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February 19, 2011 / Brent Sears

My Start in Winning Scholarships

I was bored with college.  I was also broke and watching the debt pile up.  Looking back it wasn’t that dramatic, but at the time I was wondering what to do.  I felt stuck and very uninspired.  I would go to class, get the assignments done, and take the tests. But I felt like it wasn’t going anywhere.  I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life, and I didn’t see how my current track was going to get me anywhere.

Finally one day, sitting in the back of a Spanish 102 classroom viewing pictures from my professor’s recent trip to Spain, I snapped.  Externally nothing was different but internally I was at the breaking point.  I decided then and there that I was going to travel and earn college credit.  I had been making excuses for not doing it: I don’t know how. I don’t have any money.  I’m in debt.  I am not a great student.  I don’t know if I can learn a foreign language, and on and on.

Almost everyone has this fear of taking the first step, but that day the frustration of sitting there and doing nothing was worse than the fear of going for it.  The idea grew as the semester drew to a close and as I transferred from community college to SUNY Cortland I decided my education was going to come second to my travel.  I now had a purpose like few other students, but I also had huge challenges.

My biggest obstacle was the money.  I had never won a scholarships, but I knew if I wanted to pull this off I would have to.  As a transfer student my GPA was 0.00, so I did what most students never think to do.  I went to the study abroad office and picked up the form on international scholarships available for students travel.  I read through it with the mindset that I would do anything to win an award.  I had to!  Either that or sit in college for another two years and suffer.

As I read through the form these words changed my academic life: RUGBY PARTICIPATION GIVEN SPECIAL CONSIDERATION.  The Rowell Scholarship was worth $1,500 and I instantly saw it as a choice: play rugby for a year, or get a crappy part-time job?  Personally, I would rather bleed, so I joined the rugby club and was introduced to the greatest sport on the planet!  With that my strategy worked.  I won the award a year later for my semester in Ecuador, and to my knowledge no one has won it because of rugby participation before or since. It has always been due to secondary criteria.

Lesson: make yourself fit the scholarship, instead of trying to find the scholarship that fits you.  Tomorrow I will talk about where to look to find awards.



Leave a Comment
  1. IAN DELONG / Feb 19 2011 14:37

    Hi Brent,

    Your story is very inspiring. Sometimes I feel a little bit helpless in the whole academic world. I would love to win a scholarship but they are so limited in my part of the world and for what I am studying. I’m now inspired though and am going to try again.



    • brentsears / Feb 19 2011 14:54


      EVERYONE starts out thinking that they aren’t going to win. And that is what keeps great students from applying. As a study abroad advisor I saw it happen. Students either didn’t plan or they didn’t know the award existed. One semester we had to find a students to take a scholarship. Our administrative aide literally called up a student who met the GPA requirement and asked her to apply for the award.

      What is your part of the world and what is your major? Sometimes it is finding something outside your expertise, for me it was rugby and travel, and do what it takes. By doing that I found two things that i love.


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