Education & Career

How to Successfully Apply for a Fellowship Program

January 29, 2018

I specifically wrote this post for Fellowship applications, but the advice is applicable to scholarship applications as well. Enjoy.Β 

So you’ve decided that doing a fellowship program is for you and you’ve decided which one(s) you want to apply to. GREAT! You’re half way there! Now begins the hard part. Below are my top tips for preparing a stellar application for your fellowship program.

1. Start at your schoolΒ 

See if your school has a fellowship office or professional development office that will help you put together your application. With something like this, you want as much direction as possible. In addition, some programs require that your school nominates you, so you might as well go through this office so they already know about you and your interest long before nomination time. (It’s never too early to go introduce yourself at your school’s fellowship office). If your school doesn’t have one, don’t fret, just make sure you have some trusted mentors or friends in mind when it comes time to proofread your application. In addition, especially if you don’t have a fellowship office at your school, try and get in touch with someone in the program (even if it’s just their general email or phone number) so that you can ask any questions and get a better sense of the kind of candidate they are looking for.

2. Read all directions carefully.

If the application calls for exactly 1 page, write exactly one page down to their specifications. If it asks for 3 recommenders give three. Make sure you understand everything you will need (transcript, resume, passport page scan, etc) before starting the application and start putting it together. For your essays, make sure you understand what they are asking you to talk about. Before you even start, read all the FAQs and information you can about the program.

3. Write a compelling narrative

When putting together your personal statement, you want to build your story in such a way that everything was leading to this moment. You want them to feel like “Wow, this fellowship is the logical next step in this applicant’s life.” Paint a picture of where you were, where you are, where you want to go and where this fellowship fits into all of that. Whatever you do though, DO NOT lie or make up a story or even exaggerate a story in order to write a more compelling narrative. Be true to yourself and the committee and you’ll get much further than you think.

4. Choose your recommenders wisely

Make sure when you are choosing your recommenders, you choose a variety and you choose people that know you well and can speak to what you need them to speak to. For example, don’t choose people who know you all in the same capacity, unless it’s the central and only focus of the fellowship program. Depending on your program, you will a recommender that can speak to your academic strength, one that can speak to your commitment to service, one that can speak to your commitment to leadership, etc. Props if they can speak to all of them, but it’s not a must. Regardless of who you pick, make sure you give them ample time to write and send in the recommendation.

5. Be timely

Just like you give your recommender time to put together your letter, also give yourself time to put together the application. Set aside time to write, edit, and plenty of time for friends and mentors to edit for you. Do not wait til the last minute to start looking for your transcript or putting together your resume. And as much as you can try to turn in the whole application a few days in advance. Personally, I like to lie to myself and put the due date on my calendar a few days before the actual due date. What ever you do, do not wait til last minute to turn in your application. You never know if their site might crash from too much traffic or if something will be happening with your own internet at that time. Just don’t take any chances. At this point, you – and all the others that are helping you out – have worked too hard to let a technicality keep you from being considered for the application.

There you have it. My top tips on successfully applying for a fellowship program. The essays you put together are the most important part. It’s paints the picture of who you are as an applicant, so just take the time to work really hard on it. Are there any other tips that you would offer someone applying for a fellowship program?

I hope you have been enjoyed this series. Please let me know if there are other similar topics you want to me touch on or if you have any questions.

If you are subscribed to my newsletter, you would have received an email this weekend about awesome fellowship and scholarship programs and resources to check out. If you aren’t subscribed, you can do so below:


Omolayo Nkem

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  • Reply Sam January 29, 2018 at 17:13

    Great post, Omolayo! Especially the tidbit about your narrative highlighting the fellowship as the next logical step for the applicant. Going to use this tip for other applications and interviews ?!

    • Reply Omolayo Nkem February 2, 2018 at 08:28

      Hey Sam! Always great to have you around the blog!
      And yay!! Happy you got an actionable take away! It’s a tip I learned from the Elon Fellowship Office so super happy to share it with the WORLD! Haha. Best of luck with EVERYTHING!!

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