The process normally begins with an assessment of your qualifications and a discussion of your goals, objectives and motivation. We encourage you to reflect on the ways in which your experiences and aspirations make you a promising candidate for particular fellowships.
The process of applying for a nationally competitive fellowship is rigorous and demanding. Regardless of the outcome, candidates learn a great deal about themselves and their life goals. Each fellowship has specific criteria, procedures, and deadlines which can be found on the individual websites. Some elements are common to all applications, including essays and letters of recommendation.
Application essays give you an opportunity to describe your interest in the fellowship, explain your qualifications, and outline your plans for the future. A project proposal will be a statement of your academic goals, and will include a discussion of past preparation, experiences and areas of expertise. By comparison, a personal statement will be more reflective and illustrative of your motivation, values and background. Both types of essay are challenging to write and require multiple drafts. Unless prohibited by the rules of the fellowship, it can be helpful to get feedback from faculty or family members. They can confirm that an essay conveys the right information and presents an authentic portrait of the candidate. Another useful resource is “Writing Personal Statements,” by Joe Schall:
Letters of recommendation are a key component of a fellowship application. Letters should be as personal as possible, and should speak to the requirements and criteria for a particular fellowship. Recommenders should always be given a draft of your application essays before writing their letters. The best letters include details about your academic performance, extracurricular involvements, personal qualities, and future goals. It is helpful to discuss the fellowship with your letter writers in person, and to provide them with materials which support your eligibility (research papers, resume, prior evaluations). Be sure to request letters well in advance of the due date, and follow up to verify that letters have been submitted.
Most fellowships require letters from faculty members, although sometimes a supervisor or a coach can also be an appropriate choice. The key question is whether the writer knows you well and can provide specific and persuasive examples of your suitability for a particular fellowship. Faculty at any rank can attest to your scholarly accomplishments and potential. Familiarity with the candidate far outweighs the status or title of the recommender, so choose professors who know you and your work. Always take time to thank those who write for you, and let them know the result of your application.