Advice from the Trenches
Random Thoughts on Scholarships . . . from Finalists and Scholars
On the application process . . .
Realize that your writing will be intensively critiqued-more so than in any class. Accepting criticism was my biggest challenge.
Approach the process as an exploration of career options, not as if you're finding a career. It's possible to be exceptionally gifted and want to make a difference in the world, but not know what you want to study for the rest of your life. When you're a wet-nosed kid barely out of high school, it's hard-and unreasonable-to say, "I want to be a physicist, studying the interactions between mu mesons and charm quarks" or some such nonsense.
This process will challenge you in many different ways. You will be pushed, intellectually and emotionally. You'll be forced to re-evaluate everything: your sense of self, your commitment to service, your priorities, your goals-not an easy experience. But it's also extremely rewarding and exciting. Occasionally you'll feel frustrated, confused, and overwhelmed, and that's completely normal.
As with any major life experience, the process of applying can be a catalyst for introspection and personal growth. Be open to it. Expect that the process will change you-but don't attempt to change yourself in order to win. It's difficult, it's rewarding-it shouldn't put you in therapy.
Ask as many questions of as many people as you can; take advantage of your professors, advisors, and Scholars who have some knowledge of the process. But keep all the advice in perspective. After all, it's your application.
Don't get married to your application at the campus nomination level. Be flexible-you will change it many times before you're finished. On the other hand, make sure that you are proud of your application; don't include or exclude something important just because you think that is what the committee wants.
Read the entire Truman biography (by David McCullough); it really is interesting and you may get an interview question on it.
On interviewing . . .
I wish I had met more Truman Scholars before I applied. At TSLW (Truman Scholars Leadership Week) I saw that while activities and grades are outstanding across the board for all scholars, something far more intangible separates them from people with similar resumes. It's love of humanity, a magnified empathy. I know these are clichés, but I'm trying to describe a feeling in the gut, that life is beautiful and wondrous. A feeling that lets you laugh or cry honestly, to live authentically as Sartre would say. I believe that this is why they have the interviews: to see this in person.
The Truman process should overtly stress introspection. Sure, in the writing stage we wax eloquent about our love for humanity and passion for service; preparing for the interview, we generate trite sound bytes to answer probing questions: "What makes you tick? What makes you sad?" Rarely, though, do we sit at home and really think about the answers. Having bashed sound bytes, I must add that they have their usefulness. I found it comforting during the interview to have some prepared phrases to fall back on if my mind went blank. They are also useful tools to facilitate introspection. Kind of a Socratic monologue.