How to Apply

Each fellowship and scholarship has particular guidelines, application processes, and criteria for selection. For some, Southwestern can only put forth a limited number of candidates via a nomination process, whereas others allow an unlimited number of Southwestern students to apply directly for the scholarship with just an institutional letter of support.

In spite of the differences, however, there are generally some important consistencies shared by most. Some common criteria required are: application forms, essays and/or proposals, transcripts, and recommendations. Others also require photographs, birth certificates, physical exams and other such criteria.

Below you will find some advice on and an overview of some criteria major fellowships and scholarships consider when reviewing your application. For specific information, you should always refer to each fellowship and scholarship directly at the provided websites. You are responsible for all photocopying needed for the internal selection process and as required by the foundation.

A. The Application

Each fellowship and scholarship has an application form that typically solicits basic biographical information such as address, citizenship, educational institutions attended, proposal title, etc. The application form and its style are unique to each opportunity and generally is the first piece of information the selection committees review. Because of this fact alone, these forms ought to be typed, neat, and professional. While you may be inclined to focus all of your energies and efforts on writing and editing your proposals and essays, the application forms should not be overlooked in their importance. Prepare them with care and precision.

The timing of the availability of these forms also varies widely. Contact the particular fellowship and scholarship contacts on campus about obtaining them.

B. Proposals

Your proposal should fit your past interests and preparation. Although in-depth background and expertise are not always necessary, some prior interest or background is usually required.

For the most part, priority is given to a well-grounded and feasible proposal. For example, identifying particular itineraries or specific universities is more credible than a vague and ambiguous proposal lacking specifics or tangible goals.

You should be able to detail the curriculum that may be involved for a research project or course of study. You should also be able to articulate how and why a certain university/college fits your abilities and interest.

When proposing a course of study, "not only should you have read catalogues and web sites thoroughly and be able to show how that department or degree program matches your abilities and interests, but you should have found out who teaches what, where, how their research relates to yours, specific assets and liabilities of that set of courses or program, etc." (Gunzberg, Brown University Fellowship Guide) Detail the various courses, activities, etc. of your proposed project while connecting those deliberately and thoroughly with the aims of the fellowship or scholarship.

You should consider and perhaps try answering a few questions while writing your proposal:

  1. Is this feasible?
  2. Is it in line with my background, preparations, and ambitions?
  3. Do I have the skills to succeed?
  4. Is this proposal relevant to the place of proposed travel or study?
  5. Why would I value this experience?
  6. Why would others value this experience?

C. Essays

Generally, most fellowships and scholarships ask students to write at least one essay to accompany their application. Most students find this component of the application to be the most difficult, but at the same time, the most fulfilling. The reason for this is that the essay usually demands that you not only articulate your specific plans and aims, but sometimes how your plans are linked to your past experiences, or why you identified those future plans or ambitions in the first place.

Clearly, if your particular academic preparation to date directly links to your proposed project or travel plans, the essay asking you to describe reasons for undertaking it should come relatively easily. The "research project" essay is often the most straightforward and easily explained by students. The essays that entail more soul-searching and personal reflection are sometimes difficult for those students who are not comfortable writing about themselves and their passions. While the "research project" type essay is more cerebral and perhaps more academic, the essays asking why you want to pursue what you have proposed may pose a more complicated task.

Personal writing allows you more freedom to express your values, unique gifts, and beliefs - a freedom that some find paralyzing. While there is no "right" way to express these important entities, being as specific as you can and avoiding generalities will certainly help a selection committee identify you from a pool of stellar candidates. Instead of telling them you are passionate about human rights, show them by using examples or past experiences. Instead of being the student "interested in human rights," you then for example become the student who volunteered with the UN peacekeepers or organized Amnesty International Committees at high schools throughout Texas. Rather than opt for the general aspects of your candidacy, personalize it. This is your chance to tell people who you are, what you stand for, and who you want to become.

Write, write, and rewrite. You should be prepared to share your essay with people, get their feedback, hear their suggestions, absorb their compliments, and listen and respond to their criticisms.

The specific fellowship or scholarship contact on campus can usually provide examples of past essays upon your request. If no contact is listed, work together with the Career Services or the Associate Provost to identify an individual on campus with whom you can work on this important piece. Those individuals should be knowledgeable about the specific opportunities for which you are applying.

D. Recommendations

It cannot be overstated that the more personal the recommendation, the better. Likewise, the more individually tailored each recommendation is to your strengths as a candidate and the fellowship or scholarship to which you are applying, the more helpful the recommendation. Therefore it is a good idea to be sure recommenders are familiar and comfortable with the selection criteria for your particular fellowship or scholarship. To be certain of this, photocopy materials and provide those upfront before they begin writing your recommendation. It is important to think about soliciting recommendations from people who have encountered you and your strengths in numerous ways and in a variety of venues.

You should plan to meet individually with your recommender to discuss the specifics of the fellowship and the letter of recommendation. The letter should be rich in content and personal examples and/or anecdotes. You ought to begin collecting evidence supporting your candidacy even before you identify your recommenders. Such evidence can include: resumes, publications, news articles, past recommendations, and even a list of anecdotes illustrating your strengths. Don't be shy. These will help the person(s) you select to write your recommendation be more specific and persuasive.

