active in clubs, I had to work, and I live 20 miles away from campus. And I wanted to emphasize my academic achievement because that's really my only strength, but it's only my recent work I want to put up, as the first few years of college were a mishmash of mediocre and awful. And I wanted to end it with something that made it sound like awarding me the scholarship was like investing in the school, and that I want to give back to the community. I think my hang-up is that I realize while writing this essay that I don't really feel like I've earned it, because I don't have that involvement aspect. But I'm going to try, as I hate to be penalized by circumstance.

I wonder though, if spending half the essay talking about how much I suck is wise, but I like the overall message of coming from such a low point to being a success, of showing growth and maturity over time. I think these are resonant themes for people. I really need outside perspective though.

Thanks in advance, and I don't blame anyone who doesn't want to read yet another request of mine for help. I doubt the essay will be the deal breaker anyway in them telling me "no."

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aspectre
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I wouldn't change a word of it (admittedly I haven't checked for spelling or grammar). Merit scholarship committees tend to like students who've made a major academic turnaround.
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rivka
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quote:
Originally posted by Lyrhawn:
I doubt the essay will be the deal breaker anyway in them telling me "no."

Don't make me come over there. [Razz]

I think it's very good. I would take out one small phrase (and offers no other recourse) because it seems a tad like you're trying to duck the blame. Other than that, I'd leave it just as it is.

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Lyrhawn
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Agreed. I'll drop the phrase.

On reading it again with that in mind, it does sound that way. It's my subconsciousness creeping through. That last class that I can't retake really, REALLY annoys the hell out of me. My very first semester, I signed up for Intro to Russian because I thought it sounded neat. Talk about a learning experience. I thought I had dropped the class, but I didn't follow through with some paperwork, so I end up with a zero in the class. At the time, my adviser told me not to bother retaking it, as a single zero could possibly be explained away, and it wasn't worth it. But I've since become pretty crazy about my GPA, and I want every hundredth of a point that I can get. Only, now they don't offer the class anymore, and I can't take it at another school because they don't transfer grades, and it's just stuck there. Mocking me from my transcript. Gyah!

I used to be mad because that class was going to keep me from graduating cum laud, but since I'm hanging around for another year, I should be able to eke out that final seven hundredths of a point. I take full responsibility, it's just so frustrating to work so hard to make up for past mistakes, and find that last hurdle just can't be vaulted, not because of effort or skill, but because of bureaucracy and rules. I've since decided to take it as a life lesson. Life isn't fair, and not all mistakes can be made up for. It's best to try as hard as possible to put the sort of effort into first attempts that I've put into my second attempts. It's all part of that growth and maturity stuff from the essay. [Smile]

Anyway, sorry for the off-topic digression. Thanks for reading it, and for the advice. I feel a bit better about it now.

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Lalo
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If you can, I'd keep this as an addendum rather than your essay. It's well-written, but you don't want to spend your essay apologizing for your mistakes rather than presenting your strengths.

[ February 23, 2010, 02:25 AM: Message edited by: Lalo ]

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Lalo
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Btw, I'm sure you can take Intro to Russian over the summer at some place that DOES offer it. Just check with your registrar to see if they'll accept the place's credits.

And I hear you about the stupid incentive to avoid challenging courses. My GPA was almost sunk by a freshman effort in pre-med. Thankfully everything worked out, but I could've been screwed for trying something hard.

http://correspondents.theatlantic.com/ellen_shell/2010/02/grade_point_average_tyranny.php

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rivka
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quote:
Originally posted by Lalo:
Btw, I'm sure you can take Intro to Russian over the summer at some place that DOES offer it. Just check with your registrar to see if they'll accept the place's credits.

If Lyr's school's policy is like most schools', they'll accept the class -- but it won't affect the GRADE. Transfer credits don't carry grades with them at almost every school.

(Actually, some schools don't allow retaken courses to "fix" the GPA at all, so he's lucky his does.)

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rivka
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quote:
Originally posted by Lyrhawn:
That last class that I can't retake really, REALLY annoys the hell out of me.

Completely understandable. [Smile]
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Lyrhawn
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Lalo -
I was rather hoping that overcoming past mistakes would count as a strengths. Otherwise, my essay would be about a sentence long, and would go something like this "Look at my transcript, I've done really well over the last four semesters, my professors like me, so give me money because I'm super smart and a hard worker." That story is really the only thing I have going for me to try and make up for not having the extra clubs and honors that other people will have. But, your concerns are shared. I too worry that I spend too much time rehashing past mistakes and not enough time spent praising myself. Must be a Puritan/Mid-west/I dunno thing, but despite the fact that I actually have a pretty big ego when it comes to intellectual/academic pursuits, I much rather prefer to demonstrate it and receive praise rather than actually TELL people that I'm good at what I'm good at. It just feels so awkward.

quote:
Is this scholarship for your law school or your undergrad? I thought you applied this year.
Undergrad. Sort of ran into some roadblocks in my journey to law school. I sort of had a heart to heart with myself and the more I dwelled on law school, the less attractive it sounded. It's something that I think I could be good at, and that I could survive doing for the rest of my life, but I have no passion for it. History has always been my passion, which is why when I started college I wanted to be a teacher, but I soured on the idea of teaching at the high school level.

