Each research and fellowship opportunity has its own identity and set of ideal qualifications. Your job as an applicant is to convince the selection committee that your personal qualities, interests, and goals genuinely match the opportunity for which you are applying.
The specific criteria outlined below will be weighed differently in each particular competition. Research each fellowship or research award to determine how these criteria factor into the selection process. Pursue those opportunities that seem most likely to help you make a significant contribution in a particular area of study or work.
Distinguished scholarly achievement plays an important role in many fellowship competitions. An excellent academic record provides a strong foundation for a fellowship, but students with less than perfect records should not eliminate themselves from these competitions. Intellectual excellence can be demonstrated in numerous ways, and many research and fellowship opportunities are not GPA driven. Rather, they are more concerned with the quality of a candidate’s research project, the strength of the candidate’s commitment to public service or science research, or the depth of the candidate’s leadership activities. In some cases, grades can be overshadowed by extraordinary achievements represented in other parts of the overall application.
Research, Leadership, Mentoring, Extracurricular Involvements
Most selection committees seek candidates who are not, as Cecil Rhodes put it, “mere bookworms.” Both graduate study awards and project-based research awards ask for information about applicants' personal motivations and experiences. The Rhodes, Marshall, Udall, Starr, and Truman are particularly interested in candidates who are committed to public service. Extra-curricular achievements that demonstrate leadership, initiative, social consciousness, and a sense of responsibility are important in most competitions to varying degrees. Other activities, such as athletics and work experience of all kinds, can serve as evidence of character and commitment.
The Research Project or Course of Study
Project proposals are a key element in applications for research fellowships. You need to have a clear purpose and a detailed plan for studying classics at Cambridge, working in a lab at Brown, or teaching English on a fellowship in Asia. Deep knowledge of your subject and the site at which you propose to work is essential. Get to know the names and special strengths of faculty or other experts at the institution or organization that could sponsor you. Browse the institution's website for appropriate contacts, and consult Brown faculty who have research or teaching interests in the field or geographical area you want to study. See Establishing a Contact Abroad for tips on how to establish a liaison with an institution or specialist. Once you've secured a connection with an institution or organization, highlight that contact in your application.
Essays: Project Proposals and Personal Statements
Most fellowships require several essays, which allow you to present yourself more fully than your transcript and record of activities can. These essays form the heart of the application and thus require sustained effort on the part of the writer. The Fulbright, for example, asks the applicant to describe “your study or research plans and your reasons for wishing to undertake them in the country of your choice.” Such an essay will take a good deal of background work and require multiple drafts before it becomes a compelling proposal that will convince a committee to support your application.
Personal statements ask you to explain what motivates you and why you want to study a particular issue or topic. Rather than rehashing your resume, the personal statement should give the committee a sense of your background and how you approach life. Why have you made the decisions you have made? What are your goals? What path will you take to achieve them? This is the only opportunity to present YOU without the filter of someone else’s judgment, so make the most of it!
Some fellowship competitions require candidates to interview with a selection committee. As the capstone of an application process, the interview can make or break a candidate's chances of securing an award. The final outcome often depends on a candidate's ability to speak cogently and to act appropriately under stress. See Interviewing on this website for guidance on how to prepare for an interview and how to conduct yourself during the interview process.