When I think about planning ahead for scholarships, I think macro and micro; first, I think about the need for vision – you need to make sure that the activities you participate in that take up the most time are contributing to your end goal.

This might mean a painful self-appraisal. Are you spending hours watching Netflix? Browsing social media and all the sudden you look up and it’s 2am? Or are you doing lots of “productive” things, but there’s no real direction or unifying theme? It’s important to take inventory, determine what your goals are, and make a plan to get there.

Take this student for example:

“Jenna” wants to go to medical school. She is a high school senior who has chosen to apply to several schools with pre-med programs. She’s also done some shadowing at her local hospital and looked into what medical schools are looking for in terms of undergraduate curriculum. Her choice of school is determined primarily by location – where is the best place that will afford her the most opportunities to get experience in the medical sphere? She’s also applying to scholarships that fit her profile as a woman going into science and as an involved and entrepreneurial high school student.

When she gets to school, she meets with her freshman academic advisor and tells him she wants to make a four-year plan and needs to talk to the representative from the medical school that has an early acceptance deal with her new alma mater. She finds out she can major in anything she wants as long as she does well in all the med school pre-requisite science and math courses and looks to diversify her activities while focusing on service and leadership – her two main strengths and passions.

One summer she interns with a doctor in a rural area, another summer she works as a health assistant for a kids camp run by a prominent university, and another summer she works with a growing medical camp in her hometown. These opportunities give her direct patient experience while her diverse activities during the school year position her to be able to talk about the unique experience she will bring to the profession and how her particular strengths will serve her community of choice.

That is some serious planning ahead. But that’s the micro level. Just as Rome wasn’t built in a day, neither was this master plan conceived in one blinding moment of brilliance. This game plan was built play by play, adapted, managed, and mastered little by little.

So if you really want to plan ahead and put together applications that win, let me introduce you to your new best friend – the calendar-task list merge.


I know it’s tempting to tune out and jump over to Facebook or Snapchat. But even those of us who weren’t born color-coding our notes or systematizing our sock drawers need to learn how to bring a little organization to our lives if we want to get things done. The most important part of getting things done is having a system that works for you where everything is in one place. I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t practice what I preach in this area right now. Nonetheless, having one place where every thought is captured takes a lot of stress out of life and particularly out of getting scholarship applications done well and on time.

Here are my top tips for formulating and executing a master plan:

  1.     Dream Big

Take an hour or two or an afternoon or a weekend, and dream. Write everything down and decide where you’re headed over the next few years. This is possibly one of the most important pieces of the process, so don’t rush it and don’t let yourself (or anyone else) shoot down any idea at this stage of the game.

  1.     Make the Cut

Decide which dreams you really want to pursue with everything you’ve got over the next couple of years. Be realistic – if you’re not playing baseball now, you probably aren’t going to playing in the major leagues in five years – but make sure your goals are far enough out of reach that you’re going to have to stretch and grow to reach them. Only pick one or two – these should take all your energy and going hard after too many things is a recipe for disaster.

  1.     Plan, plan, plan

It’s been said that failing to plan is planning to fail. Without a plan, dreams are just that, dreams. If you want to take your dreams into the realm of reality, you’re going to need a plan. Here’s where your calendar-task list merge comes in. At this stage, create a timeline of steps you need to take to reach your goal.

This might take a little research. You might need to look into what kind of internships are going to give you the kind of experience you need to get the job you’re dreaming of. You probably need to look into application timelines. You need to look at scholarships that will help you get the funds you need to achieve your goal. Write it all down, put it on the calendar, set weekly reminders, monthly reminders, whatever you need to make sure that the most important opportunities, the biggest returns on investment don’t pass you by.

If you don’t know how to use Google (or Outlook) Tasks with your calendar, there are plenty of tutorials on how to do it. Having everything in line with your main email provider will make it so much easier to clear your inbox (and your headspace) so the deep work can get done without interference from low-level clutter. Mark your tasks, give them a due date, and set reminders. When you have applications done a week before the deadline you’ll be glad you did.

  1.     Don’t give up

This stuff can be daunting. And when you get behind and your inbox is at 542, giving up looks really appealing. But this is where some other tried and true maxims come into play – Quitters never win. Pushing through to achieve big dreams builds character, it makes you who you are. Too many people give up because it’s hard. I can give you all the motivational speeches in the world, but until you have a dream you’re ready to fight for, it’s not going to make an impression – so go back to step one and dream big, then make a plan and execute. You can do this.

Oh, and “Jenna?” That was me; and I got into med school.