Why a Fellowship’s Competitiveness Doesn’t Matter

Dec 06, 2018

By Deborah Vieyra

“This program accepts approximately 5% of its applicants.”

Have you ever heard these words and become completely disillusioned with your chances of winning your dream fellowship? While many prestigious fellowships are indeed highly competitive, this is by no means a reason to give up. In many cases, neither you nor the other candidates are privy to the reasons behind why a selection committee makes the decisions that it does. If you give up before you even start, you will have no idea what opportunities you are missing out on.

If you’re wondering if it’s worth the bother, I’ll let you in on a little secret: it is. This is why the competitiveness of a fellowship doesn’t really matter and should never be used as an excuse to halt your dreams. Here’s why:

1) You can’t win unless you try

You know all the cliches: You miss a hundred percent of the shots you don’t take. You can’t win unless you buy a ticket. Success favors the brave. Well, all of these ideas are so well trodden for a simple reason: they’re true. Here’s the reality — everyone is daunted by the possibility of failure, but rather than this be a reason for you not to try, it should be a reason for you to try harder. Knowing that a fellowship is competitive should make you want to submit the best possible application that you are capable of, not a reason to stop trying at all. The last thing you want is to look back on your life and wonder what might have happened if you had the courage to get that application in.

2) Many factors are out of your (and other applicants’) control.

Selection committees are trying to build diverse cohorts. You never know whom exactly they might need to complete their puzzle. They may be hoping for an applicant exactly like you to round out their cohort! The reasons behind why specific cohorts are picked are enigmatic. You won’t ever know exactly why you were (or weren’t) picked for an award. The truth is, many selection factors are out of your control — so why not go for it? If you do not get accepted, it’s far from a personal failure. You’re either what they’re looking for or you’re not. Provided you do your best to put in as much effort as possible into making your application a success, the rest is out of your hands.

3) The process itself is valuable.

Regardless of the outcome, going through a fellowship application process is by no means a bad use of your time. Getting good at pitching yourself in a written application is a valuable skill that you will need throughout your career. Added to this, the process of constructing a personal statement is never a waste. It will allow you to refine your goals in life and understand how you have reached this particular juncture on your journey. If nothing else, composing a fellowship application is a hands-on learning experience. Treat it as such. If the outcome is positive, that’s an added bonus.

What have you go to lose? If the answer is a few hours of your life, don’t see the process as a waste of time. Rather, it’s a chance to consolidate your goals and learn how to promote yourself. If you are concerned that you will take a knock in self-esteem if you do not get accepted, understand that the factors involved are truly beyond your control.

I encourage you to give it a go.

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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