Are you considering applying to a prestigious award or fellowship? At the Office for Student Success, we connect prospective student applicants with opportunities to expand their intellectual journey. We help students through the process from understanding awards and fellowships that may be appropriate for their eventual goals to drafting essays, and preparing for interviews. Here are just some tips for you if you are considering applying for a prestigious award or fellowship.
Keys to Applying to a Prestigious Award and/or Fellowship
Identify Your Goals
Applying for a nationally/internationally competitive fellowship or award can be a lot of work. There is a lot of growth and learning that can come from the application process if you allow yourself to be open to it, despite whether or not you are awarded. Ask yourself: What will this experience offer me? What do I expect to learn and accomplish?
Understand Your Eligibility
Many fellowships are based on your academic record, but selection committees aren’t interested in your GPA itself—they’re looking for it to confirm that you’re responsible, perform well, and have achieved at a certain level. They’re also looking for well-rounded candidates. Other eligibility requirements will vary, but many programs require some or all of the following: high cumulative GPA with a strong academic record, U.S. citizenship or permanent-resident status, endorsement by university committee, and a sustained record of community involvement or extracurricular leadership.
Understand the Application Process
Nationally/internationally competitive fellowships and awards for research projects, study abroad, or graduate study usually involve an application process that begins up to a year in advance of the program. Applications usually require transcripts, two or more letters of recommendation, a personal statement, and a research proposal and/or several short thematic essays. Many fellowships and scholarships establish strict criteria regarding grades, citizenship, and proposed fields of study.
Understand the Program
Your application should demonstrate that you understand the program’s mission and that your academic and professional goals correspond with the mission. Each component of your application should be tailored to the program. Don’t borrow personal statements from other applications you may have done.
Plan well ahead of your deadline, and build extra time into your schedule. Many people budget considerable time over their summer and fall for a November due date. Always aim to complete your applications before the deadline so that you have plenty of extra time to fix your application should any issues occur. Application deadlines aren’t suggestions – they are final. Take note of both campus and national deadlines, and make sure to stick with them. Your application will go through several rounds of edits, and there may be a campus review committee of your application as well – make sure to plan accordingly. Keep a calendar that outlines your application deadlines.
Find a Mentor
Identify a faculty member to work with on drafting and revising application materials – s/he could be an advisor, a faculty member with whom you’ve worked in a lab or on an independent project, the Honors Program Director, the campus representative for the fellowship or scholarship, or someone else who knows you well and with whom you can work.
Get Involved in Extracurricular Opportunities
Volunteer, intern, go on a service trip, seek out intriguing educational programs, join clubs/organizations (or create your own), pursue leadership opportunities, or find ways to conduct independent research. Such experiences often lay the groundwork for prestigious awards applications. Be careful, however, not to join extracurriculars just for the sake of doing so or building up a resume. Seek out opportunities you are genuinely excited and passionate about. The extracurriculars you join and opportunities you pursue should authentically reflect your interests and goals. It is better to join fewer organizations but to have a sustained commitment and growing leadership within them rather than to have membership in many different organizations with no real commitment, passion, or leadership.
Do Your Homework
Spend some time searching the Web for information on scholarships and/or fellowships you may be interested in applying for. Make sure you fit the eligibility requirements. Look up former winners and see what made them stand out amongst other candidates. Knowing this information can help you tailor your application appropriately.
Stay Current and Informed
This applies to both your field of study and to current events, especially those matters touching on the project or program you propose to undertake. Stay up-to-date with relevant current events in the United States and, if applicable, foreign countries where you hope to conduct research. Know the trends in your field, research the graduate programs, and find out who is conducting groundbreaking research.
Get Great Recommendations
Make sure your recommenders are people who have known you for at least a year, and can truly attest to who you are and what your strengths and successes are. Discuss potential recommenders with your fellowships advisor. Sit down with your recommender over coffee to go over why you want the fellowship/award, the strengths and skills you would bring, and the fellowship/award program’s mission. It is not enough for your recommenders to say you are a great person/student – they will need to go beyond that to demonstrate your ability to fulfill your proposed program/project, your ability to fulfill the fellowship/award program’s mission, and ultimately, why you are an ideal candidate for that particular fellowship/award. Additionally, make sure you are reaching out to your recommenders well in advance of the deadline – your recommenders are busy people, and you want to be respectful of their time.
Consider Applying to Varied Types of Programs
Don’t limit yourself to one type of award or fellowship. While many awards and fellowships are fairly specific in nature, there may be more than one that can help you fulfill your ultimate goals. Explore your options, and be sure to discuss them with your fellowships advisor.
Put Yourself Out There
Don’t be afraid to take risks, and definitely don’t stick to a canned response of the sort you think the selection committee wants to read. Think about what sets you apart from the other candidates. Let your application reflect who you are. Review committees want to see applicants that are authentic, genuine, and passionate. When interviewing (if applicable), make sure to carry that authenticity and passion through. While you want to be prepared and informed, you also want to be real and honest. If you only try to be the person you think the judges want you to be, they’ll see right through it.