Get Prepared: Fellowship Planning

A strong fellowship application requires preparation - even as early as your first year in college. This four-year plan gives you the most time to accrue the experiences to be competitive.

National fellowships and scholarships are fiercely competitive. As a Southwestern student, you can benefit from many curricular and co-curricular experiences to make you a strong applicant, especially if you “begin with the end in mind.” The earlier and more often you engage in the process of exploring fellowship options, the longer time horizon you have to accrue the necessary experiences and credentials to successfully earn these prestigious awards. The following year-by-year timeline offers suggestions for setting yourself up to compete:

First Year

Although it may seem that fellowships are too far in the  future to be a priority, it is not too early to begin making curricular and extracurricular choices that will help you compete for prestigious awards. 

An outstanding academic record, substantial leadership and civic engagement activities, and a knowledge of and curiosity about the world are all hallmarks of fellowship recipients and can begin from your first weeks on campus.

Get to know your faculty and your advisor(s) so that you make good decisions. Let your academic advisor and the CCPD’s fellowship advisor know of your aspiration to apply. Involve yourself in activities and take a leadership role. Ask yourself which choices will build upon your current strengths and draw together the different parts of your life into a coherent structure. Aim for this cohesiveness right from the start.

Sophomore Year

You are eligible to apply for some fellowships this year—such as the Hatton Sumners Scholarship and Goldwater Scholarship —and you need to start preparing applications for other fellowships in your junior year. Review the diversity of fellowship opportunities using this site and its links and talk with the fellowship advisor, your academic advisor, and faculty members about your ideas. As well as maintaining your extracurricular activities, you should gather information about and give thought to a foreign study experience for your junior year. Get advice, particularly from the Office of Study Abroad, on which foreign study locations might be best for you. Keep up on current events not only on line but also through newspapers and publications such as The Economist.

Junior Year

In many cases, this is the most significant year for many fellowship opportunities in that it is the time to begin preparing for senior year and postgraduate fellowships. It is also the time to apply for some fellowships - such as the Harry S. Truman Scholarship. If you are studying abroad part or all of the year, keep in touch with the fellowship advisor and your academic advisor.

Given that many fellowship deadlines are as early as mid-September of your senior year, it will be very important to get started writing your essays and gathering letters of recommendation during the junior year. Ideally, your application timeline should resemble the following:

  • By late Spring: Declare your interest in applying to the fellowship advisor and prospective recommenders. Request recommendations to be completed by August.
  • Summer: Applications will require writing multiple drafts of all essays with time to solicit feedback (if allowed by the fellowship agency) and make edits. Communicate regularly with the fellowship advisor and key mentors (often your recommenders) about the content of your application during the summer as you revise your application materials. Begin preparing for possible campus or national interviews. Consider taking part in practice interviews with the fellowship advisor and other Center for Career & Professional Development team members. Staying aware of current affairs becomes increasingly important, as they are often the subject of interview questions.

Senior Year

Much of the work on fellowship applications should be in place before you return for the fall semester. Be sure to keep the fellowship advisor apprised of your progress. Following deadlines—internal to Southwestern and external to the program—is essential. All written material should be proofread, repeatedly, and error-free.

After submitting all application materials by an internal campus deadlines, next steps may include on-campus interviews with faculty and staff before final submission to the granting organization. Some fellowships will require supplemental materials, such as submitting video recorded interviews. 

If you are selected to move forward in the application processes, many fellowships will conduct virtual or in-person interviews. In-person interview travel costs are usually funded by the granting agency. Well in advance of any interviews, you should seek interview advice from the Center for Career & Professional Development and take part in practice interviews.

You can also apply for many fellowships in a future cycle. Support for you as an applicant is still available as a graduate.