An Undergraduate Game Plan for Applying for Competitive Grants and Fellowships
"Your beliefs become your thoughts. Your thoughts become your words. Your words become your actions. Your actions become your habits. Your habits become your values. Your values become your destiny." - Mahatma Gandhi
The most important thing to remember about prestigious fellowships and the incredible opportunities they bring is this: You, the student, do not win a Rhodes Scholarship or a Fulbright Grant; they win you. These awards don't just go to the students with the highest grades, they go to the students that have demonstrated excellence in the classroom, have taken the initiative to make their community a better place, and now wish to use their passion, their intellect and their energy to change the world.
As you peruse some of the winning applications listed on fellowship websites, one other thing you may notice is that there is no checklist of accomplishments that all grantees have in common. The people who win these things have incredibly diverse interests, expertise, hopes and dreams. All that proves is that there's no winning formula and there are no guarantees in the fellowship process. However, there are a lot of things you can do to set yourself up to have a successful college career at the University of Vermont that will also help to lay the groundwork to become a strong fellowship candidate.
So while there is no recipe for success, there are countless opportunities to set yourself up to be successful. Here's how:
Freshman Year: Set the tone for your college career
- Take advantage of your academic opportunities. Take classes that you find interesting and engaging. Do well in them. For classes you are very passionate about, talk to your professors about research or other opportunities to pursue your favorite topics in depth.
- Reach out to your professors, academic advisors and fellow students. Go to office hours and take advantage of opportunities to learn more and become more involved in your classes.
- Look for opportunities to do something you find interesting over the summer (research, internships, etc.). Start thinking about it earlier rather than later in the academic year. If you are interested in research at UVM, contact the Undergraduate Research Coordinator to see if there is an opportunity that fits your interests.
- Be proud of what you do: Enter competitions and apply for departmental awards for work you're proud of.
- Have fun: get involved in activities that you find engaging. Meet people, share ideas, do different things. Live it up.
Bottom line: Set the tone for who you are and what role you want to fill on this campus for the next four years.
Sophomore Year: Take it up a notch
- Build on all the good stuff you did freshman year: Continue to do well academically, continue to get involved in the campus community.
- Challenge yourself with harder courses.
- Look for ways you can make a difference on campus. Take initiative and start looking for ways that you can make a positive difference within an organization, on campus, or in the community.
- If they suit your interests, apply for undergraduate fellowship opportunities (the Udall, Goldwater and several other fellowships are available to undergraduate students. See the full list of fellowship opportunities. If you prefer to continue to pursue research at the University of Vermont, contact the Undergraduate Research Coordinator in the Honors College to find an opportunity that fits your goals and interests.
- If you plan on studying abroad for your entire junior year, swing by the Fellowship Office before you leave for the summer in order to plan ahead for the application process.
Junior Year: Go time
- A lot of applying takes place during this year. You're still eligible for the Udall, Goldwater, and other undergraduate fellowships, but it's also time to start preparing your application for post- graduate opportunities including the Rhodes Scholarship, the Marshall Scholarship, a Fulbright Grant, or a Rotary Ambassadorial Scholarship. Make an appointment with the Fellowships Office in the spring in order to begin laying the groundwork for your application.
- By now you've established who you are and how you fit into your community, so continue to challenge yourself. Take on leadership roles for clubs, activities, and events. Do extensive academic research. Push your limits.
- IF YOU ARE ABROAD: Make sure you are engaged in your classes and research. Make sure you are learning the language, becoming engaged with the culture and the community you're in. It's a fantastic opportunity, so take advantage of everything you can.
- Bottom Line: If you feel really busy during your junior year, then you're doing it right.
Summer before Your Senior Year: A lot of fellowship applications are due within the first month that you return to campus in the fall. If you don't already have them, start making contacts in the countries you want to visit. This will help you to focus your project and get used to explaining it to people smartly and concisely. Also, start contacting faculty or other individuals that you want to write you a recommendation. They can help to make sure you are on the right track with your proposal as well.
For the sake of your sanity, start brainstorming, outlining, and heck, even writing your fellowship proposal so that once you return to campus we can work together on refining your proposal to turn it into a quality presentation of who you are, what you've done, what you want to do, and how a fellowship will help get you there.
Senior Year: Game On
- In addition to your personal statement and/or research proposal, fellowships require that you submit anywhere from three to eight letters of recommendation. These letters should be written by your professors. They should be someone that you have had a lot of interaction with and can attest to your writing ability, your intellectual curiousness and your potential. Be sure to approach the people you want writing your letters of recommendation early in your application process in order to ensure that they have adequate time to complete their letter.
- Get good at interviewing: For most fellowships, the next step in the application process is an interview. Fulbright requires that one interview be done in the native language of the country you want to study in. For more tips on nailing your fellowship interview, see our advice on preparing for interviews.
- Continue to reach out and make contacts at the university you want to be doing research at.
Things You Can And Should Always Be Doing
- Cover your basics: do well in school
- Keep in touch with the Fellowships Advisor. The Fellowships Advisor is located in the Honors College, but is a resource for all UVM undergraduate and graduate students. The Fellowships Advisor does not bite and likes to talk to people, so contact the office to set up an appointment.
- Dream big. If there is something that you are passionate about, we can probably find a way to turn your passion into a project.
Last modified October 19 2011 09:04 AM