How to Win a Boren Fellowship

Dec 28, 2011

The Boren Awards for International Study, funded by the National Security Education Program (NSEP), provide fellowships of $20K to $30K to provide undergraduate and graduate students the opportunity to study the language and culture of countries normally underrepresented in U.S. study abroad programs. It’s an opportunity to learn a less commonly taught language such as Arabic, Chinese, Korean, Portuguese, Russian, or Swahili, among others. In return, Boren Fellows are expected to work for at least one year in a Federal agency with national security responsibilities, such as the Departments of Defense, the Department of Homeland Security, the State Department or the CIA. It’s no wonder the Boren Fellowship is a highly competitive award, providing an opportunity for both study abroad and a career in the Federal government.

The key to winning a Boren Fellowship is crafting an application that meets the needs of the program. The NSEP asks applicants to identify how their fellowship project will contribute to U.S. national security goals, as well further your academic and professional growth.  Even though the NSEP has a broad definition of national security, going beyond issues such as terrorism and peacekeeping to include topics such as sustainable development and population growth, it’s imperative that your fellowship essay has a strong focus on an issue that is of critical interest to U.S. national security. First, be well-read on security issues that are in the news: the New York Times and The Economist are a good place to start.

In your essay, specifically discuss how your project will contribute to goals that will make Americans and the homeland safer in the short and long-term. Focusing on a topic in current events can be an advantage, however more obscure security topics may be eye-catching if you know the topic well. Reach out to experts in your proposed topic area who can comment on your essay, including professors, journalists, academics in think tanks, and Federal government employees working in national security. Even though the NESP allows a broad definition for national security, they will more likely choose an applicant with a clearly defined topic that will advance U.S. security interests. For example, if you are studying public health and are proposing a topic such as infectious disease control in developing countries, be sure to find a U.S. hook, such as the impact of the regional insecurity caused by infectious disease on anti-terrorism efforts or the U.S. role in UN peacekeeping.

Also, in your essays, do not forget to discuss what you plan to do in your career after the fellowship and be specific. If you are not sure what you plan to do, choose your ideal path and discuss that goal with confidence that you will reach it. There are not many opportunities like the Boren Fellowship, so discuss how this unique fellowship will help you reach that goal. An applicant with clearly defined career goals is much more likely to secure a fellowship than an applicant who expresses that they are simply exploring options.

The Boren Fellowship deadline is January 31, 2013 and the Boren Scholarship deadline is February 13, 2013. If you have any questions about developing a strong essay, please contact us and we’ll be happy to answer them!

© Victoria Johnson 2011, all rights reserved.