Understanding the Application Process

Nationally competitive fellowships and scholarships for undergraduate research projects, study abroad, or graduate study usually involve an application process that begins up to a year (and usually not fewer than six months) in advance of the program commencing. Applications usually require transcripts, personal statement, two or more letters of recommendation, and a research proposal or several short thematic essays. Many fellowships and scholarships establish strict criteria regarding grades, citizenship, and proposed fields of study.

  • Follow instructions carefully.
  • Plan well in advance to meet deadlines; late applications will rarely, if ever, receive consideration.
  • Plan to revise your materials, likely more than once.

Selecting a Fellowship or Scholarship

  • Apply for a fellowship to which you are clearly eligible, and which suits your career or study plans.
  • Propose a project or study for which you are adequately prepared. It is not a good use of your own resources (or those of recommenders or advisors) if your application does not speak strongly to your proposed undertaking.

Finding a Faculty Mentor

  • Identify a faculty member to work with on drafting and revising application materials – s/he could be an advisor, a faculty member with whom you’ve worked in a lab or on an independent project, the Honors Program Director, the campus representative for the fellowship or scholarship, or someone else who knows you well and with whom you can work.
  • See for more information about people on campus who are connected with particular fellowships.

 Writing the Personal Statement

The personal statement, like a persuasive essay or a research abstract, is its own genre. Part of the challenge of writing a personal statement is to master this genre. Resources abound which can assist you in writing your personal statement – some tips from several sources are summarized here.

  • All of the documents you submit are writing samples; all the rules of good writing (considerations of audience and purpose, clarity, conviction, and correctness) apply. They are read as indications of clear and organized thinking and effective communication.
  • Use your personal statement to present a compelling snapshot of who you are, what contributions you want to make, what your priorities are, and how you will do them in a way that sets you apart from other applicants.
  • Your personal statement should read as a coherent narrative, in which you might start with an engaging opening, highlight a few points that you want to develop, offer one or two concrete examples to support your argument, and close with rhetorical flourish.
  • Be honest about your ambitions, accomplishments, and plans; avoid the “ever since I can remember, I’ve wanted to do …” approach.
  • Personal statements are usually short (one or two pages); keep to word limits and all other guidelines and avoid repetition within your application by using your personal statement to say what other sections do not.
  • Proofread. Have perfect spelling, punctuation, and grammar.
  • Visit the JCU Writing Center for assistance.
  • Draft your materials early to allow time to consult advisors (faculty for critique of proposal content; campus representatives for detailed information on the award and application tips).

 Preparing a Research Proposal or Project Description

  • Research thoroughly the grant for which you are applying. Each fellowship has not only requirements, but a specific mission. Align your proposal to the mission and vision of the fellowship for which you are applying.
  • Think of your application essay(s) as a part of a larger whole (including the letters from your recommenders, and any other supporting documents such as a list of activities and awards, resume, or transcripts).
  • If available, review successful proposals for the fellowship, especially those in your discipline. If the funder does not provide examples, ask your faculty mentor if s/he has models.
  • Begin your proposal with a one-sentence statement of purpose for the project you are seeking to fund. Identify why your work is important, how it will enrich your field of study and how it will contribute to society.
  • Consider your audience; write for an intelligent, non-specialist. Make sure the terminology will be understandable to someone outside your field. The tone should be neither too academic nor too personal. Aim for economy, enthusiasm, and directness; eloquence is welcome, but not at the expense of substance or honesty.
  • Consider what about your project makes it noteworthy and different from the work of other individuals in your field, and provide concrete examples as testimony.
  • Make sure all information is accurate and that you will be prepared to discuss in some detail anything you mention.

Requesting Letters of Recommendation

  • Choose appropriate recommenders – faculty who know you well and in whose courses you’ve done your best work.
  • Ask for recommendations with as much advance notice as possible, thereby allowing enough time for strong letters. You should give recommenders at least two weeks notice, preferably more.Provide your recommenders with general information on the award and drafts of all application materials.

Following Up on your Application

  • Keep in touch with your faculty mentors. Even if you don’t get the fellowship, let recommenders know the status of your application.
  • If you are invited to interview, ask your faculty mentor or campus representative for the fellowship to arrange a mock interview. Be sure to provide him or her materials you receive in preparation of the actual interview.
  • If you are selected for an interview, research the donor or funding organization, read the online interview reports from past finalists and winners and speak with previous winners if possible.

Compiled by:
Julia Karolle-Berg
Director, Honors Program
John Carroll University
[Last updated 7 April, 2014]