6 Hacks For Completing a Fellowship Application in 30 Days or Less

Dec 26, 2015 • Views 2,819

ProFellow deadline

So you just discovered the perfect fellowship in the ProFellow database and gasp – the deadline is less than 30 days away! Can you get your application together in time? Yes. If you clear your calendar and get working, you can complete that winning application and pat yourself on the back for not spending months on it. Here’s how.

1. Provide details for your recommendation letters. No professor or boss is going to appreciate an ask to prepare you a recommendation letter from scratch in just a few weeks, especially if it’s the holidays. Even if they agree, they won’t put much time into it. Provide your referees with the business letter template that includes the addressee’s information and specific bullet points of your interests and accomplishments that you would like the referee to mention in the letter. Here’s more tips for getting great recommendation letters. (Note: this advice was modified based on the comments from NAFA members below)

2. Prepare a detailed outline of your personal statement before writing. Break down the personal statement questions and brainstorm responses and examples for each one. By writing a detailed outline first, the statement writing process will be much faster. Here’s more tips on writing a winning personal statement.

3. Pick a very specific idea for your project proposal. It’s much easier to write a project proposal for a very specific task, than a proposal for an idea with a wide scope. For example, instead of proposing to do a comparative study of how signatory countries will address the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement, propose to study how one country plans to specifically address emissions reductions in 2016 (Bhutan, Costa Rica, Ethiopia and Morocco might be some interesting case studies). A very specific project makes for a focused-sounding proposal, and you can typically change course once you have the fellowship if you have the capacity to widen the project’s scope. Here’s more tips for preparing a strong project proposal.

4. Find a former fellow to review your application. No one can give you better feedback on your application than a former fellow, and they are typically responsive and happy to help. Use LinkedIn to get introduced to an alumnus, or ask the fellowship organization for an introduction. Here’s tips for contacting former fellows and using LinkedIn advanced search to find them.

5. Don’t make the same mistakes everyone else does. To win, your fellowship application must stand out. A common mistake that applicants make is approaching the application like it’s a needs-based award rather than a merit-based award. Often applicants focus too much on previous experiences and accomplishments, and not enough on what they plan to accomplish on the fellowship and why that experience will advance their career. Here’s more tips on what not to say in your fellowship application.

6. Have your Mom proofread your application. Professors gone for the holidays? Friends MIA? Don’t forget Mom is always there to lend a hand, and she will be thrilled by your initiative. Who better to look for misspellings and grammatical mistakes than the woman who helped you learn to read and write? Ironically, you might just get a few extra loads of free laundry this break just for asking for her help.

Find more tips in my Step-by-Step Guide for a Competitive Fellowship Application! Best of luck!

© Victoria Johnson 2015, all rights reserved.

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  • Ashley Floyd Kuntz

    These are great tips, but it’s important to note that the first one violates national ethical guidelines if you’re a student at a NAFA-affiliated university. If your institution is a NAFA (National Association of Fellowship Advisors) member, you cannot draft a copy of the letter and give it to a recommender. This is clearly outlined in the code of ethics your university representative agrees to. Even if your institution isn’t a member, I would advise against drafting the letter. As someone who has served as a national reviewer for prestigious awards, it’s pretty obvious when students, particularly undergraduates, do this. The letters are just not as strong as letters written by faculty members. What you CAN do to ensure timely, strong recommendation letters is send the recommender an email stating what the scholarship criteria entail, which specific criterion you want s/he to focus on in the letter, and why you think s/he would be a good person to address this criterion. Be specific. If the scholarship wants people who have demonstrated a commitment to community service, tell the recommender you are asking him/her to recommend you because s/he observed the day of service you planned and remind her/him of the details (more than 200 volunteers devoted 80 hours of service and we partnered with 15 community non-profits). In this way, you’re “priming the pump” without attempting to write the letter yourself. The faculty member will have all she needs to write a strong letter, and she’ll write it using the conventions and language appropriate for her profession.

    • Vicki Johnson

      Hello Ashely, thanks for your comment and suggestions! I would like to ensure that it is understood that this tip is NOT suggesting that a student forge a Referee’s signature to a recommendation letter. We are simply suggesting preparing a first draft in order to save the Referee significant time when there is a very close deadline. We typically recommend as you have suggested that applicants provide Referees bullet points of skills and accomplishments that can be highlighted. However, it is a very common practice for professors and employers to ask applicants to provide a draft letter that they can then edit, sign and submit, and it understandable why. During fellowship application season, some professors and mentors receives tens of requests for recommendation letters for not only fellowship applications but also job, graduate school and award applications. It is very difficult for Referees to meet this demand and they want to help multiple students. Referees should know that they MUST edit the letter substantially, put it in their own words, sign the letter and submit it. By signing the letter, they are verifying the letter is their words. The vast majority of fellowships require that recommendation letters be confidential, so the student is not privy to the final letter and the Referee can be frank.

      We are open to more discussion about this topic, particularly the experience of fellowship applicants in requesting recommendation letters!

      • Dana Kuchem

        Vicki, even a student drafting a letter for a recommender (not passing the letter off as a forged original) is simply bad fellowship advice. It is also explicitly against the code of ethics for the National Association of Fellowship Advisors, as Ashley notes above, which member institutions pledge to adhere to. She also makes a great point about student-drafted letters: they are very obvious during selection/review of candidates, and it raises a red flag over the entire application.

        Students: drafting your own letters is against ethical guidelines and best practices in the fellowship world. Just don’t do it! The best way to be a strong fellowship candidate is to plan ahead and seek advice from faculty and fellowship advisors you trust. No “hacks” needed!

        • Vicki Johnson

          In recognition of these comments, I have changed the advice above. We certainly don’t want to give advice that will put students in violation of NAFA guidelines. We are open to further comments about drafting recommendation letters, and about the NAFA guidelines. Let’s keep the discussion going!