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Highs and Lows of seeking Scholarships

I remember how this fire was ignited within me. I was seated in my class, 3D, when my friend Fitz passed me a copy of the Daily Nation. In one of the weekly magazines inside, I came across an article highlighting the story of Ernest Omondi, an Alliance High School alumnus, who’d just been admitted to Harvard University. As I continued reading his story, I was filled by an inexplicable excitement (an unjustified one if you ask me since I wasn’t the one who’d just been admitted). That was the genesis of a desire that I couldn’t contain, one that manifested itself greatly during the remaining two years while at Alliance: maybe if I worked hard enough, I could join Ernest.

Fast forward to late January 2018, two months after completing high school, I applied and was accepted to join EducationUSA, a college access mentorship program run by the US Embassy that helps gifted students apply to universities in the US. This marked the beginning of my journey towards realizing a dream I had nurtured for two years: from prepping for my SAT exams at the American Space Library at the Bazaar to writing almost 200 essays (I kid you not) that almost always turned out to be not good enough, for you know who; Harvard. Haha. All this was while juggling my role as a volunteer teaching assistant at PACE where I had been stationed at Mama Ngina Primary School. Coincidentally, PACE had also launched the PACE Global Scholars program which was designed to help willing scholars apply to universities abroad. It is while here that I met some strong-minded individuals who have now turned into lifelong friends: Lennox and Lisa who picked me up when I was at my lowest and held my hand in a tough process characterized by many highs and lows. If I’m to be honest, the application process is extremely tough and if you have self-esteem issues, it’s easy to give up or think of yourself as worthless. However, if you have people you can easily talk to whenever you’re going through stuff, whether rejections or acceptances, the process tends not to be as harsh. For an entire year, I was embroiled in the application process: from writing endless essays to chasing after high school teachers so that they could write me recommendations.

The regular-decision results for almost all the schools I had applied to were to be released in late March 2019. This month was a roller coaster ride. It would either show that my hard work had finally bore fruit or my dream would be just that: a dream. My first acceptance was to the Minerva Schools at KGI. After having gone through 5+ rejections by then, this was the only silver lining to this ominous cloud. I was elated. After all, one acceptance was all I needed to show me that it wasn’t all in vain. Four days before Ivy day, I received another email by Lafayette College at 8 p.m. As I anxiously clicked on the status update and upon seeing congratulations, I jumped in excitement. Ivy Day was a big disappointment and I can remember curling up in my blanket and crying myself to sleep at 3 a.m having read through 6 rejections simultaneously. I was devastated. Looking through my WhatsApp status and seeing three of my friends who’d gotten in, I had concluded that my life was over. The last nail on my coffin was the fact that I could attend neither Lafayette nor Minerva. Although both schools had given me financial aid  that seemed enough to some people, it didn’t cut it for me. My parents agreed too. Reminiscing now, I contend that attending either of the schools would have just left me unhappy and unfulfilled. They were good schools but they just weren’t my dream schools. 

Erick’s message from his mentor

I have always been a resilient person and even though Ivy day shook me to the core, I wasn’t ready to give up. I decided to give it another shot during the 2019-2020 application year. This would mean that I’d be throwing one year to waste but I didn’t care. All that mattered was that I’d  accomplish the goal I had set three years ago. In August, I painfully said goodbye to most of my friends who’d gotten better offers. Seeing Lennox fly to Wisconsin had only filled me with more determination: I had to join him. Half of last year was spent re-doing what I had done in 2018 but only better. My biggest appreciation goes to my application buddies: Brandon and Yashvi, both re-applicants like me who’ve been with me for the past two years now. They’ve cried and smiled with me in equal measure. 

These past weeks have been the best since I cleared high school. For the first time, I can smile genuinely or have fun without worrying. On 24th February, while seated in my friend’s room in Qwetu Parklands, I received an email out of the blues. On clicking it I was met with what I would term as, words to my eyes(you get the whole analogy of music to my ears?😂) I received news from the King-Morgridge scholarship program that I’d just been accepted to the program which would cover all my expenses, including airfare and miscellaneous expenses, for the four years I’d study at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Finally, my dream was starting to take shape. This was however only the icing on the cake. I was yet to taste the cake. Two weeks later, I also got accepted to Amherst College in Amherst, Massachusetts (where our dear president, pun intended, studied). This too was with a full scholarship. By now, I began to see the sense in my craziness; meaning to the insane decision I’d made a year ago. Two weeks ago, I’d  successively received acceptance into two of the best universities in the US: Northwestern University, a private research university in Evanston, Illinois and Dartmouth College, an Ivy League university in Hanover, New Hampshire. Both accepted me with full scholarships. My dream has never been more real. I can finally go on to chase my next one. Spoiled for choice, I have agonized during the past week as I try to choose the best school for me. Eventually, after much consideration, and the fact that I love city life, I’ve decided to enroll at Northwestern University where I hope to study either Computer Science, Computer Engineering or Electrical Engineering. My heart is content now and I’ve never been happier. I can’t wait to begin writing the next chapter in my book. Thank you PACE for all the support you’ve given me: from stellar recommendations to impactful mentorship. Evanston, Illinois here I come.

Eric Mbugua,
PACE Alumnus 2018




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