How to Write a Fellowship Application Essay: Tips to Get Started

Jul 19, 2018

How to Write a Fellowship Application Essay: Tips to Get Started

By Deborah Vieyra

If the thought of starting your fellowship application essay is causing you to procrastinate in ways that you had never imagined before, you are not alone. Simply getting started is one of the most difficult parts of the process. The longer you think about it, the larger the task seems to grow.

Here’s some advice to those battling to get started—don’t. Yes, you heard me correctly. The way to help yourself out is to delay the writing process, just for a moment. This may be opposite to all the advice you have been given so far that touts the worth of just getting going. I’m not suggesting that you don’t get going. Rather, I propose that you might not be ready to start writing just yet. You might still be in the research and planning phase and should allow yourself enough time to explore this part of the process.

If you’re having trouble getting started, here are 3 things you can do to set yourself up to begin writing.

#1 Understand the mission of the fellowship

You may have found out about the fellowship you are applying for through your school, online or through a recommendation from a friend or colleague. Whatever way you arrived at this new dream of yours, it’s time to ask yourself if you really understand the purpose and mission of the fellowship you are applying for. Until you know what the specific mandate of a fellowship, you will not know how to begin structuring your essay, or if the fellowship you are applying to is even the right one for you.

The Fulbright program, for example, was set up to fund the “promotion of international good will through the exchange of students in the fields of education, culture, and science.” International diplomacy and good will between nations is at the core of this award. This is vital information when it comes to structuring your application essay. How will you and your work contribute to the overall mission of this program?

#2 Your “why”

Once you’ve done your research on the mission of the fellowship you are applying to, it’s time to turn inward. What is your personal mission, and how will the fellowship help you achieve your goals? I would suggest getting out a paper and pen or chalkboard and visually brainstorming the answers to these questions. This will spur creative thinking as well as provide an outline for you when you start writing your application.

Think of the “why” in two distinct categories. The first is within the context of your professional life. Ask yourself what impact this fellowship will have on your career goals. Unless you are in the academic world, taking time out to pursue a fellowship can feel risky. It is important that you understand the implications of this and can justify your decision to a selection committee. The second category is why this fellowship matters to your personal life goals. To answer this, think back to the mission of the fellowship that you researched in point 1. How do your personal beliefs align with the objectives of this fellowship?

#3 What makes you a great candidate for the fellowship

Now it’s time to bring it all together. Brainstorm how to make yourself stand out from other candidates. Your first port of call is to think about your background. What have you achieved academically, or within your community that is appropriate to this fellowship? Have you served on committees or volunteered in organizations? What leadership roles have you had? When the selection committee reads your essay, you want them to feel like they have found an ideal fit. What can you include to make sure they feel that way?

Once you have allowed yourself enough space to brainstorm, you will have the materials necessary to start writing your essay. You won’t feel like you are starting from scratch with nothing to work with.

Good luck! I hope you find your perfect match.

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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