5 Things Not to Say in a Fellowship Application

Oct 29, 2015

By ProFellow Founder, Dr. Vicki Johnson

We often get tips on what to say when applying for a competitive fellowship, but what about what you shouldn’t say? Most applications have a word limit and so the challenge is to effectively convey who you are, why you want the fellowship and why you should be chosen for it. So take out that red marker and starting cutting these statements out:

1. I’m exploring my career options and this is great opportunity to explore [fill in the blank].

If you are applying for a clinical research fellowship, or a public policy fellowship, or an environmental advocacy fellowship, or any other fellowship in a specific field, the fellowship administrators want to know you are committed to that career path. They are investing in fellows’ professional development, so they are unlikely to invest in someone who is just exploring options and may do something completely different post-fellowship.

2. I excel in everything I do.

That may be true, but try to tone it down a little. There is a thin line between a healthy level of confidence and over confidence, and a dose of humility can go a long way in a fellowship application. Have an advisor who can provide you honest feedback read your application.

3. I love traveling.

Does anyone not love traveling? Yes, but those folks aren’t applying for fellowships abroad. Everyone applying to the Fulbright or other fellowships abroad are passionate about traveling, so that is not a compelling reason to provide you a fellowship. Instead, tell the reviewers exactly why you want to go to the specific country. What people, programs, opportunities exist there that don’t exist elsewhere? Give them a reason to fund your wanderlust.

4. I have a passion for learning.

Most people applying for fellowships are highly accomplished and highly educated, so think about your competitors. Chances are they also have a passion for learning. The key is to differentiate yourself from other applicants. Focus your writing on exactly what you want to learn, and how the fellowship is a unique opportunity for this.

5. I want to change the world.

Sounds great, right? Wrong. The reason is, lots of applicants like to use this platitude. Be specific about what you want to do and why. Try: “I want to study service models in other developed countries so I can use those insights to improve our nonprofit’s programs and their impact”; “I want to teach English in China so that I can inspire students there to explore other cultures and develop skills that will prepare them for the competitive global economy”; or “I want test a prototype for treating water so that I can develop a cost-effective product that helps isolated communities.” Sounds better right? You got it.

Dr. Vicki Johnson Headshot

Dr. 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. She is the Creator and Director of Fully Funded, an award-winning online course and mentorship program for graduate school applicants seeking to find and win full funding. 

© Victoria Johnson / ProFellow, LLC 2015, all rights reserved.