Frequently Asked Questions
On my first day at Cambridge, a professor…said: “The majority of the important and interesting conversations you will have this year will not take place in the Faculty. They will happen at your college over formal dinners, at the pub with friends, during a coffee break. Make time for those moments to happen.” This statement has guided my year at Cambridge. – Malinda MacPherson, Churchill Scholarship
An official fellowship deadline is the date established by the fellowship foundation for the receipt of all application materials. A campus deadline is the date set by our office to receive the completed application, most often including transcripts and letters of recommendation. Campus deadlines exist whenever there is a nomination or campus selection process involved, when campus evaluation is required by the fellowship foundation, or when we providing advising support to you on materials. In the latter case, students do not need to submit their materials to the NFP in order to apply, but we are available to give you feedback on them; you may also directly apply to the fellowship foundation without our office’s assistance. Both campus and official deadlines are absolutely firm.
At one time “scholarships” referred only to funding or grants for undergraduate study, while “fellowships” referred to post-baccalaureate funding. Now, these terms have very little distinction and are often used interchangeably. The term “grants” is the most inclusive and refers to any sum of money awarded to aid a particular project or purpose.
Many of the most prestigious scholarships are oriented towards graduate study at one level or another (e.g. Marshall, Rhodes, Churchill, and Truman Scholarships). Others are aimed at professional development, language acquisition, public service, or even cultural exploration (e.g. Fulbright Grants, Gaither Junior Fellows Program, Boren Scholarships, Luce Scholars Program). Some scholarships are directed to supporting undergraduate study at JHU (e.g. Goldwater Scholarships and Udall Scholarships). For more information, search our list of fellowships.
These terms often mean the same thing. An institutional endorsement means that fellowship applicants are submitting their applications with the official approval of their college or university. An institutional endorsement sometimes indicates that a fellowship nominee has gone through an internal selection process here at JHU, like with the UK Scholarships. If a fellowship requires an institutional endorsement, students cannot apply without an official letter of recommendation from Johns Hopkins. Some fellowships require an institutional “nomination.” This is similar to the endorsement process, but the number of nominees is often restricted (e.g. JHU can nominate only four students per year for the Goldwater, only two per year for the Churchill).
Most fellowship applicants begin working on their portfolios between three to six months prior to the deadline, depending on the fellowship. Experience shows that the earlier you start, the stronger your application will be. Writing and rewriting your personal statement—required for almost all fellowships—is often the lengthiest part of the process; it will take more time and effort than you expect. Arranging for research projects abroad (e.g. the Churchill) or designing your own project and finding the relevant contacts and institutional affiliates (e.g. the Fulbright) also takes considerable advance time. Securing strong letters of recommendation to support your application cannot be done last-minute.
You cannot control: the eligibility requirements; the composition and bias of the selection committee; the quality and quantity of other applicants when you apply. Luck and chance always factor in.
You can control: the informed selection of scholarships that are a good match with your academic record, areas of interest, and background. You can also control the amount of time you invest in preparing a quality application, and whether you meet the deadlines.
It’s important to regard these as two distinct questions. Eligibility lays out the bare-bones requirements of an application. You are eligible to apply for any fellowship for which you meet the eligibility requirements (i.e., citizenship, class year, field of study, age, and GPA). However, while many applicants are eligible to apply, they may not be strong candidates. After checking that you meet the minimum eligibility criteria, you should next consider whether your particular interests, experiences, professional aspirations etc., make you a good fit for a particular scholarship—that is, whether you meet the criteria for selection. One way to assess “fit” for a scholarship is to make full use of a scholarship’s official website, noting in particular bios of previous scholars, and meet with an NFP advisor, who has worked with previous candidates for that scholarship.
If this is your first or primary question, you’re taking the wrong approach. Instead, you should be trying to match your academic background, service commitments, or extracurricular activities to those advocated by the respective funding body.
If a scholarship requires a minimum grade point average, it is a firm limit. If a fellowship lists 3.5 or top 25% of your class as the cut off, they will not consider applicants who fall below that requirement, regardless of individual circumstances, strength of undergraduate education, or justifications for a particularly low grade or weaker semester. Some of the most competitive scholarships do not list a specific minimum grade point average, expressing their desire for candidates with excellent or outstanding academic performance. These kinds of parameters usually mean that you should have at least a 3.8.
The scholarship programs listed here do not fund study in professional school, with just a few exceptions: the Truman Scholarship, which can be used for medical or law school if you intend to pursue a career in public service, and the Knight-Hennessy Scholarship, which can be used to fund graduate study in any discipline at Stanford University.
Some scholarships are expressly interested in an applicant’s leadership experience and leadership potential; scholarship applications might use the term “change agent” in this context. Describing your leadership roles in a convincing and appropriate way can be difficult, so begin by thinking through your leadership activities in terms of the following categories: summary, target, action, result. Fellowship committees want to know about the outcomes of your leadership, and are less concerned with the offices you hold.
