Contest ended March 31st, 2017.
This spring, we awarded three $3,000 scholarships to graduating high school seniors based on their academic standing and their responses to an essay question:
How would you promote financial literacy among your peers?
2017 saw a record number of entries for our annual scholarship. The Board selected the winners for their thoughtful explorations of how they've learned fiscal responsibility and how others can start learning early, too.
We're proud to have the authors as members, and we wish them all the best in their bright academic futures and beyond.
Read the winning essays below!
"Wright Patman Scholarship Application"
When I received my acceptance letter from Yale University, I dropped to the floor and screamed at the top of my lungs. I had worked for years for this moment, and I was overjoyed. I floated in a bubble of pride and happiness for a week, until my financial aid package arrived. Seeing the cost of tuition—$60,000 a year—knocked the wind out of me. I was absolutely crushed.
I allowed myself to panic for 24 hours, and then I got to work. I scoured dozens of scholarship websites searching for ones I was eligible for. I spent hours writing essays and compiling recommendations, tweaking my resume and competing with thousands of other kids for the handful of lucrative merit scholarships. It has been exhausting and stressful, and it's completely overwhelming for most of my peers. Luckily, I have a unique advantage.
As a junior, I was hired by a local scholarship program, the Pittsburgh Promise. I spent my summer learning about financial aid specific to post-secondary education, and I learned more than I ever had in school. In one week of training I was taught about differentiating between types of loans and interest rates, how to appeal to a school for scholarships, the average debt for graduates, and the earning potential for students based on the number of years of education they receive. My work currently includes talking to my peers about scholarship applications and the financial aid process in general. Every conversation is a reminder that our system of developing financial literacy is flawed at best and nonexistent at worst. Students don't know where to look for scholarships, don't know how to compare aid letters, and don't know why going to college is worth it when their student loans will be so staggering.
In my experience, I've found that financial aid information is scattered and extremely difficult to sort through. A sophisticated database of scholarships would be an incredibly useful online tool for students. For example, a student could filter through options by income level, aid amount, and deadline. Programming a search engine that could do the work of clicking through hundreds of links in seconds would help give more opportunities to millions of kids and their families.
Through the Pittsburgh Promise, I've conducted financial literacy nights for students and their families. At such events, I introduce people to scholarship programs as well as help explain the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. I've also conducted presentations for each grade in my school to explain the basics of the financial aid process, but one assembly every semester is not enough. I believe that making better and more accessible tools will help every student achieve their full potential.
"Promoting Financial Literacy"
Financial literacy is an integral part of living in the modern world, and is more important than ever as my peers and I enter into the financial world. As I conclude my senior year in high school, one of the most important lessons I learned in JROTC was to lead by example. If I am financially literate myself, I can help others to understand the importance of the financial world and to know how it works. I have recently opened a credit union savings account, and in the future will open an IRA for retirement savings. Since I am preparing for these now, I will be able to help my peers in the future to navigate potential pitfalls and help them, as they help me, on how to succeed in our financial endeavors throughout our lives.
Among peers, it is extremely important to encourage discussion, especially with subjects some might not be familiar with. Being able to bring up discussions on this topic with my friends will allow us to explain complex ideas and bring to light different approaches to the same problem in order to find the best possible solution. Collaborating with a group can bring forth ideas that otherwise would never surface.
Along with a group discussion program, I would set up both a financial literacy club and a mock investment club. A financial literacy club will allow me to educate other students on the importance of finance and the knowledge needed to understand it. A mock investment club is an interactive way to introduce students to the stock market and to understand the best ways and the right places to invest.
One of the most important tools to use in learning financial literacy is to question others who have a great deal of experience, both positive and negative, in managing their finances. I would encourage other students to meet with their parents, grandparents, professors, and anyone else who has been in the financial world for a long period of time. Experience is one of the best teachers, and if I encourage students to speak with others, those students could pass on the knowledge they learned to others.
I would also encourage my peers to follow Motley Fool, listen to their podcasts, and use the tools they provide. My father is always listening to their podcasts about financial issues. My peers are familiar with podcasting and could gain a lot of information about financial literacy in this way. I'd encourage my peers to sign up to the Motley Fool Facebook page and follow many of their correspondents on Twitter.
In a world so influenced by money, financial literacy is a must if you want to succeed. As many students do not have an understanding of this, it is important to encourage it among my peers, so they can encourage it around others. Though there is much I can still learn financially, I am glad I can make an impact on what other people think and help them to become more literate themselves.
"Wright Patman Scholarship Essay: How Would You Promote Financial Literacy Among Your Peers?"
When I was fifteen years old, I got my first paycheck job at a landscaping company. A member of the project crew, I was to work on installation of decks, patios, garden beds, and foliage. I quickly found how hard the work was, especially being the youngest employee by a margin of seven years. By the end of the summer, I had averaged a forty hour work week, learned how to operate a Bobcat, and had more money in my bank account than ever before, but each dollar seemed so much more valuable.
This was the first of many summer jobs. In later years, I would work at three different restaurants, a summer camp, and a landscaping center. Each summer, I drop off cover letters and resumes for a variety of prospective job opportunities, and work over forty hours a week consistently. From my work experience, I have obtained a value for money which most my age do not possess. My parents have never given me an allowance or any spending money, so when friends decide to go out to eat or see a show, I must decide when and how to use the money I have painstakingly earned at a minimum wage job.
My junior year of high school, I traveled to Europe to live and study abroad in Zaragoza, Spain with thirty five hundred dollars in my bank account. This was my funding for the year. All my expenses were to be paid for with this money I had made the summer prior, working as a busboy for nine dollars an hour. Halfway through the year, the students were granted the privilege of "Independent Travel," essentially trips throughout Europe free of staff or parent supervision. This was my biggest financial challenge yet. On each trip, I was faced with the responsibility of covering the expenses of a train, hotel, food, activities, and all other travel costs on my own dime. While my friends could simply depend on the bottomless ease of parental funding back home, I was forced to meticulously select the cheapest and most economical ticket, dinner, or hostel bed.
By supporting myself fiscally for the last five years, I have learned a lot about the value of money. Developing frugal traveling habits in Spain, I came to understand that sometimes, traveling cheaply can lead to a better experience. Explaining this to traveling companions, we grasped the best ways to vacation on a budget while still enjoying ourselves and experiencing each city to the fullest. Taking the extra ten minutes to search for a cheap train ticket, make our own breakfast with bread and peanut butter, or finding a backpackers hostel instead of a room at the Marriott let us stretch out each dollar a little further. By sharing the positive working experiences I have obtained, I can encourage peers to seek summertime employment. From this, my peers will shift from viewing money as a consistent thirty dollar a week allowance from parents, and rather a valuable asset that is made through hard work and spent carefully.