- What makes a strong application?
- How long is the application process?
- Can I apply for a fellowship after graduation?
- Do I need research experience to apply? How can I get experience?
- Is my citizenship a factor?
- If I’m not accepted, is all the effort worth it?
- How can my professors help me?
- How important is my leadership experience?
- How important are my grades?
- How do I know if I’m a good candidate for a fellowship?
- How do I get started?
It's never too early to investigate what fellowship opportunities are available to you! Start by attending an information session, as well as seeking conversations with your faculty and advisors. Fellowships span the disciplines, encompassing all areas of study whether you are a future economist, biologist, novelist, artist, or historian. Taking some small classes and building relationships with your professors are also two excellent ways to "begin" on the path of doing more independent work.
Consider the following questions:
- What are your academic strengths and passions?
- Which of your academic achievements have given you the most satisfaction?
- Is your GPA 3.5 or better?
- Are there at least 3 professors who know you pretty well and whom you will be able to ask for letters of recommendation and support revising your essays?
- If you plan to write a senior thesis, how might you extend your project beyond next year?
- How would a grant to study overseas fit with your educational plans?
- Will you need to write personal statements (link) or research proposals to apply to graduate school in the United States?
- How would you describe your foreign language skills?
- How do you define leadership? In what ways do you consider yourself a leader?
- How do you define service to others? What is social justice to you? Does it affect your life directly, and how so?
- Do you read a newspaper such as The New York Times or Washington Post on a regular basis?
- How engaged are you in current events and debates? What are a few key issues you know very well?
- How familiar are you with world history of the last century? And U.S. history?
- What else are you passionate about in life? Cultural interests, hobbies, dreams you'd love to pursue?
The most universal criterion is academic excellence. National fellowships are highly competitive with applicants in the top 10 - 15 % of the class, with a minimum GPA of 3.5 (and higher for many scholarships). Many fellowships also look for a record of leadership, public service, research experience, and meaningful participation in extra-curricular activities.
Grades alone are less important than the overall combination of qualities (which might include for example, research, service, and leadership), but they are still significant. Nominees for prestigious fellowships generally have GPAs at least 3.5 on a 4.0 scale. Near perfect grades are never, by themselves, enough to win. When reviewing your credentials, the scholarship committees will take into account the depth and variety of your course load. Would you be a strong candidate for more graduate work? Are there other interests of yours that help to balance the GPA (a genuine commitment to public service, work in the arts, etc)? Are you able to balance employment commitments to help support yourself through school? Can you provide evidence of research - are you writing an honors thesis? Have you undertaken independent study? And most of all, do you know your professors well enough for them to write strong letters recommending you for the opportunity?
In addition to demonstrated academic achievement, most grant committees are looking for students who also exhibit significant leadership qualities and who will clearly continue to display such traits. A deep commitment to public and community service, longstanding participation in the arts or athletics, the ability to relate your goals to the world around you: these activities and interests and others will be important in your application. However, it is not enough to list activities. Your application should communicate how you have made a difference. Whatever your level of achievement, committee members look for clarity and authenticity in the proposal – you should be able to communicate your thoughts effectively to your readers in 1,000 words or fewer.
Building relationships with faculty is critically important for a successful application. Your professors are resources for scholarships and fellowship opportunities in the area of study that is of interest to you. Faculty will also be mentors for you, offering candid appraisal and encouragement, not only as you prepare for your scholarship, but in your future professional network. But it is up to you to take the initiative to forge these relationships. So, even if faculty members in your field of interest seem too busy or remote at first, take advantage of their office hours to get advice on a class assignment, or an internship, or foreign study, or any other topic that might help you to form a relationship and give evidence that you wish to make the most of your education. If you build mentoring relationships with faculty, they will be better able to write strong letters of recommendation for you.
In most cases, you can re-apply (such as with Fulbright). Applicants often report that the process of applying honed their writing and public speaking skills considerably. Doing an application often prepares students for future, successful applications. Since these are competitions, it is good to keep expectations reasonable.
Most nominees who make a commitment to the competition receive many benefits in the form of life and career development. Working closely with faculty advisors throughout the process can pay off in many ways:
- Clarifying career goals.
- Getting a better sense of the most appropriate graduate studies
- Becoming more aware of strengths, interests, and ways to prepare for graduate school and career.
- Improving writing skills and enhancing interviewing skills.
- Getting a head start in preparing applications for graduate education and other scholarship competitions.
- Experiencing learning and personal growth that is not normally possible in the classroom.
Many awards are open only to U.S. citizens or permanent residents, but some fellowships invite non-U.S. citizens to apply. Consult the particular applications for specific information on eligibility. In separate competitions, citizens of other countries may apply for the Rhodes and Rotary scholarships. A permanent resident may apply for the Hertz and NSF. Only a naturalized U.S. citizen or child of naturalized parents may apply for the Soros. The Gates Cambridge Scholarship is open to citizens of any country other than the UK. Citizens of member states of the Commonwealth may apply for certain scholarships to study in the UK. If you are a foreign national, you may also want to contact the fellowship office at a university in the country where you are a citizen to get information about other opportunities. For the Fulbright, international students will need to contact their own embassy or consulate for procedures.
Ask faculty in your area of interest if there are research projects in which you could participate either during the school year or the summer.
Yes. It is possible to apply for most major post-graduate fellowships as a senior or during those years following graduation. For the Rhodes, candidates must be between 18 and 24 in the year of application; for the Marshall, nominees must have been graduated within the last three years. Applicants for the Gates Cambridge or Soros fellowships normally should be under 30. There is no age limit on Fulbright applications. Check the eligibility requirements for each award. Consider that some students may put together stronger applications after graduation since they have acquired additional experience through internships as well as developed a more mature understanding of their future plans and goals. If you think you might apply for fellowships after graduation, it is helpful if you discuss this possibility with faculty advisors before you leave campus so that they can be prepared to provide you with letters of recommendation at a later date.
The time required varies with each application. Typically, people who become finalists and advance to the interviews for major fellowships report spending as much or more time completing the application materials and preparing for interviews as they would spend on a regular academic course in one term. Two to three months is not an unusual amount of time for an application. People who spend minimal time on the application do not do well in these competitions.
In a strong application, the pieces of the application fit together well, and offer a convincing composite picture of your strengths. Application components may vary. Most include: several letters of recommendation, transcripts, a personal statement (link), GRE scores (graduate programs), records of extracurricular activities. For more competitive fellowships, you may also be asked for a project proposal or plan of study, and an interview.
Your application may be compared to hundreds of others. It will likely be read by several groups of people during the selection process. To ensure that you are conveying the impression you intend, utilize the knowledge and experience of others in putting together your application package. The letters of recommendation should offer a portrait of the student that is consistent with the personal statement and other materials submitted by the candidate. A good application will stand out from the others.