It’s hard not to wonder about this, yet there’s rarely a satisfying answer. Many factors influence the fate of any fellowship application. It is useful to carefully consider the criteria for selection for the particular fellowship in which you are interested. If you feel that you meet these criteria and you will work hard on presenting yourself well in the application, then seriously consider applying. It is also important to keep in mind that many awards are so competitive that in the end, the chances of winning are, by definition, marginal. If you are clearly advised not to apply for a specific scholarship, the advice is intended to save your time and effort.
All applicants who put in the requisite effort do “win” in gaining transferable skills—writing compelling proposals, articulating future goals, interviewing, etc.—whether their applications advance or not.
I’ve just learned of a fellowship that I’m interested in, but the deadline for the application is quite soon. Should I apply?
The answer depends upon the fellowship in question. You may be applying for something that requires relatively little information, only two recommendations, and a brief essay. In this case, it may not be too late. If the fellowship requires four letters of recommendation, university endorsement, a research proposal, and a personal statement, it is too late. Experience has shown that it takes six months to put together a first-rate application for many of our fellowships. The timelines on each individual fellowship page show you how long you’ll need to spend on an application. Scrambling to put together an application will often result in a weak outcome and lost time. In this case, you also risk squandering the good will of the people you’ve asked for last-minute recommendations. Consider applying for the fellowship the following year, so that you will have given yourself the valuable and necessary time to assemble the best application possible. Remember that you can apply for many fellowships listed here after you graduate from JHU.
Yes, you can, but the logistics will probably be more challenging. If you are leaving before the process begins, contact Dr. Miller or Dr. Barry before your departure so that you can get all the relevant information. If you are abroad when you decide to apply, email the NFP fellowships advisor listed on that award’s page right away.
It’s good to get a general sense of the scholarship landscape early, so that you know what to be aware of at the appropriate juncture. First-year students don’t need to think about their Fulbright proposals. But a first-year student considering applying for a Goldwater as a junior does need to think about getting research experience in a lab. In general, first-year students can best prepare for possible fellowships by doing well in courses, exploring a wide variety of fields, and building relationships with faculty. Sophomores and juniors should attend the information sessions that the NFP offers on specific scholarships that they’re interested in and reach out to the NFP advisor listed on the individual fellowship pages of this site.
You can apply for as many as you like. You must weigh the time it takes to complete applications, whether or not you are a competitive candidate, and how much work you want to put into the application process. Some fellowships, though distinct, overlap in terms of field or type of grant, so it would make sense to apply for all that fit with your interests and goals. Yet, because each fellowship is different in style and focus, it makes sense to identify the ones that best suit your credentials and interests, then focus your energies on producing the strongest possible application for those, rather than spreading yourself too thin. Throwing as many applications into the mix as you can to see what happens is usually not the right approach.
Most fellowships for which the NFP provides advising support are for U.S. citizens or permanent residents, but there are several exceptions. Some scholarship programs like the Rhodes, Gates Cambridge, and DAAD will accept applicants through their home countries. If you are an international student looking for scholarship information, please go to the Office of International Services.
Scholarships generally require between two and five letters of recommendation, with the Rhodes allowing up to eight letters. As each scholarship has different criteria for selection and a specified number of recommendations, you should read the application instructions very carefully when thinking about whom to ask for letters of support. For many scholarships, most or all of these recommendations should come from faculty members with whom you have taken classes or done research. For others, like Fulbright English Teaching Assistantships and Emerson National Hunger Fellowships, supervisors from extracurricular or professional settings may be more appropriate recommenders.
Scholarship selection committees depend heavily on these letters to gain insight into applicants’ personal strengths, weaknesses, and accomplishments. This kind of information cannot be readily gleaned from transcripts and test scores, so it is in your best interest to help your recommenders write the most accurate and detailed letters possible. Make your choices carefully, gathering strong evaluations from persons who have had an opportunity to observe your academic ability and your personal qualities. For academic references, it is almost always preferable for a professor to write your letter of recommendation. Professors who have taught undergraduates for a number of years have a larger context in which to place an applicant, and can offer a perspective that a graduate student cannot.
Yes, in some cases there are portfolios of previous applications available for prospective applicants to look at. The aim is to demystify the application process, not to provide examples for imitation. If a portfolio is available, it will be indicated on that fellowship’s page on this site, with information on where to find it. Portfolios exist only in hard copies and cannot circulate, and the application materials in them may not be photocopied or digitally reproduced.
Yes, we welcome you to apply through JHU. In many instances, you might be a better applicant for a competitive fellowship after a year’s worth of work experience, or after you’ve had some time away from college to think about what specific degree objective you wish to pursue. You have access to the same resources available to current students.
Are there scholarships here for unpaid internships with corporations, non-governmental organizations, professors, laboratories, or political figures?
No, not on this list. Fellowships and Scholarships are almost always granted so that individuals can pursue scholarship, research, or service of one kind or another. If you are looking for funding for an internship, start by exploring the Life Design Lab’s website (formerly the Career Center).