Scrolling through social media, I gazed at the overjoyed Facebook statuses by a few peers who had received the Gates Millennium scholarship. I still waited for my response, was I going to receive one of those big packages or would I be one of the many silently receiving rejection? Sooner than later my package came into the mail and I joined the Gates Millennium community. However, being a scholar is about more than just cashing in every semester/quarter, like everything it has its high and low points, but even while navigating the confusing processes of sending documents at the end of the day every scholar I’ve met feels incredibly grateful and inspired.
Getting Your Funds
“It’s super prestigious! You won’t have to worry about paying for college anymore,” this is one of the comments I’ve most received since getting the Gates Millennium Scholarship. However, I quickly found out that Gates only covers certain aspects of my undergraduate education. Also, the funding extends into graduate school for only certain career paths. The mysticism around the scholarship quickly dissolved into confusion as countless questions about funding flooded the Facebook group. Does Gates cover college mandated health care? Does it cover my summer abroad?
My first recommendation would be to thoroughly read the guidebook that come with your congratulatory letter. It explains what Gates is funding and how to request the funds. From my experience, the scholarship covers the student contribution portion. It also can cover unmet aid but it will never deduct from the parent contribution. Gates may also provide funds for travel and book expenses, this all depends on what your particular university lists in its cost of attendance. Follow all the instructions and emails from Gates Millennium early on so that if any mishaps happen you have time to contact Gates.
The scholarship though, is more than just about the funds. A gateway into the extensive Gates community is the conferences that take place early on in freshman year. There’s one on the East Coast and the other on the West Coast, Gates Millennium pays for all the travel arrangements and scholars spend a weekend at a hotel interacting and making connections. It’s an event filled with fabulous food, inspirational guest speakers, and community building activities. This year the Treasurer of the US spoke at both conferences, talking about her experience as a Latina women striving to succeed in her career while also taking care of her daughter. The conference clears up questions about the scholarship itself and provide resources to enhance our college experience. There’s also an encouragement to give back to the communities we come from and to the program itself so that future Gates scholars will feel as welcome and supported.
The conference ties into this last point. The biggest culture shock I experienced on campus was socio-economic. I come from a place where everyone applies for financial aid and scholarships. I found out that lots of my friends didn’t even know what “FASFA” meant. Moreover, my community was predominantly Hispanic and bilingual. Through Gates I met other students on campus who also went through the same financial aid process. There are also subgroups in the Gates community, and it was great getting to know other Hispanic Scholarship Fund students. While I love meeting other students from diverse backgrounds, it’s nice to have a community that understands where you’re coming from.