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. An internal deadline is the date set by our office to receive the completed application, including letters of recommendation and transcripts. The internal deadline exists whenever there is a nomination or campus selection process involved, or when campus evaluation is required by the fellowship foundation. Both internal and official deadlines are absolutely firm. If there is no campus deadline, this means that students can apply directly to the fellowship foundation.
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, Beinecke, Truman). Others are aimed at professional development, language acquisition, public service, or even cultural exploration (e.g. Fulbright Scholarships, Carnegie Junior Fellowship, Boren Scholarships, Luce Scholars Program, Huntington). For more information, search our website. Some scholarships here are directed to supporting undergraduate study at JHU (e.g. Goldwater, Boren).
These terms often mean the same thing. An institutional endorsement means that a fellowship applicant is submitting their application 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. If a fellowship requires an institutional endorsement, students cannot apply without that official letter of recommendation. Some fellowships require a nomination from their institution. 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 at least five to six months prior to the deadline. Experience shows that the earlier you start, the stronger your application will be. The most important component of the process – and the lengthiest – is the writing and rewriting of your personal statement. Expect it to 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 or not 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, which often provide bios of previous scholars, as well as self-assessment tools for prospective applicants.
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 extra curricular 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 3.50 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. Many of the most competitive scholarships do not list a specific minimum grade point average, expressing their desire for candidates with excellent our outstanding academic performance. These kinds of parameters usually mean that you should have at least a 3.80.
The scholarship programs listed here do not fund study in professional school. The one exception is the Truman Scholarships, which can be used for medical or law school if you intend to pursue a career in public service.
Some scholarships are expressly interested in an applicant’s leadership experience and leadership potential; scholarship applications often 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, not simply 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 can 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. Though it can be very difficult to find a positive answer to the question of your chances of winning, it is sometimes easier to give a negative answer. If you are clearly advised not to apply for a specific scholarship, the advice is intended to save your time and effort.
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, on the other hand, the fellowship requires eight letters of recommendation, university endorsement, a research proposal, and personal statement, it is too late. Experience has shown that it takes six to nine months to put together a first-rate application. Scrambling to put together an application will probably 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.
Of course, but the logistics will probably be more challenging. If you are leaving before the process begins, contact Dr. Barry before your departure so that you can get all the relevant information. If you are abroad when you decide to apply, email her right away. Students should understand that support for finalists like mock interviews and workshops cannot be arranged for them while abroad, and will need to take this into account while making their own preparations.
It’s good to get a general sense of the scholarship landscape early, so that you at least know 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 experience in a research 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 one of the general information sessions scheduled in the spring semester (see the Events & Deadlines calendar), as well as the sessions on specific scholarships that they’re interested in.
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. On the other hand, 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 listed here are for U.S. citizens or permanent residents (the Huntington is an exception). Some scholarship programs like the Rhodes, Fulbright 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 three and eight letters of recommendation. 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. Most or all of these recommendations should come from faculty members with whom you have taken classes.
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. 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 in the List of Fellowships. You must make an appointment to view the portfolio; they exist only in hard copies and cannot circulate.
Yes, you can 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. If you’re interested in national and international fellowships, 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 or research of one kind or another. If you are looking for funding for an internship, start by looking at the Career Center’s website.