My Formula for a Winning Graduate School or Fellowship Application and Candidate Success Stories

Feb 27, 2020 • Views 835

By ProFellow Founder, Dr. Vicki Johnson

In 2019, I quietly piloted a new online course and mentorship program, Fully Funded*, which provides a self-paced, online curriculum that teaches people of all career levels how to develop a competitive application for fully funded graduate programs and fellowships (such as the Fulbright awards or Pickering Fellowships). The course includes more than 14 hours of video training that covers everything from finding the right awards for your goals, to developing every aspect of your application, including background research, writing the personal statement, structuring research proposals, professional networking, refining your resume or CV, and nailing your interview. Fully Funded students can also participate in twice-monthly group “Office Hours” with me via video conference to have all of their questions answered and receive cohort support and encouragement as they prepare their applications.

I’m pleased to report that the cohort that enrolled in Fully Funded last year has had extraordinary results! More than half of the participants that applied to fellowships and graduate programs in 2019 have achieved fellowship awards, entrance to top graduate schools with full funding, and many finalist interviews for which they are now awaiting decisions (fingers crossed for their success this Spring!).

I once thought it would be impossible to develop an effective online course on developing a winning application for highly competitive awards and programs. Preparing an application that successfully conveys your personal story, emphasizes your strengths, outlines a memorable and feasible project or research proposal, and makes an emotional connection with readers of the selection committee… let’s face it, it’s not easy to do! And the application is a very different journey for each candidate depending on your background, career goals, academic strengths, writing skills and self-confidence. 

Yet, through the students who have taken the Fully Funded course and applied the application strategies taught in my curriculum, I have been able to test and prove the success of my MATCH ME formulaᵀᴹ for developing a competitive application. The MATCH ME formulaᵀᴹ is the 7 fundamental elements of a successful application. I derived these elements not just from my own experience winning 4 professional fellowships, entrance to 6 top graduate programs and a full funding award for my PhD – I have also interviewed thousands of fellowship winners since ProFellow’s founding about their application strategies. Throughout this time, I identified 7 themes across successful fellowship applicants of all educational backgrounds, ages, citizenships, genders, professional tracks and personalities. I now teach the MATCH ME formulaᵀᴹ in my course and mentorship program, Fully Funded

These are the 7 fundamental elements of a competitive application:

M – Memorable

A – Aligns with the program’s mission

T – Timely and urgent

C – Capitalizes on the program’s unique benefits

H – Highly specific

M – Mutually beneficial

E – Elegant (a careful balance of confidence and humility)

Of course, there’s a lot more to say about each of these elements! 

I’d like to share some case studies of successful participants of last year’s Fully Funded cohort who applied the MATCH ME formulaᵀᴹ as they developed their applications. (To protect their privacy as finalists of multiple programs, I have not included their names here, but we’ll have testimonials once they select their awards!)

Success story #1: Multiple candidates gain entrance to fully funded Ph.D. and master’s programs

Several participants of Fully Funded joined because they felt they didn’t have insider knowledge on how to compete for top graduate programs, especially for one who was the first in her family to attend college, one who is a recent U.S. immigrant, and two who are over the age of 40. These Fully Funded students shared that the most eye-opening part of my program was the module that discussed how to contact and network with faculty members, an important but little-known step in the admissions process. By applying what they learned in Fully Funded about networking, they achieved two goals: 1) they each found several fully funded PhD programs to apply to through identifying faculty in their research areas who taught in those programs and 2) they developed relationships with those faculty, which strengthened their candidacy and likely had a significant role in their acceptance offers. 

Other important elements these students included in their successful applications was a clearly defined career goal, the fine details of their previous research experience, and specific examples of how they would capitalize on the programs’ unique benefits. So far, one received PhD offers with full funding from Cornell University, the University of Florida and University of California Irvine. Another received 2 PhD finalist interviews and so far has been offered a full funding package to attend the University of California San Francisco. Another student received a PhD offer from the University of York and an MA offer from the University of Manchester (both in the UK). And one 50-year old candidate gained entrance to a top MFA program in Creative Writing. There are others! These are just a few success stories of Fully Funded students gaining entrance to highly competitive graduate programs, most with full funding offers.

