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