Nationally Competitive Scholarships

Preparing for Exceptional Undergraduate and Graduate Experiences

What Are Nationally Competitive Scholarships?

Nationally competitive scholarships (also known as "fellowships") like the Rhodes, Fulbright, Marshall and Truman have the distinction of being some of the most prestigious and competitive merit-based awards available to U.S. undergraduate and graduate students. In other words, the "Gold Medal" of scholarships. Selection for one of these fellowships means you are recognized as a leader and change agent in your chosen field and society now and in the future.

Preparation for nationally competitive scholarships often starts long before your senior year. But don't be discouraged if graduation is looming, you're already in a graduate program or you're a "non-traditional" student. There are options. No matter where you are in your academic career, you should make every effort to engage in activities that broaden your personal, academic and professional horizons.

No formula exists to create the "perfect candidate;" however, most scholarship committees are looking for outstanding students who have the following characteristics:

  • An excellent academic record that includes innovative research or creative projects such as Honors thesis, independent research and internships.
  • Evidence of outstanding leadership roles and demonstrated commitment to the community and/or public service.
  • A willingness to critically self-evaluate and articulate your deepest values and beliefs.
  • A vision of personal and professional objectives for the next 3-5 years and how a fellowship can help achieve those goals.
  • Multiple references that delineate your personal, academic and leadership capabilities and accomplishments.
  • Determination, commitment and enthusiasm to compete against some of the best students in the U.S.

Why Should I Apply?

You should apply because there are many long-term benefits from your investment of time and energy.

Develop "Real World" Skills. By participating in the scholarship application process, you are learning how to:

  • Organize your time effectively
  • Examine and delineate your core values and beliefs
  • Prepare concise, professional proposals
  • Expand your knowledge of your field and the world
  • Articulate and defend your ideas to others
  • Present yourself to your campus and community as a mature, competent and accomplished individual
  • Tackle a challenge that is outside your "comfort zone"

All these skills will serve you well in school, your job and personal life.

Broaden Your Horizons. The quest for fellowships gives you a chance to try new things through electives, internships and innovative research projects. You should establish a coherent and comprehensive plan of action that includes interdisciplinary coursework, service learning, foreign language classes and other unique opportunities.

Surprise Yourself. Maybe you don't have a clear idea of what you want to do with your life. Maybe you think you haven't accomplished much. Maybe you want to see how you measure up to other top students across the U.S. The nature of the fellowship application process forces you to put yourself "under a microscope" and undergo unprecedented scrutiny from yourself and others. Such thorough examination will reveal new ideas and directions for you to pursue.

How Do I Prepare?

Pursue a challenging curriculum. Take advantage of elective courses, internships and independent study to broaden your knowledge, experience and point of view.
Lead, don't follow. Find opportunities to propose and implement positive changes in your academic department, campus organizations and community.

Think globally. Make study abroad an integral part of your academic program. Learn a new language. Gain first-hand knowledge of countries and cultures from students in the International Student Office. Understand how your interests and concerns fit into the world-at-large.

Be informed and form opinions. Keep up-to-date with current events by reading national and international newspapers and journals on a regular basis. Actively inform and cultivate your opinions on major issues. Develop connections between your field and the world around you.

Know the field. Who are the leaders in your field? Keep up with the latest research developments, publications and conference proceedings through faculty, journals, books and the World Wide Web. Are you able to intelligently and thoroughly discuss the latest developments in your area of interest?

Find Faculty. Get to know your department faculty well. Their knowledge, advice and contacts will be very valuable in your academic career. Map out long term plans with your adviser. Incorporate exceptional academic, extracurricular and service learning experiences into your course work.

Find the campus coordinator. The Office of Nationally Competitive Scholarships is your advocate! It is a one-stop-shop for information about resources, applications, deadlines and advice to guide you through the process. Each prestigious scholarship has specific criteria -- one or more scholarships may fit your interests and experience better than others.

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