Become a Strong Applicant

Mohammad Modares

Happily, the same pursuits that make you a strong applicant for fellowships will also help you make the most of your time at Hopkins.

Choose Classes Wisely

The classes that you choose during your undergraduate career should reflect the passions and interests that you will write about in your application essay. And they should give you a strong foundation for pursuing graduate studies and/or an independent research project. While your GPA may be important for some fellowship competitions, your selection of classes and how challenging your course loads have been semester to semester are likely to be of greater interest to those reviewing an application than the single data point of a GPA.

Build Your Research Profile

From your first semester, think about building up your research profile. Depending on discipline, this could mean seeking research training working in a lab; developing an original research project and seeking the support of a Provost’s Undergraduate Research Award (PURA), ASPIRE Grant (formerly DURA), or Woodrow Wilson Undergraduate Research Fellowship; or writing an undergraduate thesis.

Commit to Extracurricular Activities that are Meaningful to You

Internships and active participation in volunteer work are essential components of a strong fellowship application. From your first semester, volunteer for an organization linked to your interests and values. The JHU Center for Social Concern can connect you with such community service opportunities and internships. The key is not quantity, but quality—aim for a deep level of involvement in a smaller number of experiences that reflect your priorities and thus the narrative of your application.

Once you have explored fellowship options, you may choose to involve yourself with a specific type of service activity that increases your chances for that fellowship. For example, students wishing to apply for a Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship will want to engage in tutoring or teaching activities that offer experience working in a classroom or one-on-one.

Lay the Groundwork for Strong Recommendations

To apply for almost anything, you’ll need letters of recommendation. These are often academic letters of reference. From your first semester onward, cultivate relationships with your advisers and other professors, particularly those in your field. Attend their office hours to discuss readings for their classes, share your interests and goals, ask their advice about coursework, and inquire about their own research (some homework beforehand on their research will allow you to ask informed questions). They can also provide helpful advice about selecting graduate school programs.

For most nationally competitive fellowships, letters written by professors—and not graduate students and instructors—carry the most weight. But not all recommendations should be academic references. For some fellowship applications, letters from internship or service experiences can be important to include.

Consider Language Study & Studying Abroad

A number of fellowships give grantees the chance to live abroad; many require at least some knowledge of a foreign language. Studying abroad during your undergraduate career naturally demonstrates your ability to adapt to life in a foreign country—something you’ll want to emphasize in your application for an overseas fellowship. By learning one or more languages, you not only open the door to additional fellowship opportunities (and other opportunities generally), you also facilitate your ability to conduct future research or business in your chosen country.

Take Time to Think, What’s My Story?

As you develop greater focus over time in your academics and your activities, it’s important to stop and reflect occasionally on your evolving goals and the “why” of the choices you are making. How would you tell your story? This will be key for any fellowship application, but also for charting a path beyond graduation more generally. Your story will naturally evolve with time, but having a sense of your own unique narrative that connects your past, present, and future will be invaluable at many points in your college career and beyond.

Start Looking into Fellowships Early On

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.

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.

Frequently Asked Questions

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.

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.

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.

Carly GreenspanI applied for a Boren Scholarship in Jordan because, as an International Studies major focusing on the Middle East, I knew it was crucial to both gain experience in the region and develop my Arabic language capabilities. Carly Greenspan, Boren Scholarship