It's a reasonable question. Only 32 Rhodes, approximately 75 Truman Scholarships, and fewer than 60 Javits Fellowships are awarded each year, and hundreds, even thousands of qualified candidates apply for these and other prestigious scholarships. The odds are against you.
A huge number of applicants self-select out of the process precisely for this reason. Sure, it is a long shot, but the fact is that someone will win. Why not you? Each year, students at institutions with no previous scholarship winners garner a Marshall or a Goldwater Scholarship. Willamette students already have an impressive record of winning national and international scholarships over the years, and there is no reason you shouldn't add yourself to the list.
Applications are more than forms: they represent a process that includes research, homework, and self-evaluation. Why should you put yourself through a process that will take precious time from schoolwork and your already-limited personal life? Because the benefits are significant. Regardless of whether or not you're awarded a scholarship, you'll emerge from the application process with a stronger sense of who you are and a clearer vision of what you want to do. Like a long-distance runner who dreams of Olympic gold, or a novelist who hopes to win the Nobel Prize, the real triumphs will grow from the effort of becoming a better athlete, a better writer, and a better person.
When you apply for many national fellowships, you write a personal essay and study proposal: in essence, a selective life history and a short-term plan for the next few years of your life. For other fellowship applications, you will be expected to provide this same information in a series of shorter answers to questions about what you want to do and why. It's hard work-it requires time, sweat, and occasional tears, and some self-doubt--but it can also be a rewarding and intensely satisfying process. You will be required to put your deepest convictions into words, to step outside yourself, to think about what is ultimately of most importance to you. You must evaluate where you're standing now, and consider both what your ultimate destination might be and what you must do in order to get there.