Success story #2: Recent graduate with wavering confidence wins a Pickering Fellowship, a full funding award for her dream Master’s program

One aspiring graduate student who is interested in a Foreign Service career joined Fully Funded because she had wavering confidence about her ability to compete for nationally competitive full funding awards for master’s degrees like the Thomas R. Pickering Graduate Foreign Affairs Fellowship, which has a less than 10% acceptance rate. Through Fully Funded, she learned why and how she could stand out among so many outstanding candidates. She successfully applied the MATCH ME formulaᵀᴹ in her personal statement to effectively express memorable elements from her unique study abroad experience, language skills, and family upbringing. When she made it to the finalist interviews, she applied the strategies from the Fully Funded module on interviews to comprehensively prepare and enter the intense individual and panel interviews with confidence. When she notified me that she was selected for the Pickering Fellowship, she was flabbergasted that she had won! She can now enter any graduate school she is selected for and will have a full fellowship covering her tuition and living expenses. I encouraged her to apply to the very best graduate schools, including Harvard’s Kennedy School, which was not on her list of schools at her fellowship acceptance. I look forward to sharing her next success story of entrance to a top graduate program. 

Success story #3: Rejected 2018 Fulbright applicant is now a finalist for a 2020 Fulbright U.S. Student Award, the Congress Bundestag Youth Exchange fellowship in Germany AND the NYC Urban Fellows Program

A candidate who was disappointed by a rejection from a 2018 Fulbright award entered the Fully Funded program because she wanted to pursue an international career in social impact and she knew fellowships could be an avenue for a more exciting challenge than her entry-level job offered. Her biggest takeaway from the Fully Funded course was how to be highly specific. Her first Fulbright application included a broad research proposal with inadequate details, which likely raised questions about its feasibility. She learned from the Fully Funded curriculum how to make her application more memorable, specific and mutually beneficial. Even more importantly, she learned how to structure a succinct but comprehensive research proposal that effectively showcased the objectives, research methods and outcomes of the project. She is now a finalist for a 2020 Fulbright award AND a finalist interviewing for the Congress Bundestag Youth Exchange Fellowship in Germany and the New York City Urban Fellows program! Much of her success came from her extensive background research on these awards to understand their mission, goals and ideal candidate, which she learned how to do in the Fully Funded program.

Success story #4: Mid-career professional concerned about her age is selected for Coro’s Women in Leadership Program AND Urban Leaders Fellowship

Some participants join Fully Funded because they feel their age is a roadblock to acceptance to fellowships. I teach participants that factors like age have much less to do with your competitiveness than your ability to express why the program is a good fit for your goals and how you will help further the program’s mission. One Fully Funded participant was skeptical she could get accepted to fellowships after a few previous rejections. However, she learned how to do extensive background research on each award to understand each program’s mission and ideal candidate. Also, a major benefit that she gained from the Fully Funded program was my personal introductions to former fellows in ProFellow’s International Fellows Network, which is a benefit offered to all students enrolled in Fully Funded. Through speaking with former fellows, she was able to get insider information on the application process and interviews. After working diligently on her applications, she now has several finalist interviews and fellowship offers, including a spot in the Coro’s Women in Leadership Program and the Urban Leaders Fellowship, and a finalist interview for a highly competitive Environmental Defense Fund fellowship. 

About Fully Funded

Very soon, I am going to be opening enrollment for a limited number of spots in the Fully Funded online course and mentorship program, where you can learn the MATCH ME formulaᵀᴹ for developing a competitive application. This program is suited to anyone at any age, education or career level who is ready to commit to the competitive application process and prepare their strongest applications possible for fully funded graduate programs, fellowships and full funding awards. Note, this is not a 1:1 advising program. This is an online course and group mentorship program with lifetime access that teaches you strategies to prepare a winning application. You’ll also be able to participate in twice-monthly group “Office Hours” with me for your questions and cohort support. If you are ready to access and apply the strategies of multi-award winners and take responsibility for your success, this is the program for you!

Join the VIP list to be the first to know when Fully Funded is open for enrollment!

Also, join the VIP list to receive announcements for my next free webinar “The Foolproof Way to Fully Fund Graduate School.” I’ll be providing an information-packed presentation on how to find fully funded doctoral and master’s programs and what you need to do to compete for full funding. 

*formerly known as the ProFellow Accelerator Course

Headshot Vicki Johnson ProFellowDr. Vicki Johnson is Founder and CEO of ProFellow, the world’s leading online resource for professional and academic fellowships. She is a four-time fellow, top Ph.D. scholar, Fulbright recipient and an award-winning social entrepreneur. Join the VIP list to be the first to know when Fully Funded is open for enrollment!

© Victoria Johnson 2020, all rights reserved

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