By Deborah Vieyra
In a gracious act of serendipity, the Thanksgiving break occurs right at crunch time for fellowship application season. Especially if you are currently studying or in full-time employment, the task of finding the time to complete an application can feel almost impossible. The Thanksgiving weekend gives you the breathing room to ensure that your application turns out the best it can be.
My advice? Don’t waste this precious time! While most people are out shopping and standing in lines on Black Friday looking for holiday sales, you can spend that quiet time working on your application. Trust me, in the long run, you’ll far prefer an acceptance letter in your inbox to a cheap deal on electronics.
Here’s how you can make the most of your Thanksgiving break so that you can ensure that you have a lot to give thanks for when your application is successful.
#1 Create your application plan
You know the old saying — fail to plan and you plan to fail. While it may feel cliched, it couldn’t be more accurate when it comes to constructing a fellowship application. Once you have decided which fellowships you will be applying to, your next step is to make a checklist of all the relevant materials needed for your application. Figure out how much of this you can get done on the Thanksgiving weekend, and what will have to be left for office hours. Plot the tasks on a timeline so that you can ensure that you’re not scrambling when it comes to deadline time. Then get going!
#2 Start your personal statement
It’s sort of universally accepted that the personal statement is the most challenging part of a fellowship application. What a task! You have to summarize your entire being into a word count that will somehow make you stand out from the crowd. What do you include? What do you omit? Perhaps most importantly, how do you even get started? Use the Thanksgiving weekend to write out a draft of your personal statement, starting with an outline. Then give yourself free reign to create. Write freely about your background, career goals, and your motivations for pursuing the opportunity. From there, you can refine. That’s what initial drafts are for — gathering raw material that you can sculpt. If you put too much pressure on yourself to say the right thing from the get-go, you may land up saying very little at all.
#3 Make requests for recommendation letters
Your recommendation letters are a crucial part of your application. They give the rest of your application credibility and allow you to showcase the influence you have had on others. While you may not receive your recommendation letters over the Thanksgiving weekend — after all, not everyone is as diligent as you are — this is the perfect time to start drafting requests. Remember that many people who you request letters from may have incredibly busy schedules. In your requests, ensure that you outline any requirements specific to the fellowship you are applying to. In some cases, recommendation letters have to be submitted through an online portal. Make sure that your potential referees are aware of the process they have to follow, and don’t forget to thank them for the time they spend assisting you.
While you are working away, take a little time to enjoy a Thanksgiving meal with your family. If you play your cards right, it might even be a good opportunity to bounce some ideas around for your application with the people who know you best.
Deborah Vieyra is a Fulbright alumna from South Africa who completed her MA in Applied Theatre Arts at the University of Southern California. She now works as a writer, proofreader and performer in Vancouver, Canada.
© Victoria Johnson 2018, all rights reserved.