The primary reason for applying for a fellowship may seem obvious: they pay you money if you win one.
In fact they do pay pretty well: many of those listed in this book, especially those on the national level, are worth from five to twenty thousand dollars per year; even those restricted to TSU students can be worth thousands of dollars.
More importantly, most of these scholarships and fellowships offer educational opportunities which are literally beyond price: a year doing a project of your own, two years studying at a distinguished foreign university, or a summer interning under a recognized international expert.
But the most important reason of all may be the least obvious. To understand it fully requires some appreciation of the relationship of the typical TSU student to "the real world." As a TSU student, you are expected to absorb information and to demonstrate your mastery of it in various forms, primarily in exams, standardized tests, and essays.
Unfortunately, you are soon going to leave this world behind: you are within a few years of taking your last test, ever--even if you go on to graduate school or professional school.
In the "real world," which you will shortly enter, the people who get to do things are the people who can develop an idea or a proposal, then take it before a board or panel and convince the board that a)the idea needs to be done, and b)the proposer is the one who should do it. The areas in which these skills are applicable range from obtaining funding for an entrepreneurial enterprise, to getting support for an academic grant application, to convincing the United Way to include your charitable organization under its umbrella.
Although there are many courses at TSU that will provide you with skills to assist you in these proposals, there are no courses that teach you how to combine all these elements in a successful application. The best learning experience is experience itself--and that is what your scholarship application will be.
So whether you actually get the scholarship for which you apply is important, but perhaps not the most important part of the application process. We in the Scholarships Office are continually being told by applicants (both successful and unsuccessful) that the scholar- ship application process provided a valuable time to look back and assess strengths and weaknesses, and to look forward and decide what an applicant really wanted to do with his or her life.
CRITERIA FOR SELECTION
Nearly all the major scholarships require excellent academics as a starting point. Exactly what "excellent" means in this context can vary from one scholarship to another; the Marshall application requires at least a 3.7, but most other scholarships don't specify a minimum. In unusual circumstances, we've had Fulbright winners as low as 2.8. The Watson has no minimum GPA requirement, but grades are seen as evidence that a student has the commitment to see a project through to completion, and a lower GPA has been seen as a negative by the TSU selection committee, if not the national Watson panel.
Most scholarships also want some evidence of extra academic interests and commitments as well. These can range from volunteer work to an important hobby. In most cases these interests serve to help satisfy a selection committee's concern that a candidate is likely to be lonely if he or she doesn't have good skills in meeting and mingling with other people. Very few prestigious scholarships want candidates, no matter how bright, who will spend all their time studying. Adjusting to an unfamiliar environment is not a minor problem; there are even reports of recent Rhodes Scholars (the very archetype of the well-adjusted) having psychological problems during their first months at Oxford.
Leadership is a desirable characteristic in many competitions, most notably, of course, the Rhodes and the Truman. Even the Marshall (traditionally the most academically-based of the major scholarships) indicates an interest in selecting applicants who will be publicly visible in their fields in years to come. Other scholarships like the Watson look for a different kind of leadership -- the ability to be a self-starter and to lead oneself to interests, speculations and conclusions which may be far from those of the standard college student, or even the typical Rice student.
You won't see communication skills listed on the requirements for major scholarships, but lack of those skills will almost certainly limit your chances of being successful. Course work that sharpens your ability to write clearly and vigorously will be an asset, as will course work and other types of experience that strengthen your interviewing ability. Do not rely solely on your own judgment in these areas. Get help from peers and faculty members. According to a former Director of the Watson Foundation, the single most commonly occurring factor among successful applicants is that they had a "mentor," usually a faculty member, who helped them through the writing and interviewing process.
THE APPLICATION PROCESS
Nearly every major scholarship application involves several common parts: the application form, a statement of purpose, a personal statement and the letters of recommendation. Some also include requests for photographs, medical certificates, birth certificates, and language proficiency certificates, as well; many of the most prestigious require an interview. The Application form is usually the most straightforward of the docu- ments; you'll be asked to list biographical information, academic history, references, and other information which may be pertinent to your application. The most important things to remember about application forms are: 1) pick them up early, so you can get a good overall picture of everything you'll need to do for your application, and 2) TYPE the form with no strikeouts, no grammar errors, no misspellings and no typos. Neatness counts. (It's usually a good idea to Xerox a copy of the form to practice on before you attempt the final version.)
