Frequently Asked Questions

Maline smiling while holding a book.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

What is the difference between a campus (or internal) deadline and an official deadline?

An official 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 for submission of completed applications, most often including transcripts and letters of recommendation. Campus deadlines exist whenever there is a nomination requirement and therefore a campus selection process is needed, or when a campus endorsement or evaluation is required by the fellowship foundation and a campus review process is involved.

Both campus and official deadlines are absolutely firm.

We also have deadlines for draft review. These are for awards for which 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 if submitted by our draft review deadline.

What’s the difference between scholarships, fellowships, and grants?

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.

What kinds of fellowships/scholarships are listed on this website?

Many scholarships are oriented towards graduate study at one level or another in the U.S. or overseas (e.g. NSF Graduate Research Fellowship or Marshall Scholarship). Others are aimed at professional development, language acquisition, public service, or cultural exploration (e.g. Fulbright Grants, Gaither Junior Fellows Program, Boren Scholarship, Luce Scholars Program). Some scholarships help fund undergraduate study at JHU (e.g. Goldwater and Udall Scholarships). Please explore the fellowships section of this website to learn more about the variety of awards available.

What is an institutional endorsement? What is a nomination?

These terms indicate that an applicant must receive the official approval of their college or university to apply for a given fellowship or scholarship. Often it means that the candidate has gone through an internal review or selection process here at JHU, like with the UK/Ireland Scholarships or the Astronaut Scholarship.

If a fellowship requires an institutional endorsement, students cannot apply without an official letter of recommendation from Johns Hopkins, but endorsements are not usually limited in number. Where fellowships require an institutional “nomination,” the number of nominees is often restricted (e.g. JHU can nominate only four students per year for the Goldwater Scholarship and only two per year for the Churchill Scholarship).

Individual award pages on this website provide information about the endorsement or nomination process at JHU for scholarships and fellowships that require them.

How long is the application process?

It depends on the fellowship and how complex the application requirements are, but experience shows that the earlier you start, the stronger your application will be. Please note that fellowship applicants often begin working on their materials between three to six months prior to the deadline. Writing and rewriting your application essay(s)—required for almost all fellowships—is often the lengthiest part of the process; it will likely 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 at the last minute.

What can’t I control about the application process? What can I control in the process?

You cannot control: the eligibility requirements; the composition and bias of the selection committee; the quality and quantity of other applicants. Luck and chance always factor in.

You can control: finding scholarships that best align 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.

Am I eligible? Am I the right ‘fit’ for a scholarship?

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). Being eligible to apply, however, is not the same as being a strong candidate. 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 award—that is, assess how well you meet the criteria for selection. A good 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 talk with a fellowships advisor from our office.

Is my GPA high enough?

Generally, GPA may not be the barrier to entry that many assume it to be. In many fellowship selection processes, GPA is less important than how an applicant’s academic profile and path overall, service commitments, and extracurricular activities embody the values and standards of the award’s funders.

It is true that some scholarships require a minimum grade point average, and when that’s the case, it is a firm limit. If a fellowship lists 3.5 or top 25% of your class as the cut off, assume they will not consider applicants who fall below that requirement, regardless of extenuating circumstances or strengths in other areas.

More often, scholarships do not list a specific minimum grade point average. Some particularly competitive awards will express their desire for candidates with excellent or outstanding academic performance. That usually means that you should have at least a 3.8, depending on the award, as part of being a strong candidate (e.g., UK/Ireland Scholarships). Others emphasize different kinds of qualifications instead and are not particularly interested in GPA (e.g., Fulbright English Teach Assistantships or Emerson National Hunger Fellowships).

Keep in mind that GPA is always just one data point. Selectors typically read transcripts holistically, looking at what classes you have taken, how challenging your course loads have been over time, how you performed in key classes for your major(s) vs. in electives, and what trends are evident in your grades over time.

I’m pre-med/pre-law. Do these scholarships pay for medical school or law school?

Yes! While nationally competitive awards are more widely available to fund research-oriented graduate degrees, there are awards that can be used to fund medical school or law school. Examples include the Truman Scholarship, which can be used for medical or law school if you intend to pursue a career in public service, the Knight-Hennessy Scholarship, which can be used to fund graduate study in any discipline at Stanford University, and the P.D. Soros Fellowships for New Americans, which can be used to fund graduate study of many kinds throughout the U.S.

How do I demonstrate leadership ability in a scholarship application?

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: target, actions, results. Target: what opportunity or need for change did you see in an organization or club, or in a community? Actions: how did you enlist others to plan for and implement that change? What obstacles did you encounter and how did you overcome them – or not? (Leadership isn’t always about success per se.) Results: what impact did your leadership have on the target, those you worked with, and you?

