The Aspirations Award is organized by the National Center for Women and Information Technology, and it recognizes high school girls for “computing-related achievements and interests.” If you’re eligible, please apply. If you’re not, please spread the word. This award has literally been life-changing for many young women.

Why?

Firstly, there are financial benefits. The award itself includes modest prize money as well as a brand new laptop. But more significantly, many schools offer merit scholarships explicitly for winners of the Aspirations Award. One girl explained that her school doubled her scholarship money when she told them she was an Aspirations Award winner. (The NCWIT website has a full list of schools that give automatic scholarships to award winners.)

Here’s a totally posed picture of me meeting Peter Lee, Corporate Vice President of Microsoft Research, at an NCWIT event. (Thanks @ruthef for the photo!)

Then there are professional benefits. Several award winners have cited the Aspirations Award as a key part of landing interviews and jobs. Some actually connected to employers through NCWIT’s broad professional network, but others have simply benefitted from the boost to their resumes. One girl who interned at a prestigious company her sophomore year explained:

“Differentiation is huge… When you’re interviewing after just a year of college, very few people have done anything worth mentioning. Having a recognizable award on your resume is pretty alluring to companies. It proves that some other large body sees you as a worthwhile investment.”

But I think that the most important benefit is community-based. NCWIT has done a tremendous job of growing a real community out of the award-winners. There aren’t that many young women in tech–this feels especially true in high school–but having a supportive peer group is critical. The NCWIT community serves as a safe space for young women to ask for advice on everything from impatient interviewers to sexist classmates.

Lastly, I want to stress that there is no real reason to not apply. The award is selective but winning is very possible–there’s both a National Award as well as a myriad of regional “affiliate” awards. When I applied just two years ago, there wasn’t an affiliate award for my hometown. But now there’s one in every single state, as well as Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.

Additionally, the Aspirations Award selects for interests as well as achievement. Some of the winners I’ve met were doing groundbreaking research in high school but others had mostly expressed interest in computing through attending camps or leading clubs.

Applications for the 2012 Aspirations Award close in less than two weeks–October 31–but that’s still plenty of time to fill out the application and spread the word. It is incredibly worthwhile to apply. The benefits are both diverse and significant. Don’t let something like a lack of experience hold you back.

I’m Tess Rinearson, a sophomore at Carnegie Mellon University. I was a National Aspirations Award winner in 2011. If you apply for this award, please let me know! If you think the Aspirations Award is important, please spread the word and post to Hacker News and/or Reddit. And if you liked this post, you might want to follow me on Twitter.

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