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  • Sabrina Lynch

How I won $20,000 in college scholarships

I am an AAMPLIFY 2017 alumna and I’m a first-generation college student who immigrated to San Francisco from China in 2008. Though I initially struggled because I didn’t speak English, I was placed in a bilingual elementary program and learned quickly. Soon I began serving as a peer resource, translating for international students in middle and high school. In high school, I started volunteering as a translator at the Richmond District Neighborhood Center Food Pantry.

When it came time to apply for college, I began thinking about how to alleviate the financial burden of college tuition on my family. My parents were supporting my other two younger siblings, so I wanted to help by paying for my own tuition through the help of scholarships, grants, and work study jobs in college. During my senior year, I started researching and applying to scholarships. After months of persistence, I won 7 scholarships, earning $20,000 for college!

I participated in AAMPLIFY in the summer of 2017. Being part of AAMPLIFY changed how I viewed college and being AAPI in America. It strengthened me as a leader and taught me how to advocate for the AAPI community. Through personalized college admissions consulting, AAMPLIFY supported me and helped me with the process of transitioning to college. I also enjoyed the community I built through the program, where I met lifelong mentors and friends. AAMPLIFY is a big family where I can share my happiness and difficulties about education, careers, and just life in general. AAMPLIFY is full of resources and more importantly - AAMPLIFY was fun!

I graduated from George Washington High School. I am starting UC Davis in the fall, double-majoring in economics and communication with the hopes of pursuing a career in international business.

Here's my guide for college scholarships.

What you need to prepare

  1. 1-2 letters of recommendation for scholarships that require one

  2. Most recent high school transcript

  3. List of volunteering experience, extracurriculars and leadership experience

  4. List of Scholarships

Scholarships I won

Maisin Scholarship 2018 (Ongoing) (78 scholars): Acquired because I’m a first generation AAPI student coming from low-income household. 4 year program that provides financial support, academic and career counseling, internships and professional development opportunities and community and peer support.

  • Online application

  • GPA of 2.5+ to maintain scholarship

  • Letters of recommendation

  • Need to wait for others to submit the letter of rec

  • Proof of income - this scholarship targets first-generation, low-income students of color

  • Interview (phone) - by 2 Maisin staff or volunteers outside the program

  • Required attendance at events (3)

  • Scholarship money goes directly to University, $3,000 for 4 years for a total of $12,000.

  • Acquired because of volunteering hours and following their format for application.

  • For graduating seniors.

  • GPA (weighted): 2.5+

  • Application by mail

  • Interview: received 9pm call from founder

  • Required attendance at events (2)

  • Proof of volunteer hours

  • $2,000 in scholarship awards and Chromebook

  • Letter of Recommendation must be sealed in an envelope

  • Application by mail

  • Application required essay (fact check needed)

  • Interview - 3 interviewers from the CACA, you are interviewed with other applicants.

  • $1,000 in scholarship awards.

Roy and Don Splawn Scholarship 2018

  • For California graduating high school seniors. Scholarship looks for dedication to school, family, and community (volunteering).

  • Online application

  • Letters of recommendation

  • No interviews (purely online application)

  • $1,000 in scholarship awards.

James E. Ballard Scholarship from United Educators of San Francisco 2018 (1 or 2) Offered to SFUSD graduates, selected based on essays written. Topics varies, some might ask about technology being bilingual, how to benefit community, ect.

  • Handwritten essay, length is ~1 page, college-ruled

  • Mail-in application.

  • Tip: the UESF offered 7 scholarships, all handwritten. Write for all 7 of them.

  • $2,000 in scholarship awards.

Based on studying more than 3 years of world language, and recommended by Chinese and Japanese teacher.

  • RFD/Garin Award at her high school, George Washington High School 2018, Camille Morishge Award. $1,000 based solely on teacher recommendations

  • MYEEP Scholarship 2015, awarded to 2 MYEEP volunteers from all MYEEP locations. $250 based on letter of recommendation and essay

Tips for interviews Here are the most common questions I encountered during my interviews and how you should prepare for them:

  • Tell me about yourself (brief, 1 minute self-introduction). Prepare a quick introduction about where you attend school, what you’d like to do in the future, and how this scholarship would help you.

  • What do you plan to do while in college? If you aren’t sure what exact career you plan to pursue, that’s completely fine - but think about HOW you plan to develop your passions in college (taking specific classes? An internship? An organization that looks interesting?).

  • Where do you see yourself in 5, 10 or 20 years? The interviewer doesn’t care about the specifics - you don’t have to know what title you’ll have or what city you’ll live in - this question wants to know what kind of leader you hope to be. Perhaps in 5 years you see yourself in a position leading a small team towards a project; perhaps in 20 years you see yourself working internationally.

  • What is your dream job, major, and interests? Be prepared to explain why, and remember - certainty is not as important as the reasons why you want to do something. It doesn’t matter if you aren’t positive you want to be a teacher, it matters that you can explain how you want to work with students in some capacity.

  • Why is college important to you, and what are your college goals? The interviewer knows you want to get good grades, internships, and then a job after college. You want to set yourself apart by being specific: perhaps you want to be a psychologist and know that college will allow you to take these courses. Perhaps you are the first person in your family to go to college.

  • What are your strengths and weaknesses, and provide examples of such. How will college help you with your weaknesses? Be honest about your weaknesses but control the narrative by explaining how you are improving in this area. Choose strengths you can control - for example, your mile time is not a good strength; your persistence and dedication to decrease your mile time is a good strength.

  • What is a leader, and what traits do you think they should have? Provide an example of your leadership skills. Focus on what your leadership style is (leading by example? charismatic?), and be prepared to share a story about how you’ve exhibited these qualities.

I hope this guide was helpful. If you have any questions or want more advice on the scholarships I applied to, reach out to me at

Good luck!

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