Fellowship committees want to know about your approach to leadership and the outcomes of your efforts, and are less concerned with the offices or titles.

What are my chances of winning Scholarship X?

It’s hard not to wonder about this, yet there’s rarely a satisfying answer. Many factors influence the fate of any fellowship application and many awards are so competitive that in the end, the chances of winning are, by definition, small.

The best advice we can give is to carefully consider the selection criteria for the particular fellowship in which you are interested as well as your level of enthusiasm about what the award is offering. If you feel that you fulfill the selection criteria and you are able and willing to work hard on the application within the given timeframe, then you should apply. If, upon careful reflection, you feel that there is not a strong alignment between your goals and values and those of the award, or you know that other commitments will prevent you from giving the application due effort, then it may be better to save your time and energy for another opportunity or the same award at a later time. Many awards have eligibility windows that span several years.

A key point: all applicants who put in the requisite effort do “win” in gaining insights through self-reflection as well as 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 one or 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 competitive fellowships. Scrambling to put together an application will often result in a weak outcome and lost time. Perhaps more important, 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 if possible. By waiting, you will give yourself valuable time to think about and assemble the best application possible. Remember that you can apply for many fellowships after you graduate from JHU, and some for several years after.

I’m studying abroad. Can I apply for a fellowship?

Yes! We often work with applicants who are overseas. But please know, too, that the logistics may be more challenging. We will do our best to keep the obstacles to a minimum, and ask that you do your part by getting in touch with us in as timely a fashion as possible.

When should I start looking into fellowships?

It’s never too early to start learning about fellowships and pursuing best practices to be a strong candidate in the future. First-year students don’t need to think about their Fulbright proposals or to focus on plotting their C.V. for the Rhodes. Rather, first-year students’ energy is best spent on doing well in courses, exploring fields and activities of interest, and building relationships with faculty. In subsequent years, students can best work on becoming strong fellowship applicants by continuing those activities with increasing focus. Pursuing research outside the classroom and study abroad are particularly valuable pursuits in sophomore and junior year. As you develop greater focus over time in college, it’s important to think often about your evolving goals and how you can “tell your story” – these are key for any fellowship application, but also for charting a path beyond graduation more generally.

It’s also never too late to start exploring fellowships. Even if some individual awards don’t fit your timeline, there are fellowships and scholarships open to undergraduates at every stage, to recent graduates, and to graduate students.

Can I apply for more than one fellowship?

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.

I’m not a U.S. citizen. Can I still apply for fellowships?

It is true that many fellowships, particularly those with funding from government sources, are restricted to U.S. citizens, or sometimes U.S citizens and permanent residents. But there are still many opportunities for international students. Please note that programs like the Rhodes, Gates Cambridge, and DAAD will have separate application processes and/or deadlines for applicants with non-U.S. citizenships.

If you are an international student looking for scholarship information, please also consult with the Office of International Services.

How many letters of recommendation do I need?

Scholarships generally require between two and five letters of recommendation, with the Rhodes allowing up to eight letters. Each scholarship has different criteria for selection and a specified number of recommendations, so you should read the application instructions very carefully when thinking about whom to ask for letters of support. For many scholarships, especially those to fund research or study, 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.

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 supervisors who have had an opportunity to closely observe your abilities and your personal qualities. For academic references, it is almost always preferable for a professor (not a postdoc or graduate student) 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.

Can I see what a winning application looks like?

Yes, in some cases the NFP can offer samples of application materials from candidates who were finalists or winners of an award. The aim is to demystify the application process, not to provide examples for imitation, for prospective applicants. If samples are available, they will be accessible through the Blackboard site for that fellowship or scholarship.

I’m a recent alum. Can I apply for fellowships?

Yes! Many fellowships are open to recent graduates and we happily support alumni applicants to a range of awards each year. In many instances, you might be a better applicant for a competitive fellowship after a year or two of work experience, or after you’ve had some time away from college to think about what specific objective you wish to pursue via a fellowship. We offer the same resources to recent graduates as to current students.

The only caveat concerns alumni enrolled at another university for graduate study. If your current university has a fellowships advising office, we may request that you reach out to that office for support first as a matter of professional courtesy among fellowships advisors.

Are there scholarships here for unpaid internships with corporations, non-governmental organizations, professors, laboratories, or political figures?

The fellowships and scholarships for which we provide advising support are designed to allow individuals to pursue scholarship, research, or service of one kind or another, or a professional experience defined by the fellowship grantor. They do not offer funds for an unpaid internship you arrange yourself. If you are looking for funding for an internship, please explore the Life Design Lab’s website.