I will be attending the reception for prospective Kentucky Governor’s Scholars in Murray this evening. It will be nice to see what the students are hearing before they submit their applications for my reading pleasure (or displeasure, as the case may be). Here in a moment, I have to rush home and find something to wear that makes me look erudite, no small task.

In the meantime, as thousands of Kentucky high school students are preparing their applications for this completely worthwhile program, I want to repost some of the advice that I’ve offered over the past few years that I have been on the Statewide Selection Committee, wisdom gained from the nearly 10,000 applications I have read and scored since I joined the group of dedicated volunteers that help make the thing work:

An Open Letter to Applicants of the Kentucky Governor’s Scholars Program: http://leesmiley.livejournal.com/8436.html

What is Unique?: http://leesmiley.livejournal.com/27364.html

If any students applying for the program stop by and read these helpful resources, I have two things to say. First, I hope they help. Second, go back and make your Unique Activity a little more unique. Please. For my sake. For the sake of my sanity in March. For the sake of your score and the prospects of you being accepted.

I sometimes walk from my house to the coffee shop where my wife is working while finishing her Master’s. On the path I take, I pass the following street sign:

Um . . . yeah.

On another topic, I should finish my yearly task of scoring applications for the Kentucky Governor’s Scholars Program either today or tomorrow, allowing me to return to my regular writing and LJ schedule. I will certainly have a few more things to say about this years applications and will also begin chronicling the submission process for Cursed Blessings or whatever I decide to call it tomorrow.

So, if you have been patiently awaiting my return to regular blogging, you really need a hobby.

While I’m giving my eyes a brief moment to uncross after reading the first 600 or so Governor’s Scholars applications, I would like to point out trends I’m seeing so far. I’ve already addressed these in earlier posts, but for those of you who just tuned in, here are a few general comments, concerns, and complaints about the applications thus far, addressed to the next potential lot of Scholars:

–If you want to be included in a program that rewards the best and the brightest in the state, you may want to proofread your writing samples. Had one such person done so, I wouldn’t have busted up laughing today as she described her retired “1100 ton” racehorse. I’m sure she meant “pound”, but that’s not nearly as funny. At least I know why he’s retired.

–Applicants should first be required to look up the word “unique” and write the definition in their “Unique Activity” sample. If you are part of a church group of 100 people and everyone else is doing the same thing as you, that does not make you unique. It makes you tedious. If you want to talk about that, there is another section of the application where you can do so. Quit boring me with it. I do think all the wonderful things these students are doing are admirable, don’t get me wrong, but they should quit trying to impress me. Answer the prompt and I’ll be impressed.

–If I have to look up an acronym on the internet, I’m not only going to be less impressed by your achievement, I’m also going to be annoyed at having wasted my time when you didn’t read the instructions. Don’t assume that I know what the activities at your school are–I’m 32, living in Tennessee, and we didn’t have so many things to do back in the Dark Ages when I was a Scholar. Moreover, if you want me to be impressed by an honor or award, tell me something about it–how prestigious it is, how many people win per year, how hard you had to work to achieve it, anything. You might have come in 5th in your Regional Underwater Basketweaving Tournament, but I’m a skeptic and I’m going to assume that there were only 5 people competing unless you tell me otherwise.

–Focus on one thing in your Unique sample. I think it’s great that you can play the piano and you teach Sunday school and you volunteer at the retirement home. Really, I do. Then again, there are other places on your application to put that. I would rather read about your fascination with model trains or your embarrassing habit of getting the hiccups when you’re nervous or something similar, something that you alone, of everyone you know–everyone you’ve ever met–has experienced. Come on. Thrill me.

To show that I’m not just Mr. Negativity, I’ll throw out some possible things about myself that I might write about myself if asked to do the same task. The prompt asks for a “unique and personal activity (sic experience) that sets you apart from your peers”. So, here you are:

–I was at my wife’s first wedding, but I wasn’t the groom.
–I once slammed an armed robber face-first into a tile floor to prevent him from robbing my store or shooting anyone.
–I love the gothic soap opera “Dark Shadows” while most people my age or younger have never even heard of it.
–I’m in the planning stages of writing a musical about the life of Sir Elton John.
–I have listened to Stephen King’s On Writing at least 100 times.
–I proposed to my wife in the flower gardens at the Biltmore.
–I once tore my rotator cuff during a doubles tennis match and continued to play two more sets with no feeling whatsoever in my arm.
–I once drove from Indianapolis to Louisville without sitting down.

That’s a few just off the top of my head. I can honestly say that I don’t know of anyone else who has ever done any of these things. They may not be as impressive as playing the piano or leading worship at a church or coaching youth soccer, but I challenge anyone reading this to find someone who has done any of the things on this brief list. If you do, please email me at leesmiley@gmail.com.

And I’m really not expecting anyone to email me. Good luck, though.

Posts on here will be appearing less frequently for the near future as I deal with a few things that take priority over writing stuff nobody will read. First of all, I’ll be working on my final edits and query letter for the new book (and perhaps a new title, as well–that’s currently in discussion). I’ve finished the major rewrites and minor housekeeping items and now I just have to go back through to make sure it all makes sense. I’ll also be working on the letter amidst all the other things going on, so I’m already looking to be busy over the next few weeks.

Also, I received a box from UPS on Friday containing the first 1000 applications for the Kentucky Governor’s Scholars Program. This is a wonderful thing as I normally have just two weeks to score all 1900 or so and starting a few weeks early will let me do things at a little better pace than usual. I’ve scored the first 35 and, so far, the quality is not promising. (Just in case someone googles the program here and finds this post, all the apps I receive are anonymous so save your bribes.) This process will soak up a lot of my free time, so work on the new book is also delayed until I get the GSP work done.

For anyone looking for more information about the Kentucky Governor’s Scholars Program, though, check out http://www.kygsp.org. You can also read some of my thoughts on what I do here and here.

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

Every March for the past five or six years, I have made the long (especially long now that I live in western Tennessee) trip to Frankfort, Kentucky, to pick up The Box. In doing so, I commit myself to reading portions of nigh on 2000 applications from high school juniors all over the state who hope to attend the Kentucky Governor’s Scholars Program, a prestigious summer program that all but guarantees those who get in full-tuition scholarships at a number of colleges and universities around the Bluegrass.

The process for applying to GSP is lengthy and competitive. Students are evaluated on a number of criteria including grade point average, standardized test scores, extracurricular activities, honors and awards, teacher and guidance counselor recommendations, and an essay. Applicants must also write a short piece describing an experience or interest that is unique to them and sets them apart from their peers. Applications are judged at the school level, the district level, and then are passed onto us, the Statewide Selection Committee, where we make the final decisions and snide remarks about the typical entries we receive.

This year’s incarnation of The Box is very similar to every other year’s. A cardboard banker’s box, roughly two feet long, packed solid from one end to the other with applications in bundles of 100, and a few bundles on top. This year, thanks to a change in the scoring system, I have taken up again the “Uniques” while keeping my usual batch of Honors/Awards. I see no names–anonymity being key to fair judging–and that’s a damn good thing. As bad as some of these things are this year, I’d be tempted to call some of these students and asked them, “Who the hell are you kidding?” The majority of these are the written equivalent of a rabies vaccination.

Anyway, I’ll write more on this topic later on, including an open letter I am planning to all future applicants to the program. For now, I have nearly 1600 more applications to pour through by the 24th without giving in to the desire to shoot myself.