Nationally Competitive Scholarships and Fellowships: Prepare to be competitive

To be competitive for these scholarships and fellowships you need to prepare beginning your first year of college. This is especially true for the scholarships that support undergraduate study. The earlier you identify the awards you’re most interested in, the sooner you can pursue the opportunities that help you become competitive for them.

To be competitive you must…
Earn the very best grades

Some awards emphasize grades less than others, but all are looking for accomplished students who are passionate about learning and excel academically. For these awards, there can be a real difference between a 3.8, and 3.9 and a 4.0 cumulative GPA. Put in the extra effort to excel.

Get to know your professors

Talk with professors about your interests; they can give you excellent advice about opportunities on campus, graduate programs and scholarships you should consider. And professors’ recommendations carry a lot of weight in competition for these scholarships. The better your professors, especially those in your major(s), know you, the more compelling their letters of recommendation will be.

Get related internship or work experience

Talk to your professors and Career Development staff about internships and work experience related to your major and career plans. Discuss interning for academic credit with Dean Andrea Lange. These scholarships are looking for students who are very clear about where they want to go academically and professionally and very well-informed about how to get there. Internships and work experiences really help you clarify your goals and learn how to achieve them. And specific accomplishments – work product, project completed, etc – from your job or internship and strong recommendation from internship or work supervisors can strengthen your application.

Get related research experience

In some fields, especially the natural sciences and some social sciences, it’s important to have research experience in addition to or other than internship or job experience. Talk to your professors about their research and ask if they have research opportunities for students. Ask your department chair about research opportunities in your major and make sure you’re signed up for any email lists, listservs or other ways that your department informs students of opportunities. Apply for relevant opportunities on campus such as the Cater Society of Junior Fellows, fellowships at the Starr Center (the Frederick Douglass Fellowship, Comegys Bight Fellowship or Presidential Study Fellowship) or “Beyond the Classroom” activities sponsored by the Center for Environment and Society

Get leadership experience

In extra-curricular activities, service opportunities or campus clubs, don’t just participate, lead. Get elected to an office or other leadership position. Start a new activity or club and inspire others to participate. Take an existing club or activity in a new direction or develop a new project. Develop a creative solution to a problem on campus, in the community or in the world at large and lead others in implementing it. Many of these scholarships are looking for leadership experience, by which they mean specific accomplishments for which you are directly responsible.

If you do all of this beginning in your first year, you should be ready to begin your applications in your junior year. Most awards have deadlines very early in senior year, so you must begin work on applications in your junior year.

When you’re ready to apply….
Get all the information

Read all available information on the scholarship; most have very helpful web sites. Ask your professors for advice about the application process.

Draft and revise

Begin drafting your personal statement and any other essays or written material required. Work with the Writing Center and ask your professors for feedback on your draft. Expect to do multiple drafts.

Ask your professors for letters of recommendation

Give professors at least four weeks before the deadline to complete their letters. Give them your resume, personal statement draft and any other information about yourself that might be helpful. Also give them information about the scholarship, such as a link to the scholarship web site.

Begin researching graduate programs

Ask your professors to suggest the best graduate programs for your interests. See Career Development staff for information about the graduate school application process.