How to Think Like a Fellowship Winner

Aug 30, 2018

By Deborah Vieyra

If you are wondering what the greatest challenge to a successful scholarship application is, you may have to look no further than the very organ that is posing that question. Your mind can be your greatest ally, and an ever-scheming nemesis. You have one job — to not let your mind get the better of you. Allowing yourself to take the time to focus on attaining the right mindset for your success is an all too crucial part of winning a fellowship.

Think of it like this.  If you were a professional sportsman, an ability to run fast, jump high, hit far or catch well will put you on the road to success. These skills are of little use to you however, if you do not have the temperament to stay in the game when it’s not going your way. Talent will only get you so far. Your ability to work well with your teammates or be so dedicated to your dreams that you will practice even when you don’t feel like it, is what will take you the rest of the way.

The road to securing a fellowship is not dissimilar to this. Before you even sit down to write that personal statement, your first task is to believe in your ability to succeed. Here are three ways to help you take yourself from someone with a lot of potential, to someone with an acceptance letter in hand.

#1 It’s about you, not your numbers

Of course, a perfect GPA or a resume filled with awards and prizes can be beneficial on your journey to receiving that acceptance letter. But believe it or not, external accolades are not the most important part of your candidacy. What is most important is your leadership capacity, demonstration of your hard work and commitment, and your compassion for other people. These elements are what make an impression on a fellowship selection committee. Make sure that you demonstrate these in your personal statement and in your interview. Don’t try to inflate your sense of importance. Be genuine. Demonstrate what you are passionate about and your empathy for others by providing specific examples of your commitments in your work, study and personal time. Authentically caring for your work, yourself and for others is more valuable than any award you have received.

#2 Ignore the stats

While it can be helpful to look at how competitive different schools and fellowships are, don’t let the statistics discourage you from applying. You can’t win a fellowship if you don’t apply! You might be surprised to learn that some people who apply for these opportunities are ill-prepared and don’t spend enough time on the things that matter – like understanding the mission of the fellowship, speaking with former fellows and putting adequate effort into their personal statement. So, don’t worry about being “the best” applicant, focus on being “the most prepared.” Check out ProFellow’s articles on fellowship application tips, which feature the secrets of fellowship winners.

#3 Optimism breeds success

You may have heard tropes like “It’s not your aptitude but your attitude that determines your altitude.” You may have heard these so often, in fact, that they sound more than a little cliched. The reality is, these sayings are used as often as they are for a reason — they are true! You will not put in the effort needed to win if you do not believe that you can. This doesn’t mean that you should just assume you’ll win if you apply. It does mean that you must back your own efforts, know you have the potential to do well and, most importantly, allow yourself to believe that you have a right to. If you do not stand behind your own potential, it will be impossible to convince an external body that they should.

You have as much right as anyone to success, provided you are willing to put in the work necessary to accomplish your goals. By keeping your dreams as your north star, you do not have to doubt that you are “good enough” to achieve them.

Here’s the simple truth — thinking like a fellowship winner is the best way to become one.

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.

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