There are many opportunities for exceptionally talented young people to win national and international scholarship competitions. And while it may seem impossible to imagine that you fit that definition of “exceptionally talented,” I can promise you that UND students have been competitive applicants for (and sometimes winners of) many of these scholarships.
What are the minimum requirements?
Every board of directors for a competition sets its own requirements. GPA is almost always important, as are letters of recommendation and application essays. Some will also ask for plans of study or programs of proposed research, especially if the scholarship is for graduate study. A few ask for scores from tests (usually the GRE, although occasionally other standardized tests). In some competitions, finalists are selected and then interviewed. Every competition is different. But if you have a very strong GPA, a clear focus that matches well against the focus for a particular scholarship or fellowship, and faculty who know you well enough to write strong, persuasive letters of recommendation on your behalf, you have the basics.
Will I have to demonstrate financial need?
A few of the nationally competitive scholarships and fellowships do consider need; most do not. Financial details usually are not included in the application and not considered during the competition.
Do I need to come from the right field or major?
Each competition is geared toward a certain type of student or interest, and many do have preferred fields of study. However, across the 25 or so best-know nationally-competitive scholarship and fellowship programs, there truly is something for everyone, regardless of your particular major.
How far along should I be in my degree work before I apply?
That depends. If you are applying for an undergraduate scholarship like the Goldwater or Truman, you need to apply in your sophomore or junior year. Many of the programs are for prospective graduate students, and you’d apply for them during your senior year or during your first year or so of graduate work. Again, there are programs geared to a wide variety of situations, so look through them and see what might be right for you.
Is it true that most of these programs are for overseas study?
Many of the most popular scholarship and fellowship programs do provide recipients with the opportunity to study or conduct research overseas. However, there are many other programs that provide awards you can use in the United States during your undergraduate or graduate study. If you are specifically interested in overseas study, you’ll want to focus on programs like the Fullbright, Rhodes, and Rotary that include that dimension. Many of these programs encourage or require you to have language skills appropriate to the country in which you’ll be studying or conducting research. So if this sort of program interests you, plan to prepare for your application by taking courses in the language of choice or pursuing independent study of an appropriate language.
What else can I be doing now to prepare myself to be an applicant later in my college career?
First, get to know your faculty. You should be doing this anyway, because students who get to know their professors learn more, get better internship opportunities, receive mentorship that prepares them for selecting a graduate program or applying for a job, etc. But if you are thinking about applying for a competitive fellowship or scholarship, you will want faculty who know you as a person and, when the time comes, can write effective letters of recommendation on your behalf.
Second, keep an eye out for opportunities to stretch yourself and explore avenues of interest. Look for an opportunity to do undergraduate research with a professor in your field. Volunteer to be a “for-free” assistant in a favorite professor’s lab. Join organizations that interest you, become active in the group, and eventually take on a leadership role. Or start a new organization that pursues a project that means a lot to you. Taking the initiative to do these things shows that you’re more than just another smart student – you’re a person who makes things happen and you have the potential to be a real leader.
Third, grades matter but so does challenge. Students who’ve taken lots of seminar courses do better in competitions that involve interviews because they’re used to being put on the spot in discussions. Students who’ve pushed themselves to take courses they knew would be difficult will have broadened themselves and be able to talk about what they learned and how that changed them in application essays. Students who’ve had the courage to take intellectual risks are the ones who will be viewed as having the capacity to be leaders. So push yourself beyond your comfort zone academically.
Finally, you will want help and advice – from the beginning – to enable you to become a strong candidate and put together a persuasive application (which you’ll then want submitted, on time, to the right place and with the right recommendation letters, maybe a university endorsement, etc.). The process can be intimidating! Joan Hawthorne, Assistant Provost, works with prospective scholarship candidates to help them prepare and apply. Please make an appointment to see her right away by emailing joan.hawthorne@UND.edu or calling 777.4684.
This should be fun! Being selected as the recipient of a prestigious award is a fantastic experience and (another benefit) it brings you dollars and opportunities that help you complete your education. But the things you do to become a viable candidate for such an award, whether you eventually apply or not, enrich your college experience and open doors. You’ll be a better prospective employee. You’ll be a more desirable graduate student. You’ll become the sort of person who stands out in any context and THAT will take you where you want to go. So enjoy the process.
The following is a short list of the most popular national fellowship and scholarship programs. All are highly competitive! A successful application will require, at the least, a high GPA and strong references. Many have additional requirements. Some are limited to students in a particular major, working toward a specific career, or at a specific point in their college career – but there are so many great scholarship programs out there that you likely will find something of potential interest. For more information on these programs, check out the website. When you see application deadlines listed on the website, remember that one required step might be within the institution, so that you can officially be nominated or sponsored by UND. This process always takes time prior to the deadline date listed under the individual scholarship.
Joan Hawthorne, UND's liaison to national scholarship programs, coordinates UND’s efforts on behalf of scholarship/fellowship candidates, and you should check with her prior to pursuing any applications. You can contact her at joan.hawthorne@UND.edu or 701.777.4684.
American Association of University Women Educational Foundation Fellowships
Doctoral candidates, post-docs in arts & humanities, social sciences, natural sciences
American Scandinavian Foundation Academic Fellowships and Grants
Grad students, in any discipline, to do research in Scandinavian countries
Consortion for Graduate Study in Management
Seniors with a diversity commitment, for grad work in management
Ford Foundation Predoctoral Fellowships for Minorities Program
Seniors from groups underrepresented in the professoriate, in any prospective PhD field
Fulbright U.S. Student Program (International Study)
Seniors, recent grads with a project that builds cross-cultural understanding
Gates Cambridge Scholars Program (Cambridge University)
Seniors, prospective grad students, in any discipline
German Academic Exchange Service
Undergrad and grad awards, in any field, with research in Germany
Golden Key Graduate Scholar Award (International Study)
Seniors, recent grads who are Golden Key members, in any discipline
Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship and Excellence in Education Program
Sophomores, juniors in math, science, and engineering
Fannie and John Hertz Foundation Graduate Fellowship Award
Seniors, to begin work toward PhD, in physical sciences
Howard Hughes Medical Institute Predoctoral Fellowships
Current medical and dental students
Jacob K. Javits Fellowship Program (U.S. Dept. of Education)
Seniors, recent grads, in arts, humanities, social sciences
James Madison Graduate Fellowships
Seniors, recent grads, in American history or political science, aiming to teach 7-12
Marshall Scholarships (United Kingdom)
Seniors, recent grads, in any discipline
George J. Mitchell Scholarships (Ireland)
Seniors, recent grads, in any discipline
National Security Education Program—Undergraduate (David L. Boren) (International)
Undergrads with any major, but to study languages critical for national security
National Science Foundation
Early stage grad students in math, science, engineering
Rhodes Scholarships (International Study)
Seniors, recent grads, in any discipline
Rotary International Ambassadorial Scholarships (International Study)
Undergrads in fields with humanitarian connection
Paul and Daisy Soros Fellowships for New Americans
Naturalized citizens, offspring of naturalized citizens, in any field
Juniors with prospective public service careers
Morris K. Udall Foundation Scholarship
Sophomores, juniors in environmental fields or in tribal policy, Native American health
U.S. Department of Defense National Defense Science and Engineering Graduate Fellowships
Prospective or early stage grad PhD students, in national defense-related fields
U.S. Department of Homeland Security
Undergrads and early stage grad students, in homeland security-related fields