Each fellowship has particular guidelines, application processes, and criteria that selection committees consider in reviewing your application. For some, Whittier can only put forth a limited number of candidates via a nomination process and institutional letter of support, whereas others allow an unlimited number of Whittier students to apply directly for the fellowship.
In spite of the differences, however, there are some common application materials required by most fellowships: application forms, essays and/or proposals, transcripts, and recommendations. Others also require photographs, birth certificates, proof of citizenship, physical exams, language evaluations, and so on.
The following ‘Student Guide to Fellowship Applications’ helps familiarize potential candidates with the whole process of applying for a fellowship. For specific information, however, students should always check directly at the website of each fellowship.
Student Guide to Fellowship Applications
An application will usually ask for basic biographical information, such as an address, citizenship status, educational institutions attended, and proposal title.
The application is the first document that selection committees review, so prepare the application professionally and carefully. Do not overlook it in favor of essays and proposals.
The availability of these forms varies widely across different fellowships. Contact the particular advisor noted on the Whittier fellowships’ website about obtaining them.
Proposals should fit past interests and profile, i.e. academic and co-curricular preparation. Although in-depth background and expertise are not always necessary, some prior interest or background is usually required.
Be able to detail the curriculum that may be involved for a research project or course of study. Also, be able to articulate how or why a certain university/college fits into your interests and abilities.
When developing a proposal, keep the following questions in mind:
- Is this feasible?
- Is it in line with my background, preparations, and ambitions?
- Do I have the skills to succeed?
- Is this proposal relevant to the place of proposed travel or study?
- Why would I value this experience?
- Why would others value this experience?
Students often find writing essays to be the most challenging, yet also the most fulfilling part of the application process. Essays provide a chance to articulate specific plans and aims, and sometimes how these said plans are linked to past experiences, or why these future plans were identified in the first place.
The “research project” essay is often the most straightforward and easily explained by students. The essays that entail more soul-searching and personal reflection can sometimes pose difficulties for those students who are not comfortable writing about themselves and their passions. While the “research project” type essay is more academic, the essays asking why you want to pursue what you have proposed may present a more complicated task.
Personal writing allows you more freedom to express your values, unique gifts and beliefs - a freedom that some find paralyzing. While there is no “right” way to express your personal interests and ambitions, be as specific as you can and avoid generalities in order to help a selection committee identify you from a pool of stellar candidates. Rather than opt for the general aspects of your candidacy, personalize it and show them that you are the ideal candidate for this fellowship.
Write, write and rewrite. You should be prepared to share your essay well in advance of the application deadline with faculty advisors, the campus advisor or representative of a particular fellowships, the director of fellowships, and others. Get their feedback, listen and respond to their suggestions as well as constructive criticisms, revise, and ask for further feedback.
The more personal the recommendation, the better. Likewise, the more individually tailored each recommendation is to your strengths as a candidate and the fellowship or scholarship to which you are applying, the more helpful the recommendation. Therefore, confirm that your recommenders 1) agree to write a letter of support for you that fits the selection criteria for your particular fellowship or scholarship, and 2) are familiar with your academic background and resume.
Meet individually with your recommenders to discuss your background, the specifics of the fellowship, and the process of submitting the letter of recommendation. The letter should be rich in content and personal examples and/or anecdotes. Provide recommenders with resumes, publications, news articles, past recommendations and even a list of anecdotes illustrating your strengths. All of this background information will help your recommenders to be more specific and persuasive in their letter of support.
These letters usually come from the President, the Dean of Faculty, or nominating committee at Whittier. If the fellowship or scholarship to which you are applying requires a nomination or endorsement form, you should discuss the nomination or endorsement process with the specific fellowship’s campus advisor or the director of fellowships.
While these forms are usually reviewed by selection committees separately from the required recommendations, these letters should be equally as rich in content and personal examples or anecdotes. Provide resumes, publications, news articles, past recommendations and even a list of anecdotes illustrating your strengths.
A 4.0 GPA is not automatically required for candidates applying for fellowships. However, your application should demonstrate scholarly achievement and success, academic engagement and intellectual curiosity, which lie at the heart of most fellowships and scholarships. Selection committees will be interested in a student’s overall record that clearly demonstrates these attributes.
Aside from grades, most fellowships and scholarships ask you to provide a list of academic achievements, awards, prizes or publications, ordinarily found in a resume.
Request transcripts from Whittier and from any institutions at which you may have studied abroad early, i.e. well in advance of the deadline, to ensure that they arrive on time at the foundation or to include in your application packet.
Most fellowships and scholarships require at least one interview. Since Whittier and the foundations providing these opportunities want to confirm that a candidate’s application matches their in-person presentation, the interview - held either on-campus as part of Whittier’s nomination process or held by a foundation during its application process - provide a unique opportunity to assess your interpersonal strengths and your abilities to represent your application in a personalized way.
Some interviews may focus on your ability to discuss world events; others may be focused on your explanation of your co-curricular activities and interests. Qualities of engagement, confidence, manner, affability and sincerity may all be assessed during the interview.
For those students who are selected as finalists for fellowships and scholarships, the director of fellowships will arrange a practice interview upon request.
Some fellowships and scholarships require a resume or a curriculum vitae (c.v.). Develop one or the other regardless of your undergraduate or post-graduation plans, in order to communicate your achievements and activities to future faculty, employers, and so on. Ask for advice about writing a resume or c.v. in Career Planning.
**This guide was adapted from the Southwestern University’s Scholarship and Fellowship Handbook 2008-2009.