By Rosalyn Leban
Many colleges and universities offer students and alumni the opportunity to apply for certain national and international fellowships through their institution. The “on-campus process” generally involves meeting with your institution’s fellowships advisor, the review of your application by an on-campus committee of staff and professors, and a recommendation of you by your institution. In some cases, college students are required to apply through their home institution. In others, however, applicants may decide whether or not to apply through their university.
I chose to apply to the Critical Language Scholarship in Chinese without going through my college’s on-campus process, and I applied for the Fulbright U.S. Student Fellowship through my institution. Through these experiences, I learned that there are definite advantages to applying through your university, but it can also be more convenient to apply “at-large” depending on your circumstances!
Consider these three advantages of applying through the on-campus process when making your decision:
1. You will get advice from people who have been through the process before.
When you apply through the on-campus process, you have access to your school’s fellowship advisor from day one. The process usually begins a few months to a year before the application deadline and begins with an initial meeting with the fellowships advisor. This means that you’ll have the context you’ll need to craft a strong application before you even begin writing. The fellowships advisor has seen many successful and unsuccessful fellowship applications and will be able to advise you on how to target your proposal, budget, and/or personal statement.
2. You’ll get honest feedback on your application well in advance of the deadline.
If you apply through your institution’s on-campus process, you’ll likely need to meet internal deadlines before the fellowship’s application deadline. This will give the on-campus committee a chance to review your work and provide advice on how to make your application stronger. Extra eyes on your application always give you an advantage, especially when those reviewing your application have experience with reviewing proposals.
It can be more helpful to get unbiased opinions from people other than close friends and family, who might be inclined to soften their critiques to avoid hurting your feelings. Honest feedback is critical to improving your application materials, so don’t get offended if your reviewers suggest many changes. Remember, they’re on your side!
3. It often means an extra letter of recommendation!
Most fellowships have strict limits on the number of letters of recommendation you can submit with your application, and those letters are a key part of your application. In many cases, however, the committees involved in the on-campus process are able to submit a document that functions as a letter of recommendation from your institution without counting against the limit. If this is the case for the fellowship to which you’re planning to apply, this is a major advantage!
If you decide not to apply through your institution’s on-campus process, or if you don’t have the option to do so, keep the three advantages described above in mind and think of ways to incorporate those advantages into your application-writing process. If you know anyone who has applied for the fellowship for which you’re applying in the past, talk to them! They may be able to give you helpful advice, whether or not they ultimately won the fellowship. Some of your professors or mentors can also be valuable resources even if you don’t go through your institution’s process because they may have experience writing letters of recommendation or reviewing student work for fellowship applications. Also, make sure to find peer reviewers for your application who will give an honest critique of your work!
There is also one major disadvantage to applying through your institution’s on-campus process:
If you’ve decided to apply for a fellowship late in the cycle, going through the on-campus process may not be an option for you because on-campus deadlines are usually much earlier than fellowship deadlines to allow for the review of your application by the committee. Even if you have been working on your application for a while, early deadlines can make the application process more stressful when you’re balancing schoolwork and employment in addition to fellowship applications. This is especially applicable to recent graduates, who may have the option to apply through their university but might not be as aware of campus deadlines. As mentioned above, the early deadlines are also an advantage – they ensure that you have plenty of time to get feedback and edit your application – but they can also be a reason to apply “at-large” if you’re not on the same schedule.
Consider the advantages and the disadvantage described above when you decide whether or not to apply through your school’s on-campus process. Keep in mind that even if you’re applying to a grant or fellowship with no defined on-campus process, your school’s fellowship advisor or other staff can be an excellent resource to consult as you craft your application. No matter what you decide, the most important thing is to put the effort in to make your application the best it can be.
Rosalyn Leban is an alumna of the 2018 Fulbright U.S. Student Research Program in Guatemala, the 2018 Davis Projects for Peace Fellowship in Nicaragua, and the 2017 Critical Language Scholarship in China. She graduated from Mount Holyoke College in 2018 and currently works as an immigration paralegal.
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