What does it take to craft a strong application for – and win – a national scholarship or fellowship? When should you begin to think about all of this? And how can you access campus resources for assistance? Our office will guide you through the application process step-by-step, from initial brainstorming and self-assessment to the nitty gritty of writing. We encourage you to make an appointment for a personal discussion. In the meantime, here are some FAQs that will address many of the basics.
What is a fellowship, and what is the difference between fellowships and scholarships?
A fellowship is a competitive grant that provides an opportunity for growth and development. Possible benefits include:
- a research experience, arts or creative project, or independent project
- language study, foreign or domestic study/travel, and cultural immersion
- a teaching position
- public service
- mentorship and access to elite networks
- exclusive internships
- money for educational expenses (on the undergraduate or graduate level)
- living expenses while pursuing these opportunities.
While the terms scholarship and fellowship are often used interchangeably, scholarships tend to focus on covering undergraduate or graduate education costs, while fellowships often pertain to post-graduate projects. Each award has its own requirements and details.
Why should I apply for a fellowship?
Applying for a fellowship not only opens up the possibility of winning a prestigious award and the opportunities it provides, but it also allows you the chance to develop and practice a valuable set of communication, writing and interpersonal skills. Regardless of whether you receive an award or where life takes you after Union, all of this will prove useful when applying for jobs, and graduate or professional school, as well as project, research or arts funding in your future career.
What skills will I develop?
During the application process you will:
- reflect on your experiences, strengths and weaknesses, and career or post-graduate goals
- connect these to a specific fellowship opportunity
- present your self-analysis in the application essays and interviews, making a clear and compelling case for yourself and your proposal
- practice writing and interview skills rarely used in the college classroom
- request recommendations
- coordinate all pieces of an application.
In addition, the application process often includes an interview, which provides an opportunity to sharpen your skills in this area through practice and constructive feedback.
What are my chances of winning a fellowship?
Fellowships are highly competitive. The statistical odds of winning a fellowship vary from one award to another and one year to another, so there is no simple way to summarize. The numbers, however, give you only part of the picture. The most important thing to look at is how closely you match the selection criteria for a given fellowship. The better the fit, the greater your chances for success, no matter how many people apply. Also keep in mind that not applying guarantees that you will not win. Even awards that are a long shot offer better odds than that.
What makes a strong application?
In general, foundations and other awards providers are looking at a combination of factors, such as grades, research experience, public service, meaningful participation in extra-curricular activities and demonstrated leadership. You must make a strong case for why you possess the proper mindset, character and commitment to pursue a particular program or course of study.
What is required in an application?
Most awards require a traditional application with a project proposal plus a short essay. Many also ask for a college transcript, list of extracurricular activities and letters of recommendation. Some awards require campus interviews and some, national interviews.
When should I start thinking about fellowships?
The earlier you identify possible fellowships that interest you, the better. Starting early helps you plan for when you will put together applications. If you want to apply for postgraduate fellowships, spring of junior year is an ideal time to begin working on applications. This gives you the summer months to review feedback and revise your application essays, as needed, before they are due fall of the senior year.
Can a fellowship help fund a study abroad program or experience?
Yes. Some fellowships help pay for study abroad programs when financial need exists, while others create study abroad opportunities that take place during the summer, apart from Union’s offerings. These include research internships, intensive foreign language study programs, summer classwork at renowned universities and self-designed summer service projects abroad. In addition, a large number of postgraduate opportunities take place in other countries.
Are there national fellowships that can help me afford college?
Yes, there are some that can help with college tuition, depending on your academic area and career goals. The Office of National Fellowships and Scholarships can help you determine if there are any nationally competitive undergraduate funding opportunities for you.
What fellowship opportunities exist for funding graduate school?
There are many opportunities for getting graduate school funded both in the U.S. and abroad, but be aware that some fields of study provide more opportunities than others. NSF-Graduate Research Fellowships, Ford Foundation Predoctoral Fellowships and Fulbright awards are potentially good options depending on your field, your career goals and the type of degree you are seeking. Other more specialized opportunities exist, as well. Set up an appointment with our office to find out more.
I want to take a gap year after college. Can a fellowship help me?
Doing something other than going to graduate school or working right after college can be an outstanding opportunity for learning, development and exploration that will greatly further your career prospects and life. Because of this, perhaps a better way to think about a gap year is as a growth and development year, and fellowships are one potential route to making a growth and development year happen. With a gap-year fellowship, a person can travel the world, land amazing internships, teach, volunteer, learn a foreign language, conduct research, network and make a difference in the world.
What specific gap-year opportunities exist?
Here are just a few:
- Thomas J. Watson Fellowship: This grant allows you to travel around the world for a year pursuing a project focused on your personal passion.
- Fulbright Student Awards: This group of awards makes it possible for you to teach English, study at the graduate level, or conduct a research, human interest, public service or arts project abroad.
- Congress-Bundestag Youth Exchange for Young Professionals: This fellowship to Germany begins with you studying the language intensively, followed by a term of study at a German college, and ends with a 5-month internship in Germany in your field.
- Minerva Fellows: Union’s own fellowship pairs graduating seniors with a social entrepreneurship group or NGO in numerous countries. These have included Cambodia, China, Ecuador, India, South Africa, Uganda and Vietnam. Contact the Minerva Program Office for more information on this fellowship.
Can I apply for more than one grant or fellowship?
Yes. You may apply for any of the awards that fit well with your interests as long as you have the time to invest in the process.
Are there awards for international students?
Although international students can’t apply for all fellowships available to US students, there are still many great opportunities. The Davis, Watson, DAAD awards, Schwarzman, Rhodes, and Gates Cambridge are just a few of the possibilities open to international students.
Can I apply after graduation?
Yes. It is possible to apply for most major post-graduate fellowships as a graduating senior or for several years after graduation. Fulbright Grants, for instance, do not have an age limit. Check the eligibility requirements for each award. And remember, as a Union alum, you’ll also have access to guidance and information from our office.