General Tips

  • Pay attention to deadlines! You may see two deadlines for your award – a campus deadline and a national deadline.
    • The campus deadline is the date by which you should submit a strong draft (you’ll get another chance to revise before the final deadline) to FAM. The Fellowships Advisor will review your submission and you may be asked to participate in a campus interview panel. These panels, made up of faculty from related disciplines that have experience evaluating award candidates, are a great opportunity for you to get feedback on your application.
    • The national deadline is the final deadline for your fellowship application. Pay careful attention to deadlines, including time zones.
  • Do your research! Often, fellowships will put tons of resources, information, and recipient profiles on their websites. Use this information to develop an in-depth understanding of what they are looking for in a candidate and use that knowledge to your advantage.
  • SAVE OFTEN – Prepare your essays and materials in a word processor (Microsoft Word, Google Docs, Pages) so that you have a copy if you are unable to access your application through the fellowship website for any reason. You can also use the word and character count tools, spellcheck, and other native resources to avoid simple spelling and grammatical errors.
  • Revise, revise, revise – You should anticipate writing and editing multiple drafts of each of your essays. Leave yourself plenty of time to revise.
  • Use your resources – writing center, faculty, FAM, peers. The more eyes on your essay the better.
  • Don’t wait until the last minute to submit. Application sites tend to get slow and clunky around the deadline due to increased traffic. Deadlines are almost universally firm and likely will not be shifted to accommodate unexpected delays on the applicant’s part. Don’t let your application get derailed by technology – apply at least a few days in advance!
  • Save a copy of your completed application. Some applications may give you the chance to print off a copy of your responses – others will not. Make sure to save a copy of your final submission for your records.

Applicant Interest Form      Fellowship Resources

Essay Writing

Personal Statement

Perhaps the most critical part of your application for nationally competitive awards is the personal statement. Typically around 1000 words, your personal statement should connect past and present experiences with your future goals.

Your personal statement must present a clear, well developed and creative narrative. Tailor your statement to its audience (faculty members and experts in the area defined by the scholarship).

  • Answer the question you are being asked. This is one of the most common (and most preventable) missteps that applicants can make. Be sure to read over the writing prompt very carefully BEFORE you start to write and tailor your essay accordingly.
  • Use the first person. Most scholarship essays expect you to talk about personal experience, so use the first-person (“I”). Tell your story and convey your character, personality, values, and experiences. Strong scholarship essays are both critically astute and deeply personal.
  • Choose content based on your academic and career goals. What drives you? What unique and interesting experiences have influenced you as a student and thinker? Make sure the connections between your statement and academic goals are apparent and justifiable.
  • Find your voice. Write in a clear, engaging style, and avoid jargon and convoluted prose. Be honest, positive, and upbeat.
  • Get personal (within reason). It is a “personal statement” after all! Yet, it is all too easy to get too personal. Be upfront about challenges that have shaped your life and inspired your passions, but make sure any examples you use have a clear connection to the fellowship and to your goals.
  • Grab the reader’s attention. A well-considered opening line is important. Be sure that each topic sentence makes a point or lays out an idea that is developed and illustrated by the paragraph that follows. Allow a reader to follow your argument by reading only those first sentences.
  • Give your essay momentum, growing in interest and importance. Create a thread that connects different parts of the essay — an idea or image that unites the essay as a whole.
  • Pull ideas together with your final paragraph. Your final sentence should be specific and visionary, rather than just a summary.
  • Seek feedback and support. Revise frequently and bring your statement to our office frequently for us to review.

Application Essays

Many competitive fellowship applications, such as the Truman, Udall, and Goldwater, ask the applicant to address a series of shorter responses ranging from 400 to 2000 characters. For some fellowships, such as the Critical Language Scholarship, the majority of your application is made up of short essays (250 to 400 words). Follow these tips to help your responses pack a punch.

  • Address the prompt, answering all of its implied questions. Offer specific, detailed examples to illustrate each of the points made in your essay, using numbers and sources when necessary.
  • Show yourself in action. Your answers should not be your resume in prose.
  • Clean up any points that remain vague, general, or incompletely illustrated. Eliminate unnecessary words and intensifiers like “unique” “entire” “overwhelming” “completely,” “actually,” “absolutely” “definitely.” The plain sentence that results usually has more power and punch.
  • Don’t treat short-answer questions as throwaways. Each section of your application is a chance to showcase why you are an excellent candidate for your chosen award. Treat every question as an opportunity to dazzle your readers, even if the question seems simple.
  • Be aware of the character limit. Be sure that your essay stays within the word and character limits.

Examples of Application Essays

  • Truman: Describe a particularly satisfying public service activity. (1700 character limit.)
  • Udall: Describe your most significant public service, community, or campus activities associated with your interests in the environment or tribal public policy. (2200 character limit with spaces.)
  • Goldwater: Describe an activity or experience that has been important in clarifying or strengthening your motivation for a career in science, mathematics, or engineering. (1500 characters including spaces.)

