A Letter to Applicants of the Kentucky Governor’s Scholar Program

Dear Applicant:

Every year for the past five, I have volunteered to read a portion of the applications for the Kentucky Governor’s Scholars Program. This five-week program, held on various college campuses across the Bluegrass, allows gifted high school students to participate in learning that might fall outside the normal realm of secondary education while forming a community of diverse, yet like-minded achievers who represent the best and brightest of the state.

I owe a great debt to this program. Spending five weeks there as a skinny teenager with glasses that resembled something Elton John might have worn in the ’70’s, I learned a great deal about philosophy, forensics, and, thanks to the great people I met, friendship. It should also be noted that I met my wife in line for registration at GSP, so even without all those great memories, I would have something great to show for my time spent there.

To give back to GSP, I agreed five years ago to score applications as part of the Statewide Selection Committee. This panel of about 16 or so people reviews the applications submitted from every school district in the state and evaluates them on various criteria. I have scored three portions of the application in my time on the committee, including the Extracurricular Activities, the Honors & Awards, and, my personal favorite, the Uniques. In this small writing portion, the applicant is asked to describe a unique or personal activity or interest that sets him/her apart from his/her peers in 250 words or less.

Oh, dear. We had no idea that this was so difficult.

So, to help future generations of Governor’s Scholars applicants, I would like to note a few things that are NOT unique and that should be avoided when completing this part of the process:

1. You are active in your Christian church. While this is, I’m sure, an admirable quality in you, 80% of Americans consider themselves Christians. I don’t think a trait can be considered unique when 4 out of 5 people in the country share the same trait. What particularly irks me about these, besides their withering frequency, are the ones that go beyond just describing the applicant’s own involvement to tell me how important it is to be a Christian in general. Obviously, there is a general consensus on this if 80% of Americans are Christian. Still, in the words of George Carlin, “keep thy religion to thyself.”

2. You play a musical instrument. Again, a very admirable trait, but not unique. I hate to break it to you, but playing a trumpet in the school band, guitar in your church’s praise band (see above), or drums in your garage band does not make you unique. It makes you exactly like 500 or so other applications that I have to read and will not get you a very high score. Now, if you play something odd–a harpsichord, perhaps, or a lute–then I will be more willing to give you points for uniqueness. While there may not be room for a harpsichord in your garage or praise band, these are the sacrifices we are called to make sometimes.

3. You play a sport. Again, admirable. I played baseball in high school and tennis in college, so I appreciate the amount of time and work that goes into athletic endeavors. I also understand that thousands of students play sports across the state and, by definition, this makes the activity rather common. Now, again, if you play jai alai or something of the like, then that would be worth few points.

4. You’re a writer. Hey, me too. Together with the 300 or so other writers I scored this year, we could form a pretty decent writing group. We could form some fiction factory to pump out James Patterson novels until the cows come home. The ones that really make me groan, though, are the poets who include a sample of their lousy poetry and expect me to be impressed. If I want to read poetry, I’ll pick up some Keats or William Carlos Williams. Now, in the spirit of full disclosure, I have one poem I have saved from several years ago pinned above my desk. I thought the poem was wonderful and still read it from time to time. If you do insist on sending me poetry, it better be well-written and innovative if you hope to gain points from me.

Another turn-off in this category are the applicants that try to trick me by writing about something really great and then reveal at the end that it was all made up because the applicant is a writer. Ha ha, joke’s on me! Don’t do this. Don’t tease me with something that sounds great, then pull the rug out from under me. I don’t give high scores when I’m pissed off.

5. You went on a mission trip. Related to #1, but numerous enough to gain their own little rant. It’s great that you are going to Peru, Africa, or even the wilds of Eastern Kentucky to spread your message while helping to feed the poor or paint some old lady’s house. While you’re at it, come paint my house. I’m sure it was an amazing event for you, one that will live on in your memory for years, but there are a lot of people seeking to spread the Word. You are not unique.

And, to keep a good sense of balance, here are a few DO’s to accompany my DON’T’s:

1. Have someone proofread your entries before you submit them. I can’t deduct points for poor grammar or spelling, but I wish I could. Still, if you are between two scores in my mind and you have a bevy of grammatical and spelling errors, I’m going with the lower score. In this highly competitive process, that can make all the difference, so have someone who knows what they’re talking about read your entry for mistakes.

2. Think broadly. When you are looking for something that makes you unique, think beyond your immediate circle of friends, or even your school. Try to find one thing that sets you apart from EVERYONE else in the world. That may be tough, but to set yourself apart in this process, you have to THINK. I know that’s a lot to ask for, but we are looking for people who can do that, for some reason. Oh, yeah, the Scholar part maybe.

3. Put some effort in. If you don’t want to participate in the program, I will be able to tell and will be more than happy to help you out. Still, if you want in, put a little work into it.

Obviously, if you have searched and found this post, you are serious about your application. Therefore, I encourage you to take these things into consideration as you apply. I would much rather read about your collection of gnome figurines than your mission trip. Even if it’s mildly embarrassing or personal, I want to see something original, something that will set you apart from the other 2000 or so applicants I have to score.

Please help conserve my little remaining sanity and not make this yearly labor of love just labor.

Thank you in advance,

Lee Smiley
Statewide Selection Committee
Kentucky Governor’s Scholar Program

1 Comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s