The more I thought about it over this past summer, the more I realized the only time I'm really happy doing any sort of work these days, is when I'm doing homework. I grumble about having to read hundreds of pages a week and having to write 20 and 40 page papers, but deep down, I love it. I love school, I love academia, I love research, I love putting the historical puzzle together and then exploring the storytelling aspect behind the mystery I'm unraveling. I love talking about history with other history dorks. I love other history people (most of them). I took a labor history course over the summer and fell in love with labor history specifically as a field of history. I even have a sort of pseudo mentor that I want to grow up to be like.

The problem was that I decided all this last summer, when really, it's a decision that needed to be made six months before that. I didn't have the right materials on hand to apply to grad school, since I was in the middle of writing my original research piece that I would need to apply with. So I decided the best thing to do was to go back to school for another year, get a second major (in English), and take classes that would supplement my history knowledge and give me more material and skills to work with. It's either that or I graduate and loaf around for a year, which I don't at all want to do. I'm taking this summer off to intern, polish up my application, and take the GRE.

I took the LSAT, and though I'm quite unimpressed with how I did (a 153, with minimal studying, which was stupid), it's still there as a fallback option if I don't get any of the fellowships that I apply for.

edit to add - uh oh, you edited out the last part. So ignore the second half of this post!

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Lyrhawn
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quote:
Originally posted by rivka:
quote:
Originally posted by Lalo:
Btw, I'm sure you can take Intro to Russian over the summer at some place that DOES offer it. Just check with your registrar to see if they'll accept the place's credits.

If Lyr's school's policy is like most schools', they'll accept the class -- but it won't affect the GRADE. Transfer credits don't carry grades with them at almost every school.

(Actually, some schools don't allow retaken courses to "fix" the GPA at all, so he's lucky his does.)

That's it precisely. They'll transfer the credit but not the grade. I went through a couple rounds with the Chair of the Modern Language Department, the Registrar, and the Dean, and they offered me a "theoretical solution" that I haven't tried, but I might this summer. They said I could file for a petition of exception to the graduation requirements. The petition says right on it that it's not allowed to be used for grade point averages, but all three of them suggested it, which suggests to me that either they have no idea what's actually on the petition itself, or they think an exception might be made since I really am quite trapped, and would base my request on the fact that I've shown an ample willingness to retake my courses, but cannot.

It would bump my GPA another .15, which, with my current classes and another year's worth, might even put me in magna cum laude territory, but I'm not holding my breath. My goal was to graduate with a 3.6, and I think I will reach that. If they actually accept it, then great, but I won't be crushed if they don't.

I think I can more or less explain the situation to any grad school I apply to, so I'm not worried about the GPA hit there. It's really just as far as departmental and university wide honors go.

And I am in fact thankful that they accept a retaken course grade to replace an old one. If they didn't, I'd be in serious trouble. I likely would have switched universities to escape it. They only allow you to retake a class once, so it's a little wriggle room, but it's more than enough for my purposes.

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Uprooted
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Well, I don't know what the people reading this are looking for, but I'm impressed. Good luck, I hope you get the scholarship!
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TheGrimace
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I think it's good. My only possible advice would be not to mention the specifics of getting 9 0s and re-taking those classes. Focus solely on the general "I wasn't applying myself properly at the beginning, but have turned it around." angle.

My reasoning is two-fold:
1) There may be an extra negative connotation to 0s as opposed to other poor grades, since a 0 could indicate not even attending class, etc...
2) re-taking classes and achieving good grades may be viewed as less of an accomplishment than achieving high grades in new classes.

Basically, you want to tell the story of turning things around, but they don't necessarily need to know the exact details. Let them potentially think "hey, even with a 1.8 to start with he's gotten this far!" don't immediately alert them to the fact that the positive turnaround was helped by your newfound success erasing much of the previous negatives.

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Sala
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I agree about taking out the specifics of nine courses with zeros, and then retaking eight of the nine courses. Stick with stating your first GPA and then the fact that you have renewed your efforts and applied yourself and through retaking many of your lowest-grade classes and your new classes that your GPA is now almost a 3.6. Giving specifics like the nine classes immediately made me think "wow, what a doofus!" And you don't want that reaction, because as I kept reading I realized that you weren't such a doofus if you were able to rectify your early mistakes! But you don't want that thought to even be there to begin with. I hope that this helps.
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