Last Call for Applicants 2014, and a Poetic (and Award-Winning!) Personal Statement

Last year during our scholarship selection process, I wrote down the name of a young lady who had submitted a very memorable personal statement in her application materials. I felt a connection to her and was hoping that, through the rigorous review process, she would emerge with a scholarship in the end.

The name I wrote down was Isabella Corcelli.  I loved the way her name rolled off my tongue. Isabella Corcelli, who was diagnosed with Synovial Sarcoma just three months before our scholarship application deadline. Isabella Corcelli, who was supposed to be enjoying her senior year of high school, but who was instead fighting a rare form of soft tissue cancer.  Isabella Corcelli who, despite her diagnosis, was determined to begin her freshman year of college in the fall as planned.

Isabella did receive a Cancer for College scholarship, and started school in the fall at the University of New Hampshire, pursuing a degree in Recreational Management and Policy. 

With her blessing, we share her personal statement in its entirety. It’s both a touching piece of writing, shared from the heart of a young person facing a terrifying situation, and an excellent example of a unique and memorable personal statement. 

Girls high school Lacrosse games
Varsity and junior varsity
Swing starter, love the action
Pain on my side
Must be scoring too many goals
Yes, I can handle that!

Spring drama production, stage manager responsibilities
Ballroom dance showcases and competitions
Junior prom, limo, nails and hair
Pain on my side near my ribs
Must be working too hard
As part time frozen yogurt girl
Yes, I can handle that!

Summer time beach days
Backyard fires with smores
Cartwheel competitions on the grass
With my two brothers and my two best friends
Oooh pain on my side, time to call the doctor
Yes, I can handle that!

Pediatrician visits
Blood work drawn, use my right arm please
Ultrasound tests
Let’s go for some MRIs
And certainly a CAT scan
Yes, I can handle that!

Referrals to thoracic surgeon
A tumor between my 7th and 8th rib
Could be Schwannoma, could be benign
We agree it shouldn’t be there
This should be a simple operation
Yes, I can handle that!

It’s the start of senior year
Honors classes, stage manager
Promoted to barista at work
And schedule a surgery on Halloween
A whopping six hours from start to finish
Yes, I can handle that!

Cool November football games
Research papers and senior project due
Pathology results unexpected
Synovial sarcoma tumor
Who ever heard of this rare 1% cancer?
Yes, I can handle that!

My new vocabulary words are
Hematologist, oncologist, surgical oncologist,
Chemotherapy, rib replacement
Reproduction endocrinology
Don’t forget fertility preservation
Yes, I can handle that!

Thanksgiving turkey, high school football game
Doctors moving fast, chemo drugs are harsh
Fertility is in question, need to freeze the eggs
Let’s start the hormonal self-injections
Mix up the Bravelle and Menapur
Yes, I can handle that!

More MRIs, more CAT scans, more blood work
My veins are feeling tight, my diet is neutropenia
Four rounds of chemo are planned for weeklong stay at the hospital
Ifosfamide, Doxorubicin, Mesna, Compazine, Zofran Sodium Chloride, Neulasta, blood transfusions, blood platelets

Yes, I can handle that!

As of this writing I have experienced several surgeries and procedures, with more expected in the near future. I have scheduled countless doctor appointments, completed two rounds of chemotherapy, received wonderful medical care, pampered by excellent doctors, nurses, CAN’s and of course my family. Ever since I was a young girl, I aspired to become a pediatrician. Having witnessed the medical community first hand, I truly appreciate the hard work and dedication it takes to provide not good care, but excellent care. I have also been grateful for the doctors and nurses encouraging me to pursue my career. Their advice, inspiration and practical tips have been invaluable. Add to that my personal dedication of maintaining high grades, National Honor Society, volunteer hours, part-time job, lacrosse and ballroom dancing. As you can tell, the opportunity to attend and afford college would be an honor to receive. I cannot wait to be able to help a young child someday knowing full well that I too, was a patient once.

Yes, I can handle that!

Isabella Corcelli

Note from Cancer for College: as of this posting in January 2014, one year after this statement was received in our office, Isabella Corcelli is now a cancer survivor. 

