Q&A: Scholarship and Fellowship Opportunities
While for many students, spring marks a winding down of the academic year, it also marks the start of the application process for valuable scholarship and fellowship opportunities. Jolynn Parker serves as director of Syracuse University’s Center for Fellowship and Scholarship Advising (CFSA) and works with students and alumni interested in exploring potential funding opportunities for academic study.
We asked her about the type of opportunities available and how and when interested students should begin making preparations to apply for them.
01What kind of scholarship/fellowship opportunities are out there for students?
Most scholarship and fellowship opportunities fall into the following categories:
- Scholarships that fund undergraduate tuition (these opportunities are usually disciplinary-specific)
- Scholarships that fund graduate tuition
- Scholarships that fund travel abroad, which can involve opportunities for language learning, research, graduate program enrollment, teaching English, or engaging in service
- Scholarships that fund summer experiences, which can involve language learning, disciplinary-specific graduate school preparation for undergraduates, or service opportunities
There really are a wide variety of opportunities for qualified students and recent alumni. Interested students and alumni can check out the CFSA Scholarships & Awards Directory at http://cfsa.flywheelsites.com.
02When do students need to start thinking about applying?
Preparation time can vary by scholarship, but, in my experience, the earlier the better. Most of the successful applicants with whom I’ve worked go through multiple drafts of application materials—sometimes as many as 12 for really involved applications—so that takes considerable lead time. Students and recent alumni planning to apply for major scholarships with fall deadlines (Fulbright, Marshall, Mitchell, Rhodes, Schwarzman, Luce, etc.) should start gathering information and making plans before the end of the spring semester and should be working on drafts over the summer.
Nationally competitive scholarships also involve recommendation letters from faculty. Candidates need to plan to give recommenders a minimum of three weeks to complete letters.
03Isn’t the process highly competitive though? Is it still worth my while if I don’t win the award?
Absolutely. The application process itself is very useful because it helps students clarify their intellectual and academic focus as well as their personal goals. It also gives applicants important practice writing personal statements, articulating research projects, compiling portfolios and sometimes interviewing. Students frequently tell me how much they’ve learned just from the application process—regardless of whether or not they win the award.
Many students also find that the work they do on scholarship applications turns out to be tremendously useful when they move on to graduate school applications or applications for other opportunities. They already have a well-crafted narrative about themselves, their interests, their accomplishments and their future goals. Sometimes applicants find that they don’t receive a nationally competitive scholarship but do still end up with an offer (and funding) to study at the graduate program of their choice. Last year, for example, I worked with a student who was a finalist for the Marshall Scholarship, which she intended to use to fund graduate work in physics at Cardiff University. She didn’t win the Marshall, but her application to Cardiff was successful. She was awarded funding and is currently completing a master’s there. Another student applied for the Gates-Cambridge to study biology at Cambridge. He didn’t win that award, but he got into every American doctoral program to which he applied and went to Cornell with excellent funding.
04What is your best advice for students considering applying?
Do some research to find out about opportunities for which you might be a good fit, and put deadlines or target dates on your calendar early.
To be a strong applicant, you’ll need:
- Evidence of academic achievement (typically a GPA above a 3.5, or above a 3.8 for some of the most competitive opportunities) and a transcript that demonstrates a challenging curriculum.
- Evidence of civic or campus engagement and committed leadership. Strong applicants can demonstrate that they’ve taken leadership roles that have led to positive change within their communities.
- Research and/or practical experience in your field of study (this might involve lab research, assistantships, exhibitions, concerts, independent study, internships, etc.). Scholarships often want to see evidence of your ability to conduct independent research and/or creative/professional work.
- Evidence of national and global awareness. You might study abroad or focus on coursework or volunteer opportunities that will give you a broad global understanding. Foreign language skills never hurt.
Strong support of faculty and mentors. Develop mentor relationships with faculty in your field who can help you get research or independent experience and who will be able to write meaningfully about your accomplishments and goals.
Once you’ve settled on a scholarship opportunity you want to apply for, contact CFSA, start early, write lots of drafts and don’t get discouraged. And if you don’t receive an award, consider applying again the following year if that option is available. Many successful applicants find it takes two tries!
05Where can students go for more information?
Keep your eye out for interest sessions promoting particular scholarship opportunities throughout the year. In fact we have an upcoming session for those interested in the Schwarzman Scholars award on April 19 at 4 p.m. in Room 211, Hall of Languages.
The CFSA website, nationalscholarships.syr.edu, provides information on scholarship opportunities, a listing of upcoming information sessions, and a form for students to register with CFSA (which you can access here.) We also regularly post stories about student experiences with scholarship applications—both from recipients and from students who weren’t selected but went on to other successes.
Students might also consider signing up for our one-credit course on applying for nationally competitive scholarships and fellowships, HNR 220: The Art of Applying. The course is offered each spring semester on Fridays from 2:15-3:35, and it is open to both honors and non-honors students.
Qualified students who are interested in specific scholarship opportunities and who want to meet to discuss applications and drafts can call CFSA at 315.443.2759 to make an appointment or send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.