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Application Tips & Resources

There are many steps required for most scholarships and fellowships, but our office is here to help! We can help you identify possible scholarships, help you understand the application process, talk through who to approach for letters of recommendation, and provide feedback on essays. Contact us for guidance and support. Additional tips and resources are listed below. 

  • So you’ve decided to apply for a scholarship or fellowship. Congratulations! You are embarking on a journey that will help you clearly articulate your goals, hone your writing and interviewing skills, and prepare for the next steps in your professional career and/or education. Here are some of the steps you may need to take during the application process: 

    1. Start early! Do not wait until three weeks before the application deadline to start. Most students need to write 5 or more drafts of their essay/personal statement. For some scholarships, you’ll need official transcripts from all the institutions you have attended, and these take time. Note that some scholarships require an institutional endorsement or nomination, so Eastern will have a campus deadline that is several weeks beforethe scholarship deadline. Start early!
    2. Contact the Fellowships Office early in the game to let us know you’re planning to apply. We’ll meet with you to discuss the process for your specific scholarship application and give you some feedback on the application, essays, and letters of recommendation. If you are interested in a scholarship with an October deadline, contact our office in the spring (especially if you will be out of the state or country during the summer). Contacting us early will not only help us give you the best guidance possible, but also enable us to send you other scholarship possibilities that might be a good fit for your goals.
    3. Carefully review the application requirements and make yourself a checklist of everything you need to do. Give yourself some interim deadlines for doing each item, and include deadlines for writing multiple drafts of essays.
    4. Request transcripts. Some scholarships require official transcripts from every institution you’ve attended (even if you just took one course). Find out if you need official transcripts or not, and request these documents early.
    5. Identify references. Think about the faculty who best know you and your work and could write strong letters of recommendation. Discuss the options with the Fellowships Office—we can help you determine who might be best to approach given the particulars of a specific scholarship. Approach your letter writers one month before the deadline, and give them information that will help them write a good letter. Read more about approaching potential recommenders below under Requesting Letters of Recommendation.
    6. Determine the focus of your essay. Depending on the scholarship, you may want to discuss this with a professor before you start writing.
    7. Write. Revise. Repeat. Prepare to write at least 5 drafts of your essay. Build in time to get feedback from the Fellowships Office and/or a trusted faculty member. Read tips on writing essays.
    8. Fill out the application. Proofread. Revise. Many scholarships have an on-line application that you can revise as many times as you want before you submit it. Start filling it out early so you’re not surprised by a tricky question. Our office can provide feedback on your answers.
    9. Prepare for the campus interview. Some scholarships require a campus endorsement or nomination, and these generally will require you to meet with a committee of Eastern faculty for 15 to 20 minutes to discuss your application or proposal. Our office can help you prepare.
    10. Revise. If your scholarship requires a campus interview and you earn Eastern’s endorsement, you will receive valuable feedback from the committee that met with you. You can use this feedback to make changes to your application and/or essays before the national deadline.
    11. Plan to submit a day early. Seriously. Save yourself the worry of the possibility of a technical glitch or power outage preventing you from submitting your application the day it’s due, or the possibility that a snowstorm or hurricane will affect mail delivery. (These things actually happen!) Most scholarships will not accept a late application, regardless of the circumstances. Tell yourself that the deadline is one day earlier than it really is.
    12. Prepare for interviews. Some scholarships require an interview via Zoom or Skype, and a few have in-person interviews for semi-finalists. Our office will help you prepare for these.
    13. Follow-up. Thank the people who helped you with your application or wrote letters of recommendation. Written thank you notes are always appreciated. Also, let your recommenders know about the final outcome.
    14. Celebrate your submission and keep some perspective. Pulling together an application can be a Herculean task, and you should feel a sense of accomplishment for going through the process. Some students find it helpful to remember that while winning a prestigious scholarship is an amazing opportunity, it does not guarantee that you will achieve all of your goals. Thousands of applicants achieve long-term success despite failing to win a prestigious scholarship–and in fact, many people credit going through the application process with helping them get closer to their dreams and goals. You have learned a lot through this process, regardless of the outcome, and you can use this knowledge (and much of your written work!) to successfully apply to graduate school, other scholarships, or jobs.
  • Letters of recommendation are a critical component of your application, so it’s very important that your recommenders can write in detail about your strengths as they pertain to the scholarship you’re applying for. It’s a good idea to discuss your options with the Fellowships Office before approaching faculty members. When determining who to approach, consider:

    • The specifics of the scholarship. For some scholarships, it is critical that all references are demonstrated scholars in a particular field. For others, you’ll need one reference who has knowledge of your extra-curricular work.
    • Who knows you well and can discuss your attributes in specific detail. “I got an A in his class” is not a sufficient reason to approach a particular faculty member. Generally, the best references are the faculty from whom you’ve taken more than one class and/or with whom you’ve developed a relationship outside of class by visiting their office hours, discussing ideas or readings beyond course requirements, and/or assisting with or getting supervision/feedback on research.


