A national scholarship or fellowship (sometimes called a nationally competitive scholarship) is a scholarship awarded to students from throughout the United States, as opposed to one aimed at students attending a particular educational institution. Applicants for these awards participate in national—or, in some instances, regional--competitions. These scholarships are generally administered by a private organization, such as the Rhodes Trust, or a government entity (e.g., the Truman Foundation). Some of them (e.g., Udall, Pickering) provide financial support for undergraduates. However, many of these scholarships are geared toward graduate studies.
How competitive are national scholarships and fellowships?
Some scholarships are extremely competitive; for example, hundreds of people apply for the 32 Rhodes Scholarships awarded in the United States each year. Other programs, although still seeking the very best applicants, are much larger in scope, and many more students receive funding from them each year (e.g., NSF Graduate Research Fellowship, SMART scholarship, Fulbright). Initially, your most important consideration as a potential applicant should be the particular purpose of each scholarship program and how it aligns with your interests, along with the program’s criteria and eligibility requirements. For example, if you are interested in living and working in Asia for a year, then you should look into the Luce Scholarship. If you do not want to pursue a career in public service, then the Truman Scholarship is not for you.
What is institutional endorsement, and when is it required?
Some scholarships require you to be nominated (“endorsed”) by your institution; you may not apply directly. These include the Beinecke, Boren, Carnegie, Churchill, Fulbright, Goldwater, Luce, Marshall, Mitchell, Rhodes, Truman, and Udall scholarships. If institutional endorsement is required, there will be a date by which you need to submit your application to the appropriate office at U.Va.; this deadline usually precedes the scholarship’s national deadline by at least a month. (In the Center’s scholarships database, U.Va. deadlines for these scholarships are indicated as “internal,” as opposed to “national.”) If you apply for endorsement, a U.Va. committee will review your application and decide whether to endorse your application. An interview is usually part of this process. The Center’s database of national scholarships and fellowships includes many that do not require endorsement. We encourage you to seek guidance on these scholarships from the Center and, if time permits, we will be happy to provide advice on your application.
What if I have already graduated from the University of Virginia? Can I still apply for one of these scholarships?
Students who have graduated may still be eligible to apply for national scholarships, depending on the particular scholarship’s criteria. For instance, students may apply for the Marshall Scholarship within two years of graduation. Recent graduates applying for a Fulbright have the choice of applying independently or through U.Va.; the Center frequently advises these applicants, time permitting.
How can I prepare to apply for a national scholarship?
There are certain things you can do throughout your undergraduate years that will help you if you decide to apply for a national scholarship. Doing them will in no way ensure that you will be nominated for the scholarship, much less that you will receive it. However, pursuing them will stand you in good stead regardless of what your future holds.
Academics first. Keep in mind that many national scholarships are for graduate school; even those scholarships that are more experiential (Carnegie, Fulbright, Luce), consider academic preparation and achievement as important factors. You should make sure you are pursuing a rigorous academic program that will make you a strong candidate for further studies after you graduate from U.Va.
Some scholarship applications will ask you to describe your research experience (Goldwater, Churchill). Some set a minimum cumulative grade point average for applicants (e.g., 3.7 for the Marshall). All scholarships require letters of recommendation from professors (Rhodes requires 5 to 8 letters of recommendation, of which 4 must be written by people who have taught you). Ask yourself:
Am I taking the courses I will need to attend graduate school and/or undertake my proposed project?
Am I taking challenging courses?
Do I plan on writing a thesis or engaging in a major research project (e.g., one funded by a Harrison Award or other research grant)?
Am I developing meaningful relationships with faculty members?
Other activities. Many scholarships look for evidence of leadership and service in addition to academic achievement (e.g., Luce, Rhodes, Truman). Usually, your leadership and service activities will take place outside the classroom, and possibly away from U.Va. (e.g., volunteering for a political campaign, interning for a nonprofit organization or a government agency). Leadership may or may not carry with it a title: as you figure out what you care about, look for ways you can make a meaningful difference in that area. If you start a new organization at U.Va., ask yourself whether it will still be around after you graduate.
Read and stay informed. If you don’t already, start reading a good newspaper and weekly news magazine. Pick up a paper copy of the New York Times or Washington Post once in a while and read it cover to cover; don’t just rely on the on-line version. Read books outside your field.
Learn to write clearly and speak with precision. The personal statement and the interview are both critical parts of most scholarship selection processes. Don’t shy away from opportunities to improve your writing and public speaking abilities.
We encourage you to use the Center’s scholarships database to learn more about the many opportunities available. Our database entries provide general information on over 50 scholarships, including eligibility, criteria, and deadlines, as well as links to scholarship web sites that provide more detailed information.
The next step is to set up, via email, a meeting with the Center’s director or assistant director to discuss scholarship and fellowship possibilities. We encourage you to meet with us early in your time at U.Va., so you can start planning ahead. For example, many scholarship deadlines fall in September of your fourth year, so you should meet with us in the spring of your third year to start preparing.
It’s never too early to look into scholarship possibilities!