The Personal Statement is required, in one form or other, in every major scholarship application, not to mention applications for medical school, law school, business school, and graduate school. Simply put, you are asked to write (usually in about a thousand words) a brief description of yourself and how you got to be what you are. It is one of the hardest writing assignments you'll ever attempt, and there are almost no college courses which help you to develop skill in autobiography. If you do it right, your reader will get a clear (but charming) picture of you, warts and all. If you do it wrong, you may look like a braggart or, alternately, a wimp.
You should aim for a thematic narrative which deals with the development of your interest in the topic discussed in your project proposal, rather than a mere listing of when you were born, where you went to school, etc. For example, a recent successful Marshall candidate began his personal statement of interest in electrical engineering with an account of how he wired a tree outside his house to light up at Halloween (age 8). Once again, the help of a faculty member, especially one who knows something about writing, is invaluable here. Start early; it will take longer than you think to perfect this part of your application.
The book Graduate Admissions Essays--What Works, What Doesn't, and Why, available in Academic Advising, gives useful advice and examples of many types of good essays. We also have winning Rhodes, Fulbright, Marshall and Watson proposals from the past for review by prospective candidates.
The Project Proposal (alternately called "proposed course of study," "research plan," or a similar term, depending upon the scholarship) is somewhat more straightforward. On the other hand, the amount of time required in the actual writing of the personal statement is easily balanced by the time spent in research for the project proposal.
The more compelling your reasons are for wanting to study at the particular university listed in your application, the more likely it is that the granting body will seriously consider your application. While some fellowships, like the Rotary, may be content with simply the state- ment that "Oxford has a good reputation in history, and I'd like to broaden my education," the Marshall, the Rhodes, and Fulbright people will want to know exactly which degree you'll pursue at which college, which tutors you'd like to read with, and what their current fields of research are.
Your first step will involve a good deal of library research. If you're interested in a foreign university, a good starting point is a Unesco publication,Study Abroad/Etudes a l'etranger/Estudios en el extra njero. More specific information on Commonwealth universities can be found in the Commonwealth Universities Yearbook. Look for books on universities you plan to attend and information on countries.
Once you've done your homework, your next step is to talk to faculty members in your proposal field. TSU faculty members have a lot of experience in foreign universities; many of them have studied or taught overseas, perhaps in the very department you plan to attend. It is likely that, if someone in an overseas university is doing good enough work for you to apply for a major scholarship to study there, someone at TSU will know about it.
In some cases, it is possible for a prospective scholarship candidate to investigate Oxford and Cambridge by using material which has thoughtfully been left by previous candidates. An Oxford Examination Decrees and Regulations, for instance, lists the exact requirements for all undergraduate degrees at Oxford-- handy information if you need to find out how much philosophy you should know before you're ready to read for the Honours degree in PPE (Philosophy, Politics, and Economics, the standard "Rhodes course").
Once you've found out everything you can about the university in which you propose to study and the specific course you which to pursue, it becomes your job in the Project Proposal to show why this particular goal is the logical culmination of your intellectual life to date. (In most cases it will increase your chances if you can show that the particular field you wish to pursue with your scholarship is not available, or not as well done, in an American university.) Thus your Project Proposal should complement your Personal Statement, the latter dealing with your view of yourself from this point backward in time, the former with your academic and professional career from this point forward.
The Letters of Recommendation which will support your application are (after your transcript and personal statement/project proposal) probably the third most important part of your application. Some scholarships like the Watson require only two letters; some like the Rhodes as many as eight. (Their importance does not vary with the number of the letters, however.)
