The following interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Meet the Interviewee: James Quinlan

Alexander James Quinlan Headshot

James Quinlan is a student from Scarborough, Ontario entering Western University’s Media, Information, and Technoculture program. He plans on pursuing a dual degree in business and media. This year, James won the university’s President’s Entrance scholarship, one of Western’s largest awards. I got the opportunity to interview James about the application process and his extracurricular activities.

What specific prizes were you awarded?

“I was awarded the Western President’s Entrance Scholarship! As a recipient, I get $50,000 distributed over four years and $2,500 towards summer international study programs if I want to enrich my education experience. I also received a guaranteed spot in whatever residence I wanted (Ontario Hall Single Room), which is actually a really big deal; I don’t believe there’s any other way to guarantee your top choice.”

What did the supplementary application entail?

“While all applicants must have a 90% average or higher, I’m fairly sure that grades have little impact in comparison to the supplemental application. The application is very extensive and requires candidates to highlight all of their Grade 12 marks, major achievements, extracurricular activities, and volunteer/work experience. In addition, the application includes a number of paragraph responses and a longer essay (more on that later).

The application is quite time-consuming. Nevertheless, because the deadline for the scholarship is quite late in comparison to other major scholarships, I was able to complete large chunks of the supplemental app as I had already completed similar components in the past. Use and edit prior responses to make the process easier and less time-consuming!

In terms of my application, I tried to list as many different activities (quantity and breadth) as I could remember, to try and give the scholarship committee a good sense of who I was, and all of my involvement. I made sure to be specific (listing each school sports team I had been in as opposed to just saying “Student-athlete”) and concise: you shouldn’t ramble on and on about each small little commitment. That being said, I did try to focus in on a few standout activities that made me unique and set me apart from other candidates. These included being a DECA Provincial Officer and creating my own social media startup from scratch. Generally speaking, the amount of time you spend on each of your activities should match the amount of detail of that activity you provide in your application.”

If there were essay questions, what did you talk about in your answers?

“The essay portion of the application is large, both in terms of how long it takes to complete and its weight in determining a candidate’s success. The prompt, which was along the lines of “choose an issue that is of importance to you and the world,” is very open and gives applicants the opportunity to talk about something important to them. It can honestly be anything!

Generally, I believe that choosing a topic that is both unique and personal is the key to having a strong piece. For me, that meant focusing on the portrayal of adoption in the media and its effect on both adoptees and society as a whole. As an adoptee myself, I am very passionate about this topic and could relate personal experience and emotions to statistical evidence. Additionally, as a Media major, the essay further demonstrated my interest in the program I planned to attend at Western. It is important to note that you are expected to conduct research on the topic and follow standard citation guidelines.

In addition, there are a number of standard interview-type questions that appear on the application. A few of them are based on your aforementioned activities (e.g. “Pick one activity that has the greatest impact and explain why”), while others are even more general (e.g. “What are your long-term goals and aspirations?).”

If there was an interview, what were some of the questions asked? How did you prepare?

“Once Western has received all of the applications, they carefully review and select specific candidates to move forward into the interview stage. Interviews are conducted at Western (they pay for transportation fees), and there are two interviews that happen over the day.

The first interview is conducted by a few members of the scholarship committee. For my interview, I was asked around six questions. A few were about my essay and others were about my experiences and extracurriculars. They even threw some standard interview questions in (e.g. Something similar to “Are good leaders more passive or assertive?”). The second interview was an informal chat with the Dean of your faculty (I had the Dean and Assistant Dean). While Western says that this interview has no real influence on the scholarship decision, everything matters in one way or another (the assistant Dean was also on the scholarship committee).

In terms of preparation for the interviews, I actually didn’t prepare much at all! Since the Western National Scholarship interviews occur late in the year (after LORAN and TD), I had a lot of experience doing similar interviews and wasn’t too nervous about the process.

Generally, the interviewers want to hear what you genuinely believe, and having scripted or prepared answers can sometimes come off of as inauthentic. They aren’t looking for the perfect answer, but through the questions are rather trying to figure out who you are as an individual and why you do things the way you do. If you are a little nervous, I would recommend simply looking over your application to familiarize yourself with what you wrote. It’s important to know your essay inside-out, as well as your responses to the other questions. Asking friends and family to conduct mock interviews may help as well.”

Honestly, why do you think you won the scholarship? What do you believe set you apart from other students who applied?

“In all of these large scholarships, the differences between each candidate are so marginal that it’s hard to find specific reasons why I was chosen over other applicants. There is no definitive checklist that is used. I feel that what made me successful was my wide breadth of experiences combined with a solid interview. I don’t think that my essay was particularly strong, but perhaps the topical ties between my life and the program I am attending helped as well.”

If you could go back in time, knowing what you know now, what would you tell your former self upon preparing for the application?

“If given the opportunity, I would have honestly spent more time refining my application. The submission date was only three days after the LORAN National Finalist Interviews, and after finding out that I was unsuccessful, I had to really rush the Western scholarship application. While in the end, everything worked out, it was really a stressful time. In hindsight, I would recommend starting your application early so that you have the time to craft a solid essay without stressing yourself too much through the process.”

Would you recommend students to apply for the scholarship? If so, what advice would you give them upon applying?

“Absolutely! Since the scholarship is only for those considering going to Western, the number of people that apply is significantly fewer than some of the bigger, Canada-wide awards. It is also has a later submission date, so you can leverage previous answers from other applications as the foundation of your application, making the daunting application more approachable.

Is there anything else you’d like to add or mention?

“If I could only give one piece of advice for the application process, it would be to be yourself throughout the whole process. What does this mean? Well, the people who assess your application (and judge your interviews) are generally very experienced, and can almost instantly tell whether or not you are being genuine in your answers. Sure, it’s important to portray yourself in a positive manner, but you must still be communicating who you are as an individual, not the person that you think they want you to be. Remember, they want the true you, so be sure to include that in your application!”