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How I Earned $40k from Amazon as a High School Senior

Posted on:April 21, 2023 at 03:16 AM in US/Central
7 min read

tl;dr: I earned a $40k scholarship from Amazon through the Amazon Future Engineer Scholarship.

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What is the Amazon Future Engineer Scholarship?

At Amazon, supporting underserved students in their computer science education is not only important to us–it’s imperative to building a diverse tech industry and future. Our Amazon Future Engineer Scholarship program provides students with an opportunity to upgrade their careers with a $40,000 scholarship, plus an offer to complete a paid summer internship at Amazon. Scholarship page

This year, 400 students were awarded the scholarship (no clue how many applied), totaling $16 million from Amazon. In addition to the scholarship, the winners also get a guaranteed (though optional) paid summer internship at Amazon after completing their freshman year of college, and many interns are offered return offers for future summers. By winning, students also gain access to a network of other Future Engineers, alumni of the program, and Amazon employees.

To apply, students must be a senior in high school, write two essays, and have a STEM teacher submit a letter of recommendation. There are more requirements listed on the scholarship page, but those are the most important.

Hearing about the Scholarship

I first heard about the scholarship when I was a junior. I don’t remember the context, but when I looked at the information page I saw that it was only for seniors so I put it on the back burner.

This school year, during a meeting with my school’s senior counselor, I was introduced to Going Merry (referral link) which is a platform for finding scholarships. I saw that the Amazon Future Engineer Scholarship was on there, but the deadline was months away so once again I put it off.

One day in January, I was bored in some class and the thought of the scholarship popped into my head, so I checked it out. Turns out the deadline was that day...

Message to my dad:

i’m working on this scholarship today <link to scholarship>

due tonight, idk what timezone it is. i set up alerts on GoingMerry for this but I never got them. it requires two 1000-word essays and gives 100 winners “a $40,000 scholarship ($10,000/year) towards an undergraduate degree in engineering or computer science and a guaranteed summer internship at Amazon!”

And then I realized that it was due at 3:00 PM. The time was 9:32 AM. That’s not enough time to write essays of high quality.

At 12:19 PM I received an email (which I saw at 1:07 PM) saying that the deadline was extended by a week. This took a huge weight off my shoulders since I would be able to take my time writing the best essays I could.

My AP® Physics 1 teacher already wrote an amazing letter of recommendation for my college applications, so she was easily able to change 1 or 2 sentences to make it fit the scholarship.

The Essays

The Prompts

The scholarship application had two essays, each with a 1000-character limit including spaces.

  1. Describe your career goals and aspirations. How do you plan to use engineering degree to accomplish your goals?

  2. At Amazon, we have 16 leadership principles that we use to drive our business. Every engineer is expected to “think big” and demonstrate “customer obsession”. To demonstrate your ability to think big and have customer obsession, pick a big problem in your school or your community that you think could be solved with the help of computer science, robotics, or hardware engineering. Describe the problem, the impact it has, and describe your “think big” solution that uses engineering tools.

Writing Them

By the end of the first day I worked on the essays, I had submittable drafts but they weren’t very good. If the deadline hadn’t been extended, they would have been very wacky.

I worked on them for the next few days and got feedback from my family members and a couple of friends. I should have reached out to my CS teacher and my college & counselor, but I didn’t and it worked out ;)

I submitted them on January 27th at 2:53 PM, right before the 3:00 PM deadline.

Submitted Essays

Essay 1: Career Goals and Aspirations

Right now, I’m interested in full-stack web development, so I plan to start working as a full-stack software engineer and evolve into a project manager. During my career, I would also like to start a tech company that helps the world. Although I’ve learned fundamentals and programming through online resources, school, and internships, studying computer science at a university will give me a new perspective and wider knowledge to solve even greater problems. Collaboration and mutual teaching are very important for my learning process, and a college environment will facilitate this. A computer science degree signifies much more than just coding ability to employers; it demonstrates that the graduate knows how to research, produce technical writing, work on a team, and dedicate themselves to difficult tasks for many years. I know that university can’t teach me everything I will need on the job, but it will provide me with a great start and help me get my foot in the door.

I agree with what I wrote here, but it does kind of sound cheesy. I overemphasized the importance of a college degree and the college experience, tuning to what I expected the judges wanted to hear. I think I could be successful without going to college, but from the additional experiences, perspectives, and resources that college provides, I think I will be more successful with a degree.

Essay 2: Big Problem and “think big” Solution

During the summer of 2020 (COVID) I foresaw a big problem: forgetting to join my Zoom classes on time; missing them harms attendance, grades, and, most importantly, learning. The simplest solution was to set alarms on my phone, but I wanted to solve this issue for others with minimal effort on their part. I asked students on my school’s Discord group chat if they thought a bot that sent notifications for their class times would be useful, and I was met with a resounding “Yes!”, so I began development. A feature that alarms can’t reproduce is keeping track of our school’s block schedule and days off; this component of the bot was greatly appreciated, even after we returned to in-person classes. I kept the quality high by updating the bot when the schedule changed. When users requested a command to get the block day of a date in the future, I implemented it in a day because it was a great improvement. In the end, 50+ students opted-in to the notifications and reviewed the bot positively.

The prompt said “that you think could be solved,” but I wanted to be unique so I wrote about a problem that I already solved. I took care to answer each part of the prompt to make it fit “think big” and “customer obsession”, as well as a couple of other leadership principles that they linked in the prompt.

Results Day

According to the scholarship information page, the results were supposed to be released by May or June, so I wasn’t expecting anything until then.

On April 17th, my dad received an email from FedEx saying that I was getting a package from Amazon that was in my name, and I hadn’t ordered anything so I checked my account but didn’t see any fraudulent charges. When the package got delivered, my dad put it on my chair without opening it and waited for me to get home from school.

When I got home, I put down my backpack and did my normal things and then remembered I had a package. I opened it and saw a big orange paper that read “amazon / College Scholarship Winner! / $40,000”, picked up the box, and ran to my parents’ room. When I tilted the box for them to see, it slipped out of my hands and fell on the floor, spilling the confetti paper and other contents everywhere.

The back of the orange paper was styled like one of those huge checks and had my name on it. The box also had a water bottle, a flag, a graduation cap decoration, a stole, and a packet with more information.

One of the papers inside the packet told me that I shouldn’t post anything on social media until April 18th since Amazon wanted to post about it first. It also said to submit pictures/videos of my family/friends’ reactions by March 31st, but the package only shipped on April 12th and I received it on the 17th, so there wasn’t any time for me to do that.

Closing Thoughts

This scholarship is amazing and I’m both grateful and surprised to be awarded it. I’ve interned with Atlassian for the past two summers and will be with them again this summer, but right now I’m leaning towards accepting the Amazon internship for the summer of 2024 so that I can experience multiple company cultures and engineering processes.

Pictures and some other information is available on my LinkedIn post and tweet from the day after getting the news. Thanks to everyone who has already reacted to one of those posts or to the copies my parents posted on FaceBook.