Calling All Applicants 2014

January officially begins our scholarship season at Cancer for College! Applications are due postmarked January 31, so we are rapidly approaching the deadline. If you know or are a cancer patient or survivor, currently attending college or planning to in the fall, and would like to apply for a scholarship, please click here for the application details.

In the early years of our charity, it was difficult to find applicants. We had to make personal contact with hospital social work departments, and hope they would get our information into the hands of eligible students.

That changed with the internet. To date we have processed thousands of applications. Last year alone we received nearly 500 applications from cancer survivors around the country and awarded just over $100,000 to 60 recipients. Applications go through several stages of review by our evaluation committee, consisting of about 10 members with longstanding ties to Cancer for College, three of whom are past scholarship recipients. 

How can you submit a winning application? Following are tips to help your application stand out from the others.

Christina big chek

Send us a complete application with all required pieces of the puzzle, in the correct order as specified. This one seems obvious, but every year, we are forced to set aside incomplete applications. As heartbreaking as this is to say, applications missing information are not even reviewed. The very first step in processing applications is to ensure all materials requested are present. If one piece is missing, for example, if there is only one letter of recommendation instead of two, that application is immediately set aside. That student’s review process is over before it even begins. Doing this is very difficult for all of us on the review committee, because we know that each application packet represents a person who has gone through trials that no one, particularly someone so young, should have to experience. 

On the flip side, please do not clutter your packet with more information than requested — extra letters of recommendation, news articles, pages and pages of transcripts (we just need an official cumulative GPA verification). The selection process is time-consuming for our committee — most of whom are volunteers with families, careers and additional commitments — so wading through too much information to get to what we need becomes frustrating.

Write a compelling personal statement which addresses the topic prompt while helping us get to know you and your individual situation. Some personal statements leave us wanting to know more. Some fail to paint a picture of the applicant themselves. Your personal statement is your big chance to really allow us to get to know you. This is your time to spotlight your story, and share your goals for college and beyond.

Personal statements are very influential in the evaluation process. All complete applications undergo an initial review of the personal statements, a “round one” evaluation. Some applications do not make it beyond this point. But a great majority do move on the next step, the committee round table review. As a team, and over a course of several weeks, the review committee reads aloud every personal statement, and scores the application together.

“A winning scholarship essay is one that truly sets a particular applicant apart from the others,” says Scholarships.com in their article “Top 10 Tips for Writing Effective Scholarship Essays.” “If you tell your story clearly and persuasively, you might just find yourself receiving a congratulatory letter from the scholarship committee!”

We know at Cancer for College that many applicants are stricken with cancer during their high school years, causing a ripple effect on their grades and participation in activities. We account for this in our evaluation process. We are not looking for students with the highest grades or the most activities in school, although those details are considered. We are also impressed by applicants who have taken their experience and turned it into a positive, using their situation to influence others and make a difference.

Choose your letters of recommendation wisely.  A medical reference is required, on official letterhead, as we need it to verify status as a cancer patient. Some doctors do just that, a few sentences confirming patient status and dates of treatment. Others go into deeper detail, sharing positive traits of the patient and offering specifics on why this patient should receive a scholarship. While you may not have much control over this, please give careful consideration to whom you ask to write your recommendation. Find someone who knows you well and is willing elaborate on your positive qualities.

We ask for two letters, with at least one of them being from a doctor who provided treatment. The second letter is from a person of your choosing, but can still be a part of your medical treatment team. Many applicants submit their second letters from a teacher, principal, church leader or family friend.

Letters of recommendation are often consulted or read aloud during our committee round table evaluations, particularly if the personal statement leaves us wanting more. These written testimonies can be influential in the decision-making process, as they provide another avenue for the committee to find a sense of who you are.

Each one of our applicants is a unique, vibrant young man or woman who has survived a difficult journey. Back in the early days of Cancer for College, we had a small enough applicant pool that everyone who applied received funding. We certainly wish we could still say this. Actually, the number one item on our wish list is that modern medicine would one day make a scholarship for cancer survivors obsolete. Until that time, we hope that these application tips are useful, we wish you all good health and good luck.