Many students inquire if it matters if a faculty member is a visiting, assisting, adjunct, or full professor who writes their recommendations. Again, as long as the professor can attest specifically to your character, strengths, and scholarship, you should be well served by your professor's recommendation no matter what his or her status.

If you plan on soliciting a recommendation from a faculty member from abroad, ask early. For the most part, recommendations coming from afar are slow to arrive. Please note that some processes require an original copy on letterhead. An electronic or photocopied letter may not be acceptable.

E. Nominations or Endorsements

As discussed earlier, some fellowships and scholarships do not ask Southwestern to select you as one of our top candidates prior to your application to the foundation, but they may ask for a nomination, rating, or institutional endorsement. These fellowships and scholarships usually ask you to apply directly to the foundation but to include a nomination form or institutional letter backing your candidacy.

Generally these letters or forms are required to come from the President or a Dean at the institution. If the fellowship or scholarship to which you are applying requires a nomination or endorsement form, you should discuss the appropriate nomination or endorsement process with the specific fellowship's campus contact or, if no contact is listed, with Career Services or the Associate Provost.

You should note that while these forms are usually separate from the required recommendations, they should be equally as rich in content and personal examples or anecdotes. Even before you identify the person who will nominate you, you ought to begin collecting evidence supporting your individual candidacy to share with him or her. Such things can include: resumes, publications, news articles, past recommendations, and even a list of anecdotes highlighting your strengths as a candidate. This is not the place to be humble. The more examples of your unique gifts and accomplishments the nominator can have, the more specific and more persuasive the letter of nomination or endorsement can be.

F. Academic Records - Transcripts

Many students read the list of fellowships and scholarships listed in this guide and immediately start thinking, "These aren't for me." The common assumption is that the most competitive fellowships and scholarships are reserved for only the most academically gifted and brilliant students on campus, whose GPA never dips below a 4.0. While a 4.0 is not required, scholarly achievement and success are certainly important.

Academic engagement and intellectual curiosity are at the heart of most of the fellowships and scholarships detailed in this guide and you should expect that selection committees will be interested in a record that clearly demonstrates these attributes. Aside from grades, for most fellowships and scholarships you will be asked to provide a list of academic achievements, awards, prizes, or publications.

Most, if not all fellowships and scholarships require official transcripts, so you should plan to request these well in advance, especially from any institutions at which you may have studied abroad. The SU Registrar's can provide you with a Southwestern transcript upon your request; however, they cannot procure off-campus study transcripts for you. Contact the off-campus institution directly to request a transcript from them. Obtaining transcripts quickly from overseas or other institutions can be difficult and frustrating, so to avoid the stress, request these early.

G. Interviews

Most fellowships and scholarships require at least one interview. Since Southwestern and the particular foundations supporting these opportunities want to be sure that candidates are not just "strong on paper," the interviews provide a unique opportunity to assess your interpersonal strengths which obviously will be important if you aim to be a future leader. Some interviews may focus on your ability to socialize and discuss world events, others may be focused on your explanation of your extracurricular activities and interests. There is no telling what you may be asked, but you can be sure that qualities of engagement, confidence, manner, affability, and sincerity may all be assessed.

You should determine whether or not the fellowship or scholarship you are applying for requires either an interview as soon as you can. If so, you should consider scheduling a time to practice interviews with Career Services. Career Services can schedule a video-recorded practice interview at any time throughout the year. Additional interview preparation handouts are also available.

H. Extracurricular Interests and Activities

A common misperception about the most competitive fellowships and scholarships is that they are reserved for only those students with the highest GPAs and IQs on campus. While a few have GPA requirements (e.g. Marshall - above a 3.7 after your freshman year) you will find that most are looking for very bright and very involved students. Since most of these opportunities are geared toward nurturing, cultivating, and educating future leaders, it should not be surprising that they also take into account your moral awareness, personal ambitions, and unique talents when considering your candidacy.

Essays, resumes, and interviews are all opportunities to convey your particular strengths outside the classroom. Therefore it is generally important to demonstrate your ability to affect change and thus, to interact well with others, communicate effectively, and lead by example.

I. Résumés or Curriculum Vitae

Some fellowships and scholarships do require a resume or a CV. At this stage in your life it is important to develop one regardless of your post-graduation plans. While obviously your resume preparation and presentation will vary depending on your ambition, there are some sound strategies for preparing good ones.

As one former Fulbright National Screening member commented, CV's "...probably received less weight in our considerations, although good style and a tight, informative piece of writing are plus factors." (2000 Fulbright Manual, 9)

SU's Office of Career Services is a good resource for résumé reviews and critiques. Résumé Writing Guides are available as hard copies or from the Career Services website (www.southwestern.edu/careers). In addition, sample SU faculty and student CVs, as well as other publications about preparing CVs and academic résumés, are available in Career Services' Resource Center.

Adapted directly from Bowdoin University's Fellowship Guide with permission from Director of Fellowships and Scholarships, Anne Shields.