When you choose someone to write a letter of recommendation for you, there are several points to consider. First, if appropriate, try to get a good letter on every pertinent point of your application--if it's solely academic, letters from academicians will be enough; if you're going for a Rhodes or Truman, you'll need letters which can attest to other good characteristics in addition to academics. Second, where appropriate, the more important a person, the stronger the impact of a good letter (a Rhodes letter from a Senator is good; from the President, better). However, a weaker letter from an important personage is not nearly as good as a strong letter from a lesser personage. Be sure that your recommendation writers know you well enough to write a substantial, convincing letter. Third, it helps if your letter writers can write well. You can help them by giving them a copy of your proposal and discussing it with them at least two weeks before the letter deadline; not only will they be able to help you refine it,but they will be able to discuss in convincing detail the thoughtful nature of your approach to the application. Additionally, many of the professors who are known to write good letters will receive a lot of requests during the fall semester, so an early start will ensure that your letter gets the attention it needs.
RECOMMENDATION LETTERS FOR MAJOR SCHOLARSHIPS
Faculty letters are an important element in a student's application for a a major scholarship. All the good candidates will, by definition, have exemplary transcripts, long lists of outside activities, and a good project proposal. The first two items do not reveal much of the applicant's personality, and the project proposal does so only secondarily. It is the job of the letter-writer to bring life to the factual details of a student application. While there are as many ways to write good letters as there are good writers, there are a few points which many good letters have in common:
Specific details: In his article on "The Rhodes Image," Adam Smith (a former Rhodes Scholar and member of the New York state selection committee) writes, "All of the letters say the candidate is wonderful. All of the teachers say the candidate is very bright." The letters which convince a panel are those which provide a specific example and allow the panel to make up its own mind as to whether a candidate is wonderful and bright. "Show, don't tell" is as important for supporting letters as it is for fiction.
Real knowledge of the student: If a teacher knows a student only as an "A" in her grade book, then she can't write a good recommendation. TSU students have an advantage here, since our classes tend to be smaller than other schools'. But be sure that your recommender remembers you as well as you remember her. (This is another reason why a student should make an appointment and talk the proposal over with the prof.)
Good Writing: Adam Smith talks of reading nomination letters and looking for "those soft, little pauses between the lines" that indicate reservations on the part of the recommender. Those pauses can also be caused by writers who don't quite say what they want to say. Scholarships have been lost because professors wrote letters which could be interpreted in other ways than the writer intended. ("You'll be very lucky indeed if you can get Mr. Smith to do any work in your laboratory.") It's probably a good idea for a professor to have another faculty member read over his nomination letter so unconscious double-meanings, sexism, and so forth can be caught before the letter goes to a committee.
The Interview: A few major scholarships (the Churchill, for example) do not require an interview. In others, like the Mellon, you will have a screening interview only at the higher levels of the selection process. For most major scholarships, however, the interview is an intrinsic part of the application process from the beginning. In any case, if an interview is required it will not be considered merely a perfunctory part of the application; almost without exception the interview is the screen that determines who goes on to the next level.
Interview techniques and approaches can vary greatly. The Watson interviews, conducted by the Director of the Watson Foundation, are usually one-on-one discussions about the proposed topic; they tend to be very low-pressure(at least as far as the Watson representative is concerned).
At the other end of the scale are the interviews for Rhodes and Truman Scholarships. Since Rhodes Scholars are representing themselves to be Renaissance persons, at least in the minds of the interviewing committes, and the Truman candidates are preparing for careers in the public sphere("politics" in the broadest sense), the interviews tend to be comprehensive and aggressive. In the Rhodes especially, you may be asked literally any question, especially unanswerable ones ("Was the Vietnam War overreported?"; "Should genetic research be patentable?") You may have your answer interrupted by another question. You are expected to keep your cool and to answer as well as you can. You should be able to demonstrate that you recognize the issues involved, but if you don't know the answer, say so.
Various professors who are in charge of TSU nominations for scholarships can provide mock interviews to help candidates prepare for the stresses of real interviews. Often this is arranged through the Office Of Academic Advising.
What are my odds? That varies, of course, by scholarship. For the TSU-only scholarships, your odds are logically somewhat higher than for many of the national scholarships.
The Marshall and the Rhodes are about the most competitive. Once you're nominated, you become one of about 1200 applicants who receive the nominations of their universities. Since there are 32 Rhodes Scholarships and 40 Marshall Scholarships awarded annually, your odds are about 30/1200, or one in forty.
In any case, there's one thing you can be assured of: if you don't apply, you can't win. And if you don't apply, you will miss, potentially, a significant part of your TSU education.