By Guest Author Rosalyn Leban
If you’ve received an email inviting you to be placed on the waitlist for the fellowship of your dreams, it can seem disappointing or overwhelming. Being placed on the waitlist or listed as an alternate means more waiting, but it is actually very exciting news because it means you can still win the fellowship! I was listed as an alternate for the Critical Language Scholarship to China in 2017 and these are the steps I took before I was promoted to finalist.
Taking these five steps will help to decrease your stress and increase your chances of being promoted:
1. Don’t panic! This is good news.
If you’re disappointed by being placed on the waitlist, try to reframe your thinking and remember that it means you’re still in the running. Remember that being placed on the waitlist means that you still have a chance of receiving the fellowship and that the fellowship committee has faith in your ability to succeed in the program. You would not have been placed on the waitlist if you hadn’t impressed the committee.
Your chances are still good. Because many fellowships draw from similar pools of highly qualified applicants and tend to notify candidates later in the year, it’s likely that some finalists will decline the award because they’ve already accepted jobs or funding from other organizations. Also, some fellowships like Fulbright Awards may receive more funding and be able to accept people from the waitlist (alternates) without any finalists having declined the offer. Just remember: this is not a rejection!
2. Accept your position on the waitlist.
After you’ve received notification of your selection for the waitlist, make sure to read the letter or email very carefully and follow all instructions. Sometimes, being on the waitlist is not an automatic process. There are often strict timelines for accepting a waitlist placement, especially for international fellowships that require visas.
In the case of the Critical Language Scholarship, for example, I had to send a Chinese visa application and photo to the fellowship committee before I could officially be placed on the waitlist. The email from the fellowship committee may, in some cases, allow or require additional materials like updated transcripts or additional letters of recommendation to be submitted for consideration. Make sure to follow all the instructions carefully.
3. Contact the coordinator of your on-campus process.
If you applied through the fellowship’s office at your college or university, make sure to keep the coordinator updated about your application status. Fellowships with an on-campus process usually inform college staff, but setting up a meeting with your campus fellowships advisor shows initiative and ensures that your advisor stays on your side. Some fellowships depend on campus advisors to recommend candidates. The fellowship’s advisor also may know more about the process and when you might hear back from the program about your status based on their experiences with previous applicants.
At this point, you should also reach out to your recommenders and other people who have supported you in your fellowship application. It’s always good to update your recommenders on your progress, and they may also be able to give you advice about your next steps.
4. Develop your “Plan B.”
Even though you may still receive the fellowship, it’s important to have a plan in place in case you aren’t selected from the waitlist. Use the time you spend waiting for a notification to network and apply for other opportunities so that you’re not dependent on funding from the fellowship. Developing a back-up plan also makes waiting for news less stressful and it’s something that’s in your control, unlike your position on the waitlist.
The most important and most difficult part about being on the waitlist is waiting for final notification. Once you’ve read your initial notification email and responded, try not to check your inbox constantly. You may not hear back for a few months, and checking your inbox for a response multiple times a day will not improve your chances. You should remain in touch with your advisors and the administrators of the fellowship as you approach the deadline for promotion from the waitlist. Keep an eye out for a notification, but don’t obsess over it!
Being placed on the waitlist for a fellowship can be stressful, but if you follow these five steps, you can ensure you’ve done all you can to maximize your chances. Keep in mind that your worth is not determined by whether or not you win the fellowship – it is meaningful that you were selected for the waitlist, and applying again in the future is also an option. You can leverage your experience with this application to make your future applications even stronger. Good luck!
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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