Opinion: 'My scholarship felt more like a punishment than a coveted prize'

11th September 2015 at 14:00

There’s a price you pay for getting a scholarship: for me, it felt more like a punishment than a coveted prize.

Of course, having finished school, I now realise how lucky I was to have had a scholarship to a brilliant school, which my parents would not otherwise have been able to afford. As a painfully shy child living in not the nicest of areas, the school I went to has definitely benefited me.

But I can’t say it was always easy. As a child with a scholarship, I felt a tremendous, constant, unwavering pressure – even at the age of 11.

I was expected to get the best grades, work as hard as I could at all times and represent the school in every possible way. Rather than a reward, my scholarship felt at times more like an IOU, and there was always that dread that the school could – and would – take my scholarship away.

It wasn’t just pressure from the school but from my new friends, too. While I was quite happy with my yellow £8 schoolbag, it didn’t quite fit in with the designer bags my friends used for school. I still remember the embarrassment of being stopped in the corridor, aged 11, and asked the fateful question “You shop at Primark?” – I was mortified.

As I got older this became less of an issue. In sixth form my friends began driving to school in their Minis and Alfa Romeos, while I remained on the school bus, but it no longer mattered. I became more confident, my peers became more accepting, and I think we all realised what was really "normal".

But my scholarship still set me apart from my friends. I stayed late at school night after night for music concerts and rehearsals, which were followed by homework – I couldn’t just go home like everyone else. Although I wanted to do well in my A-levels, for myself, there was still that uncomfortable pressure – the school was paying for me to be there, so how was I going to repay them?

What my parents saved in school fees, I was expected to pay back in dedication to the school. I’m not saying it’s a bad thing, or that it should be any different, but it certainly wasn’t advertised to me the way it really was.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m extremely glad to have had a scholarship and been able to attend the school I did. I made wonderful friends, got good grades and, really, I likely put some of this pressure on myself. It probably benefited me too: I worked harder and I achieved more.

But a scholarship isn’t a reward for the hard work and talent you already have, but a debt you’re expected to repay to the school in the future. It felt less like a reason to celebrate the talents that allowed for it, and more a reason for the endless, exhausting and almost excessive proving of them.

Georgia Ziebart is about to start her first year at the University of Bristol

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