    Approaching Recommenders

    • Ask potential recommenders at least one month before the deadline. If the scholarship has a campus deadline, the CAMPUS deadline is what you need to give your recommender. If the deadline is in September, you probably want to ask before spring semester ends.
    • If it’s been a while since you’re interacted with the person, include in your initial ask reminders about how he or she knows you: “I earned an A in your ____ class in Fall 2022. You indicated that you found the arguments I made regarding ___ in my paper on ____ particularly compelling.”
    • Be sure to ask something like: “Do you feel you know me (or my academic record, my leadership qualities, my community service, etc.) well enough to write a strong letter of recommendation for the ___ scholarship?” It is better to give a professor an opportunity to decline than to get a lukewarm letter.
    • Ask if you can meet with your recommenders to discuss the scholarship and its selection criteria. During this time, you can suggest to each recommender what he or she might emphasize in your letter. You may wish to share the names of your other recommenders and what you’re hoping they will emphasize, so that together the letters complement rather than duplicate one another. You should be prepared to explain why you think you are a good candidate for this particular scholarship. Remember that your recommender may not know anything about this scholarship, so your job is to give them the information they need to write a letter for this scholarship, rather than a generic letter about how you’re a good student.
    • Give your recommenders typed information about you:
      • A resume or list of your accomplishments, including details about your extracurricular and leadership experiences
      • Reminders about the work you did for the professor that will help him or her write a strong letter. This could include a copy of a past paper, the title of a project you did, etc.
      • An unofficial copy of your transcript
      • A description of the work you did with/for the professor (if relevant)
      • A draft of your personal statement or project proposal
    • Give your recommenders specific information about the scholarship:
      • The purpose of the scholarship
      • The selection criteria
      • The guidelines for recommenders (including word or page limitations and to whom the letter should be addressed)
      • The deadline


    Other Important Considerations

    • Scholarship review boards consider it to be unethical for students to write drafts of their own letters of recommendation for professors to sign. If a professor asks you to do this, you may supply a list of bullet points or a factual description of the work you did for or with the professor. Contact the Fellowships Office for guidance on this.
    • Remember to write thank-you notes to your recommenders! You may need to ask them for another letter at a later date. (A written note is generally better than an email, but an email is better than nothing!)
    • Let your recommenders know whether or not you got the scholarship—they appreciate knowing how things turned out.

    (Adapted from Amherst College’s “How to Ask For–and Get–Strong Letters of Recommendation”)

  • The written portion of your application is of critical importance. An outstanding essay or personal statement (when supplemented with strong letters of recommendation) can help make up for less than stellar grades, but even a 4.0 student with great recommendations cannot overcome a poorly written essay. While guidelines vary by scholarship/fellowship, there are some things to keep in mind for all essays, personal statements, and research proposals.

    • Start early! Give yourself plenty of time to decide what to focus on, write multiple drafts, and have several people give you feedback. Do not expect to write a strong personal statement in two weeks. Plan on at least two months—more for research proposals.
    • Carefully read the guidelines. Make sure you address all of the questions listed and that you have the mission of the particular fellowship in mind.
    • Do your homework. Make sure you are well-informed about the country you propose to go to, the profession you aim to enter, or the area of study in which you wish to conduct research.
    • Get feedback. The Fellowships Office will provide general feedback on focus, style, and content of personal essays. For research proposals, it is a good idea to get feedback from one or more faculty in your discipline. For all essays, find someone to proofread–there should not be a single typo or grammatical error in your essay.
    • Take feedback seriously. If a reader tells you that your meaning is not clear, you need to find another way to say it. If he tells you you’re using a word incorrectly, choose another word. If you really disagree with the feedback, ask for the opinion of another trusted faculty member. (And if you hear the same thing twice, believe them!) Remember that scholarship panels are composed of faculty and professionals, not students, so weigh feedback from different audiences accordingly.
    • Keep essays clear and easy to read. Do not use extraneous “big” words, and don't use a thesaurus to write your essay! Every word counts, so take out all unnecessary words, and don’t make sentences more complicated than they need to be. For research proposals, make sure that the content of your proposal is understandable to scholars who do not have expertise in your sub-specialty.
    • Perfect your first paragraph. Reviewers read dozens of applications—make sure you’ve engaged them from the very beginning. Your first paragraph should be interesting and catch the reader’s attention.
    • Avoid platitudes and clichés such as “Ever since I was a little girl I knew I wanted to help people” or “Children are the world’s future.” Such statements don’t really tell readers anything about you. It is better to use your essay space to give one, specific example of a time when you demonstrated an important leadership skill and the impact of that experience than to fill your essay with statements about how important leaders are.
    • Be specific and back up any claims you make. Instead of saying “I’ve had a hard life,” give a specific example of what was difficult, how you overcame it, and how that experience is relevant to the scholarship or fellowship. With every sentence you write, imagine all the other students who are applying for this scholarship. What percentage of them might say the same thing? If it’s a lot, leave it out. You want to show what sets you apart.
    • Demonstrate gravitas. Explain the significance of your proposed research and how it will impact society. Explain how the fellowship opportunity will help you achieve your goals. If you will be conducting research, make sure it’s clear in your essay that you have the motivation and skills to do that kind of work.
  • Eastern is a member of the National Association of Fellowships Advisors, and thus subscribes to its code of ethics. Following are the national expectations of applicants as stated in the code of ethics: 

    Prior to applying, candidates will:

    • Engage in self-reflection, assess long-term goals, and search for appropriate programs and funding;
    • Pursue fellowships that support those goals, not fellowships that they must bend their goals to fit;
    • Be aware of the high level of competition and respect the value of the process.

    During the applications process, candidates should:

    • Ensure that all application materials, including but not limited to personal statements, resumes, proposals, essays, shall be the sole and original work of the applicant. Cite any sources quoted or paraphrased;
    • Respond to campus and foundation communications in an honest and timely fashion;
    • Apply only to those fellowships in which they have a genuine interest;
    • Provide adequate and accurate information to recommenders in a timely fashion;
    • Neither compose their own letters for faculty to sign (even at the request of faculty) nor ask faculty members to show them their own letters of recommendation;
    • Make clear what information revealed to an advisor or recommender should remain confidential;
    • Include resume and application response items that reflect an accurate and substantive contribution;
    • Provide honest responses to questions in all practice and real interviews without aggrandizing accomplishments or providing deliberately misleading information to committee members;
    • Treat other applicants with respect and courtesy.