“Make no little plans. They have no magic to stir men's blood and probably themselves will not be realized. Make big plans; aim high in hope and work, remembering that a noble, logical diagram once recorded will never die, but long after we are gone will be a living thing, asserting itself with ever-growing insistency…Think big.” Daniel Burnham, Chicago architect. (1846-1912)

The goal of applying for scholarships is not strictly to “win.” The process helps you think deeply about your own interests, goals and vocation. There is no recipe for winning a prestigious fellowship, but there are some common patterns among successful students. The Office of Fellowships staff is here to talk to you about your interests, goals and how to write a strong application.

What Successful Applicants Have in Common

You don't need to have all of these, but successful candidates have many of them:

  • GPA above 3.7 (except in a few cases)
  • Internships in Austin and nationally 
  • Experience abroad
  • Second language proficiency
  • Independent research (thesis work, independent study, lab work, publication)
  • Social service linked to academic major
  • Strong application essays

Basically, funders want to pay for students with an ambitious vision for their future and for the future of society; those who have already begun to execute that vision on and off campus; and those who have a realistic plan for how to get from their junior year of college to ten years hence. Note that your plan does not need to be written in stone--you're allowed to change your mind--but ideally it should demonstrate that you have the drive and imagination to succeed.

How to Get Started

  • Pay attention to your grades.  All fellowships look for high GPAs. 
  • Do stuff. Get involved. On campus and off.  You may not know how you are going to change the world, but get active in academic and community life as soon as possible.
  • Use your summers to expand or explore your academic and professional interests. Start thinking about the summer in November.
  • Build relationships with professors. Go to office hours. Talk in class. All fellowships require recommendation letters and you'll need at least three mentors who know you well by the time you graduate. 
  • Start thinking about what you hope to do with your academic and professional future. You know more than you think you do!
  • Better to change directions as your interests shift than to stand still awaiting perfect clarity about the future.
  • Check out our partial list of fellowships here, and schedule a time to meet with us.

Writing Strong Personal Statements

National fellowship applications require a personal statement or autobiographical essay. This is a critical component of your application, and it is often the most difficult part.

When you write an essay for class, you sift through scholarly publications, journal articles and statistics; you arrange, collate, and analyze. You construct an argument with objective, verifiable data. By contrast, the personal statement comes from inside you, passionate and gutsy. Its composition is organic, a natural growth dictated by an obscure, internal logic. You don't "make it up"; instead, you listen. It requires that you think deeply about your life to date, your academic accomplishments and interests, and what you hope to achieve and contribute in the future. Think of it as a professional or intellectual autobiography.

Here are some Dos and Don'ts (some stolen from the wonderful Truman Foundation): 

Do:

  • Have a consistent story line that focuses on your special aspects and interests. You have to tell them who you are specifically (don't assume they've gleaned it from the resume items in the application). 
  • Articulate an ambitious professional dream for graduate school and beyond. Tell them how you are going to change the world. They are investing in you and want to know what they get in return for that investment.
  • Tell them what skills you have honed in your college years and want to use in the future.
  • Articulate what skills and experiences you still need to gain that will help you connect today to ten years from now.
  • Be positive. Be upbeat. 
  • Be a geek about the topics you love. Show off your knowledge and have an opinion. 
  • Be honest and clear about your ambitions, accomplishments, and plans.
  • Write simply. Rely on nouns and active verbs, not adjectives and adverbs, to carry the story.
  • Take it easy on the readers. Make it interesting. Make it easy to read — both in terms of writing style and appearance.
  • Write with voice. They don't know you yet and your personality should come through in the writing.
  • Make the opening engaging.
  • Have perfect spelling, punctuation, and grammar.

Don't:

  • Talk in platitudes and generalizations. 
  • Fail to mention any course work or academic lessons of your college career. 
  • Try to impress readers by using words which are not a part of your normal vocabulary or writing.
  • Overstate accomplishments.
  • Make a plea for financial assistance (unless it's asked for).
  • Use statistics without giving the primary source.
  • Use famous quotations (too much like name-dropping).
  • Be cute, flippant, profane, or glib.
  • Employ jargon, slang, or unusual abbreviations (DO spell out any acronyms).
  • Use flowery language or cluttered imagery.
  • If you must write about them, use the following cautiously: how much your family means to you; how difficult or unjust your life has been; how smart, capable or compassionate you are; how much you got out of a short trip abroad; how much you learned about government from an internship.