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Morehead-Cain scholarship will accept sophomores, opens application


Morehead-Cain scholar and computer science major Kenechukwu Nwabueze Ochuba posed in front of Morehead Planetarium on Tuesday, Sept. 12, 2023.

In an unprecedented step, the Morehead-Cain Foundation will begin selecting sophomores as scholarship recipients, in addition to incoming first-year students.

The Morehead-Cain scholarship, the first merit-based scholarship in the United States, has historically only offered a fully-funded college education to incoming first-years. 

“My sense is that there are some extraordinary students on this campus who are not scholars,” Chris Bradford, the president of the Morehead-Cain Foundation, said.

Bradford said the program will accept 12 to 15 sophomore students into the Morehead-Cain class of 2026. 

He said this decision to accept sophomores embodies the original mission of the organization —  to invest in and empower a community of dynamic purpose-driven leaders. 

“I think of it as a second opportunity for Morehead-Cain to identify promising leaders,” he said. 

 The scholarship expanded with funding from a group of “generous alumni,” Bradford said. But the initiative will not affect the number of incoming first-years and the Morehead-Cain administration expects this to continue moving forward.

Nominations for the sophomores will come from a broad range of faculty and staff across UNC’s campus. The students are then encouraged to submit an application. 

Since the majority of scholars come from nominating schools or affiliate programs, Ria Patel, a junior Morehead-Cain scholar, said this initiative opens up the scholarship to people who may not have had the educational resources in high school. 

Junior Morehead-Cain scholar and neuroscience major Ria Vikram Patel posed in front of Morehead Planetarium on Monday, Sept. 11, 2023.

“I feel like this is such a unique opportunity because you don't need to be [from] a nominating school and everything like that,” she said. “So, I feel there's a more level or equal playing field when it comes to nominees too, which is great.”

Bradford said the sophomore application itself is unique because it inquires into how leadership has been demonstrated since high school. However, it will still adhere to the standard high-level nature and competitiveness of the process as it has in the past.

The application opened on Sept. 15 and the new scholars of the Class of 2026 will be announced on Nov. 1. 

“What we're really looking for are people who have the demonstrated aspiration to author a unique experience at Carolina for themselves, who are engaged on campus and invested in this community,” Bradford said. 

The Morehead-Cain scholarship also provides merit-based relief to students who may worry about the price of college, such as what junior scholar Rory Swenson experienced when he found out he was a finalist. 

“I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, I do have a shot at this’ and it's just super exciting because I really needed financial support,” he said. “I finally got to imagine a future where I could go to a college outside of the state of Kansas.”

In addition to financial aid, scholars are also given experiences, connections and opportunities for academic and professional development. Scholar receive a planned enrichment opportunity each summer of their University experience, which includes an outdoor leadership course and a civic collaboration experience.

Looking toward the future, Swenson said he wishes the best of luck to prospective sophomores in their application. 

“It's a super stressful and challenging experience but you just need to believe in yourself and dream,” he said. “Just keep doing what you're doing. Be confident in yourself. You are where you are for a reason.” 

Patel said that beyond all the perks of funding and trips, Morehead-Cain is a community. 

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“I feel like when thinking about this sort of opportunity, [the applying sophomores] should just keep in mind that it’s more than just a check at the beginning of every semester,” she said. “It’s an entire experience and it's a network. It's a group of friends. It's mentorship.”


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