In this month’s Strategy Session with Staff, Scholarship Associate Adam Thibodeau discusses the processes and work ahead to select the Class of 2023 Mitchell Scholars in April.
April 1 kicks off the most exhilarating time in our office: the Mitchell Scholarship selection process!
As you might expect, it takes a little bit of time to narrow more than 1,300 applicants down to the final list of Mitchell Scholars. After the online application closes, Scholarship Director Kim Gustafson and I spend the first few days of April preparing applicant rosters and reading sheets for members of the selection committee; communicating with our invaluable partners in school counseling offices; and organizing supplemental materials. Once those preliminary steps are taken, the reading begins, with applications divided among the selection committee by high school.
One of the things I appreciate about the Mitchell Institute’s selection process is that every application is reviewed by a human. No candidate is automatically eliminated because of a low GPA or a high household income, and our readers take great pains to understand each applicant’s individual circumstances. Is this applicant the first in her family to pursue college? What are some of the unique attributes that distinguish the candidate? All of this background information provides important context.
Throughout April, our readers evaluate candidates on the selection criteria: academics, community impact, and financial need. Although these criteria are cornerstones of the Mitchell Scholarship, there have been changes over the years. Most notably, community impact used to focus on extracurricular and community service activities. When it became clear that many applicants worked to pay for their own clothing or to contribute to their family’s bills, the category expanded to include employment and household responsibilities (like translating for their parents or caring for younger siblings). In recent years, we have also incorporated questions to better enable applicants to provide full context for their household finances.
By the end of April, the review committee narrows each school to the top candidates. Because many colleges use May 1 as an enrollment deposit deadline, we also have a second deadline on May 1 for students to submit the acceptance letter and financial aid offer from their top-choice college. Sometimes a candidate’s need level can shift significantly based on the type of aid they receive from their institution, and we try to take this into careful consideration.
The candidates are narrowed down to the top three finalists, from which a recipient and an alternate are selected. This is the most heart-wrenching part: For each applicant who is selected, there are at least twice as many equally worthy candidates who aren’t. These decisions are not made lightly: Everyone on the selection committee is aware of the difference that a $10,000 scholarship — and all of our wrap-around resources — can make to a college student. Which of these remarkable candidates would benefit most from the support we offer?
For many years, the selection process ended here, with one Scholar named at each public high school and an announcement made just in time for graduation ceremonies. This year, we’re excited to award 20 additional scholarships to candidates from across the state. While we will continue to honor the diverse communities of Maine by awarding one scholarship per high school, there is an abundance of promise — and financial need — in this state that remains. By increasing our number of Scholars, we believe that we will bring more Maine students in line with the 89% college graduation rate of our recipients, with the ultimate goal of providing for our state’s future growth.
These new scholarships will add a new layer to our selection process, which I am thrilled to be able to put into action over the next few weeks. Over the past nine years, I have found facilitating the Mitchell Scholarship selection to be a great honor, especially as a Mitchell Scholar Alumnus and the son of a lifelong educator. In just under nine weeks each year, we select a driven, community-minded cohort of Scholars who have gleaming potential.
Working with Mitchell Scholars has enriched my life in ways that I cannot put into words, and I cannot wait to meet the 2023 cohort. I look forward to introducing them to you all in June. — Adam
P.S. — There’s still time to apply to the Mitchell Scholarship by April 1! More information is available on our website.
Adam Thibodeau is the 2001 Mitchell Scholar from Lawrence High School. Since joining the Mitchell Institute staff in 2014, Adam has worked with his colleagues to facilitate the scholarship selection process and all support programs. He graduated from the University of Maine with degrees in English and Theatre, after which he worked in a number of performing arts organizations throughout New England. One of those organizations, Portland Stage, holds a special place in his heart, and Adam spends much of his spare time there, coordinating ushers, greeting audiences, and editing playbills.