Preparing the application package for a nationally competitive fellowship or scholarship begins long before the submission deadline. Below you will find our guidelines and advice on what to do before you apply and while you are applying. After you have submitted the application and, if necessary, completed the interview(s), you wait. Some fellowships or scholarships will provide a link for you to check on the status of the application.


Explore the various fellowships and scholarships. Determine what you would like to get out of this type of experience. Which of these fellowships and scholarships are best suited to your academic interests, career goals, geographical preferences, and financial situation. One you have made your decision, forget about the other fellowships and scholarships.





Adequately preparing the application packets for these fellowships and scholarships requires a substantial time commitment. If you have chosen to apply to more than one scholarship or fellowship, please meet with us to discuss the deadlines and how you will prepare the packets.


Before all else, make sure that you are eligible for the fellowship or scholarship. Some may have citizenship, age, ethnicity, or even type of major requirements. Be absolutely sure that you meet all the requirements. If there is any question about your eligibility, please ask us.


Highlight all application deadlines on all your calendars. Enter alerts in your calendar on the days one week and two weeks prior to the final deadline.


Many of the scholarships and fellowships require interviews, letters of recommendations, transcripts, personal statements, and university endorsements or nominations. The Career Center will help you acquire all the necessary documents after you have met with a Career Coach. 


Develop a checklist of requirements for each scholarship and a timeline for satisfying them: i.e., by what date you will have completed the first draft of your essay; by what date you will have photographs in hand; by what date you will have contacted faculty for recommendation letters; by what date you will have formulated a program of study, and so on. Honor your timeline.


Check to see whether your fellowship or scholarship requires GRE scores of its applicants. If so, register for the GRE exam. Ask us if you need assistance or have further questions.

Recommendation Letters

For most fellowships and scholarships, you will need to obtain letters of recommendation. These may be academic letters of reference from your professors or advisors. Cultivate relationships with your advisers and professors, especially those in your field or share your interests. Talk with professors in their office hours and discuss class readings, projects, assignments. Share your interests and goals. They can be helpful with your future goals by providing advice regarding graduate schools or potential career options.

For some fellowships or scholarships, letters from supervisors of internships or service experiences can be highly relevant.

Be sure to ask faculty at least one to two months in advance to write a letter of recommendation. Letters written by professors, rather than graduate students and instructors, carry more weight.

If your recommender has agreed to write you a letter, provide helpful information to recommenders. Ask your recommender their preferred method of receiving this material, whether in-person or by email. The information packet should include your resume, draft of fellowship or scholarship essays, unofficial transcript, submission instructions, and information about the scholarship or fellowship from its website as well as ours.

It is important to supply your recommender with information about the scholarship or fellowship because each are very different in nature, purpose, location, and focus. You want your recommenders to have all the information they need to write the best letter possible for the specific fellowship or scholarship.


Please visit the Career Center to learn more about creating a resume.

In early drafts of the resume, err on the side of inclusiveness. The Career Center will assist you in cutting back, if needed. The resume is not the place to feature your modesty, but screening committees recognize padding when they see it: straightforward description without self-promotion or false humility is the ideal here. The objective of the resume is to showcase you as a distinctive personality, not necessarily “bigger” — more accomplished — than everybody else but interestingly, compellingly different from them. Keep the resume to one to two pages.


Some applications require photographs of scholarship candidates. These should be wallet-sized head and shoulders shots of professional quality.

Please visit the Career Center to learn more about creating professional profile photos.


Change your voicemail if it does anything other than politely and briefly ask callers to leave a message. Scholarship officials may telephone you: let them meet you in your most civilized mode.

Selecting Classes

The classes that you choose during your undergraduate career should reflect your passions and interests. These classes should provide a strong foundation for pursuing graduate studies and/or an independent research project. Your selection of classes is important as is your GPA in fellowship competitions.

Research Profile

If applying to a research fellowship, build up your research profile. Depending on the discipline, this could mean seeking research training working in a lab or working with a professor. Additionally, you can develop an original research project and seek the support of undergraduate research awards.

Extracurricular Activities

Extracurricular activities, such as internships and active participation in volunteer work, are important components of a strong fellowship or scholarship application.

The key is quality, not quantity. Focus on attaining a deep level of involvement in experiences that relate to your interests. This will help form the narrative of your application.

Volunteer for an organization that is linked to your interests. Once you identify a scholarship or fellowship that you would like to pursue, you may decide to get involved with a service activity that improves your chances with that scholarship or fellowship.

For example, a student might get involved with tutoring or teaching activities that offer classroom or one-on-one experience. This deep level experience may help that student who wishes to apply for a Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship.

Language Study & Studying Abroad

Many study abroad fellowships require the applicant to have at least some knowledge of a foreign language. By learning a one or more languages, you may qualify for more fellowships and make it easier to conduct your research in your fellowship location. Review the language requirements for these fellowships and make sure that you meet the requirements.


Additionally, studying abroad demonstrates your ability to adapt to life in a foreign country. This experience will help adapt during a post-graduate fellowship and can be emphasized in your application.


Carefully read through all information provided by the scholarship foundations on how to apply, on “rules” governing applications, on prescribed procedures for preparing forms, and related material. Follow such instructions to the letter to avoid disqualification on technical grounds.

Fine Print

Read all the fine print. Some of the instructions will appear in tiny print but they are no less important for such typography.

Application Forms

Answer every question, or complete every blank, that is relevant to you on the application form. Limit yourself to the space provided unless you are specifically invited to expand elsewhere. If instructions read, “If applicable,” and the question isn’t, do not write in “N/A”: just leave the space blank.





Use academic titles in listing academic referees: “Professor” not “Dr.” For faculty with senior administrative appointments, use “Dean” (even if actually an “associate dean”), “Provost,” “Chancellor,” etc. Do not write, “Professor John Smith, Ph.D.” (the doctorate is assumed). If uncertain, check with us or use Vanderbilt’s online People Finder.

If asked for FAX and e-mail contact information for your referees, be sure to supply them, along with addresses and telephone numbers. Departmental FAX numbers for faculty are acceptable and are listed in the Vanderbilt’s online People Finder.

Unless expressly stated otherwise, order any lists (employment, publications, travel, activities, etc.) from the most to the least recent.

Sign and date the form after carefully reading any prose about “agreement” or “declaration” or “commitment” or “understanding” above the signature line. Be sure you understand what your signature “agrees” to.


Start the writing process early. Most winning essays tend to be the eight or even fourteenth drafts. Ask for critiques of your essays from friends, advisors, and even visit the Writing Studio for help. Send us your drafts so that we can provide feedback. Note that sometimes it is good to ask people who are in your field as well as people who are not in your field to critique your essays. For some fellowships or scholarships, many of the people on the applications review committee may not be specialists in your particular field.

Many fellowship and scholarship applications require two essays: a personal statement and a research statement. Sometimes these essays will have different names or require a response to a specific prompt. These essays should complement each other. Therefore, review your drafts to make sure you are avoiding repetition and ensuring that you write a consistent narrative in both essays, which aligns with the other parts of your application.

Letters of Recommendation

Send your recommenders a brief thank you note and give them updates on your progress through the stages of the competition. Keep in touch with your recommenders after the fellowship process, even if you are not selected. Continue to foster a close, positive relationship with your recommenders.

Preparing for an Interview

Many fellowships and scholarships require an interview, whether in-person, Skype, or via phone. The purpose of preparing for an interview is not merely to meet the universally applicable standard of acceptability, but rather to express and represent yourself at your best. Please visit the Career Center to learn more about how to prepare for an interview.