Leadership Essay

Some fellowships want to know about how you have served your community as a leader. Follow the advice from Tara Yglesias (Deputy Executive Secretary, Harry S. Truman Scholarship Foundation) and Jane Curlin (Senior Program Manager, Udall Foundation) to craft a strong statement on your leadership experience.

  • Identify a significant problem. Leadership examples are most compelling when the student writes about an issue that he or she feels is important.
  • Explain the defined and unique role you played. Be a problem solver. Only you can write this essay. The successful essay shows how you are the only one who could fulfill this role.
  • Participate with others. Explain how you interacted with others and how this interaction is a by-product of your leadership. Successful essays acknowledge the contributions of others but also show how the leader was able to utilize those contributions.
  • Show a concrete outcome. Your actions in solving the significant problem should show demonstrable impact, not just an increased awareness of the issue. Did you enlist and direct the participation of others? Did you build consensus? Did you raise money, and if so, how much? Who is being affected by your efforts? Rather than using generalities like “increased awareness,” offer definable and quantifiable outcomes.
  • Broaden your definition of leadership. The leadership essay is about something other than occupying an office. Some of the most compelling examples are written when a student sees a problem and steps in with a solution. Holding an office does not necessarily make the student a leader.
  • Blow your own horn. This is no time for modesty: be forward thinking, ambitious and clear about where you expect to be going.

Preparing for Interviews

Some fellowships require that applicants interview with a selection panel as part of their application, or upon being selected as a semifinalist. If you are selected for an interview, follow the National Fellowship Interviews: Preparation, Advice, & Guidance document compiled by and from the National Association of Fellowships Advisors (NAFA). Review any specific guidance available on your fellowship’s website or that you receive directly from the issuing organization.

Contact FAM at to set up a practice interview to help with your preparation.

Letters of Recommendation

Letters of recommendation are crucial for success. Your letter writers should know you well and be able to speak in specifics about your academic and/or leadership abilities. Be sure to build relationships with your professors, so that they can compose strong, personalized letters of recommendation.

  • Ask your professor nicely and politely. You do not have to ask the professor in person, but do not ask the professor in a quickly jotted, informal email in all lower case!
  • Early, early, early. It takes time and care to write a good letter of recommendation and professors are busy. Ask for the letter well in advance of the due date. How far in advance? The earlier the better–at least a month before the due date to be safe. Never ask for a letter with fewer than two weeks until the deadline. Don’t forget to tell the professor the due date of application!
  • Give the professor talking points. Just because you did well in the professor’s class doesn’t mean that the professor knows you. This is very important: the more information you give the professor, the better the letter your professor can write! If you inform your professor that you won a college-wide academic award, then that information will likely end up in your letter. You may want to provide some or all of the following… – Information about your experiences with the letter-writer (e.g., courses taken, class project topics, etc.) – Your resume or curriculum vitae – Information about the program to which you’re applying – Honor societies to which you belong – Anything that makes you unique – Awards that you have won – Relevant work experience or internships – Service activities such as volunteer work – Copies of admissions essays – Anything you want included in the letter
  • Make your professor’s job easy. Fill out as much information as you can. If the recommendation is on a graduate school form, then write the professor’s name, address, phone number, etc. on the form before you give it to the professor. If the recommendation needs to be mailed, give the professor a pre-addressed envelope. These courtesies are especially important if the professor must write several recommendations for you.
  • Waive your rights. Many letters of recommendation allow you to choose whether you waive or retain your rights to see the letter. You should always waive your rights. The readers of the letter will give the letter more weight. Many letter-writers won’t write a non-confidential letter. If you’re nervous that the letter-writer won’t write you a good letter of recommendation, then ask someone else!
  • Beware of spam filters. Many schools and programs have online applications in which the professor must upload the letter of recommendation. It is not uncommon for the email messages from these schools to get bannished to the “junk” mailbox by spam filters. Make sure your professor received the email from the school.
  • Follow up. The absent minded professor is more than just a cliche. Your professor may forget to write your letter. Don’t be afraid to check in periodically with your professor to see if the recommendation has been sent. Just be careful not to be a nag.
  • Thank your professor! Write a thank-you note to your letter-writer (at least an email thank-you note)!
  • Did you get it? Let your professor know if you get the job, the internship, or the spot in graduate school. They want to know!

(Originally from David Richeson:

Enrichment Opportunities

There are plenty of resources for keeping up to date with and preparing for your fellowship application:

  • Check out our upcoming events calendar
  • Check your fellowship’s website for events and resources
  • Check out Dear Future Colleague, an online peer support organization for underrepresented students applying to graduate school and select fellowships. They even offer a mentoring program!
  • Ask the Fellowships Advisor to connect with former applicants.