A Bit of Advice from Stephen

October 12, 2012

By hammersmith


Each year, Flinn scholars write letters of encouragement to students completing the scholarship application. Here is what Stephen has to say. 


Hey there,

My name is Stephen Bergauer, and I am from the Flinn Scholar Class of 2012 (and a 2016 Sun Devil, majoring in Math and Finance). At this point, it’s hard for me to believe that, just one year ago, I was sitting in exactly the same position you were in, reading a similar email encouraging me to finish my application, largely blank at the time. Growing up in Chandler, I had heard of the Flinn Scholars program in somewhat mythical terms – a benefit reserved only for students curing cancer in high school while holding down multiple full-time jobs and playing in eight sports. Reading through the Foundation’s website of past scholars only confirmed my suspicions: these people were traveling to Africa and Asia and Antarctica trying to cure world hunger, third-world dysentery/malaria/measles/cholera, and sociopolitical inequality—all at the same time.

As I’m sure many of you did, I attended one of the scholarship information sessions held during the spring of my junior year; if anything, this made me even less confident in my accomplishments. I thought that there was no way that I could be part of this select group—I had already made plans to attend an out-of-state school that was offering me a substantial scholarship and just finished my application out of a chance of a dream of a hope that I could be a Flinn Scholar. Six months later, after two rounds of interviews, I received that phone call in mid-March informing me that I was a scholar; I’m sure I wasn’t the first to laugh, cry, run laps around my house, and immediately accept all at the same time.

When you look over the Flinn program benefits, I’m sure you noticed the full-ride scholarship value, the extensive travel opportunities, and the networking events sponsored by the Foundation. While all of these are fantastic benefits, I want to stress one that can often be overlooked: the idea of a “community of scholars.” In high school, I was a complete and total nerd – president and state champion in Academic Decathlon, leader of my school’s We the People team, member of the Knowledge Masters club. Despite this, I had always felt like “the smartest man in the room” in my high school classes, like I could never truly fit in because I always seemed to know more than most of the people around me. As aspiring Flinn Scholars and excellent students, I’m sure some of you have felt a similar way and are afraid that you might face a similar situation at an Arizona university – still being the smartest person in the room, alone at the top, in a sense. Even though I’ve only been part of this program for a few months, I have already met more people that are not only dedicated to their studies but are also actively involved in issues that matter to them – whether on a global, national, or local scale. I’m not ashamed to admit that many of my fellow scholars are much smarter than I am and that I can only hope to equal their accomplishments. By being part of this “community of scholars,” you already have an established group of intelligent, dedicated individuals from day one on campus—an experience that no Ivy League or “better” school could ever match. Choosing to stay in-state and take the Flinn was probably the best decision I have ever made.

I’d like to close with a few pieces of advice, some specific, some general, about the application process. On the paper application itself, don’t hesitate to brag about yourself. If you’re applying for this scholarship, then you have obviously excelled in your classes and are involved in leadership activities both on- and off-campus; however, all the other applicants also have these same traits. What makes you different? What can you use the scholarship for that nobody else can? On the essays, try to think outside-the-box. Brainstorm a list of ideas about the essay, then cross off the first five; somebody else is already using them. To paraphrase my favorite physics teacher in high school, you need to “rise above the masses”—don’t be afraid to take a chance! The scholarship committee is reading hundreds of essays, and yours needs to literally jump off the page.

As far as the interviews are concerned, the best advice I can give you is to be authentic and passionate. The questions will range from your resume and accomplishments to interesting ideas presented in your application essays to your thoughts on current social, political, or economic issues, on scales ranging from global to local. Because this range is so wide, there’s simply no way that you can adequately prepare for them, so beyond learning about the world around you and current hot-button events (read a newspaper!), there’s not much you can do to prepare. What I think the committee is really looking for is passion and authenticity – two qualities that are fairly difficult to fake. You’ve been involved in many activities throughout high school; what drove you to choose those? What did you hope to get out of them? What did you get out of them? What issues are you passionate about, and how do you think the Flinn can help you achieve your goals? If you can answer these questions, I think you’ll be an excellent candidate for the scholarship.

I wish you all the best, and I hope to see you join our newest class of scholars next year! If you have any questions about ASU, business majors, the Scholars program, or transitioning to college in general, please don’t hesitate to email me.



Stephen Bergauer

[email protected]