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Going for the big ones: How I won a $25,000 scholarship

College • September 26, 2018 • Damian Lee


What you’ll learn

  • How one scholarship winner’s hard work and tenacity paid off

Senior year was finally here and there were numerous things I had to worry about. Applying to colleges and universities, application fees, composing college essays, ACT/SAT scores, GPA, letters of recommendation, extracurricular activities, meeting graduation requirements, prom, senior portraits, purchasing my cap and gown, graduation invitations, and last but not least, SCHOLARSHIPS.

Going the extra mile

As a student from a severely low financial background, college scholarships became my top priority and were a pivotal factor in whether or not college would be attainable. Since tenth grade, I’ve spent my summers working closely with my college advisors, guidance counselors, and career specialist in an intensive, three-day “College Boot-Camp.” I became more knowledgeable about colleges and universities, scholarships, and how I could become a competitive applicant. Furthermore, my college advisors provided me with continuous support throughout each school year to assist me to attain my college aspirations.

With a list of “Big-Dollar” scholarships already on my radar, I backed each scholarship application up with thorough research. Conducting extensive research on a potential scholarship is essential because not only does it place you in a position that makes you aware of the background of the scholarship, but it also shows that you will go the extra mile.

I would spend days and nights comparing my stats, extracurricular activities, and leadership roles to previous winners and see if I could visualize myself as a prospective scholar.

Staying motivated

The Gates Scholarship was the first scholarship I felt comfortable and had enough confidence to apply for. It would provide a full-ride to any college or university in the U.S. Although I made it past round one, which was the “Qualification Round,” I was not advanced past round two.

I thought I blew my only chance of receiving a full scholarship to college, but I stayed true to myself.


I was devastated. I thought my research had failed me. I thought I blew my only chance of receiving a full scholarship to college, but I stayed true to myself. I recalled my mother stating to me, "Sometimes our plans fail because God has another plan for us.”

These words became my motivation to keep trying.

The moment I was waiting for

The Sallie Mae Bridging the Dream Scholarship was the next scholarship on my radar. My college advisor and nominator, Mychal Wynn, believed that this scholarship would be a perfect match. After he placed the nomination, I was extremely nervous about whether I was going to actually receive this scholarship. Then in late October, I received a surprising call from my mother during school. Her voice was filled with excitement which made it quite difficult to perceive what she was saying, but then she said, "You're a finalist for the Sallie Mae scholarship."

This news overwhelmed me. The Sallie Mae crew came to my school and house to film me, my family, and my extracurricular activities. I felt like a mini-celebrity and like I was on a reality show.

November 7, 2017, is a day I will never forget. I thought it was just another night with my Dramatic Coffee Beans improv family, but it was way more. After our performance, I was awarded a huge $25,000 check. This was the moment that I was waiting for. This day told me that I was worth way more than what test scores or my GPA could explain. I had a dream, and because of the Sallie Mae Scholarship Foundation, my dream is now reachable.

Becoming an inspiration

Ever since winning the Sallie Mae scholarship, my life has taken a 180. Many people were inspired by my story and now understood why I was always hardworking and dedicated to fulfilling my dream. They know now that I will stop at nothing to accomplish it.


Damian is a high school senior slated to attend college this fall. He plans on majoring in political science and dreams of becoming a lawyer. He is a 2017 Bridging the Dream Scholarship winner.


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Sallie Mae does not provide financial, tax, or legal advice and the information contained in this article does not constitute tax, legal, or financial advice. Sallie Mae does not make any claims, promises, or guarantees about the accuracy, completeness, or adequacy of the information contained in this article. Readers should consult their own attorneys or other tax advisors regarding any financial strategies mentioned in this article. These materials are for informational purposes only and do not necessarily reflect the views or endorsement of Sallie Mae.