Interview with Rebecca Lippman, Accepted Admissions Consultant [Show Summary]
Accepted’s own Rebecca Lippman is a veritable fountain of knowledge when it comes to scholarships and grants, and in this podcast she shares tips on how to find scholarship opportunities and how to position yourself to win them.
Everything You Need to Know About Grad School Scholarships and Grants [Show Notes]
Our guest today is Rebecca Lippman, who recently joined Accepted’s team of admissions consultants. However, she is here today mostly in her capacity as scholarship expert, having personally secured funding for her masters and doctoral studies in Comparative Literature, as well has having worked for 3.5 years in UCLA’s Scholarship Resource Center. Let’s learn her secrets.
Can you tell us a little about your background and how you became interested in Comparative Lit? [1:53]
I knew from a young age that I wanted to study abroad and learn another language. I grew up in Oakland and heard a lot of Spanish at school. I went to UCLA because I knew there would be plenty of opportunities to study abroad and get a double major at the same time, and Comparative Literature was one of the majors where I could do that. That was how I was thinking when I was 18! I did stick with it, however, and learned Portuguese and Spanish which allowed me to have access to research in literature and film I wouldn’t have had access to otherwise.
You earned your masters in the University of Cambridge in Latin American Studies. Why there for Latin American Studies, and how did you get fully funded for a humanities masters degree? [3:46]
Cambridge has a Latin American Studies center that has experts in Latin American film. At the end of my senior year I was thinking what I wanted to do. I really liked film and thought it would be neat to keep studying film, but I wanted a regional focus. Most schools have a language/literature department and then a film department. But Cambridge had everything in one department, which is primarily why I applied there. In terms of funding I also applied to Cambridge knowing they had the Gates Cambridge Scholarship available. I was a finalist but didn’t get it, and was instead offered a large, partial scholarship. It was great because I did not have to work for that funding.
When we talk about “Fully funded” does that mean tuition, living expenses, everything? Or is it just tuition? Also, does part of that funding require work – TA’ing or working in some other capacity? [5:49]
I wouldn’t compare it to a full-time salary in any other sector, but when I got into UCLA for the PhD program in Comparative Literature I received a package which includes guaranteed TA-ships. You have 1-2 years where you don’t have to teach and can focus on your coursework, and the rest of the funding includes a TA-ship which means you TA for your department and then tuition and fees are waived plus you get a living stipend.
While pursuing your PhD, you’ve been helping UCLA’s students get awards, grants and scholarships. Before we turn to some of the specific scholarships, what are 3 top tips for getting awards and grants? [7:17]
I would say being creative is incredibly important to identifying scholarships in the first place – not just looking at obvious places where scholarships might come from. If you use me as an example, if I’m in the Comparative Literature department at UCLA I am not just going to rely on the department resources to fund me. I am going to look for other areas, institutes, and private donors that care about what I am doing. So I need to think about who cares about what I care about, who cares about me, and who cares about the community I belong to. When you think broadly and creatively you have more access to resources. With my clients I say it makes sense to pick 25 different search terms. For me, these search terms could involve being a woman in humanities, being ½ Jewish, and having language skills. Some grants I received were federal grants to continue learning Portuguese. Some were also based on my person, identity or community, so I was looking in multiple places at the same time based on who I am. I stopped looking at just the university, and instead looked at the federal government and my community. With huge grants like Gates-Cambridge, that is an obvious aspect of a graduate application. The ones that are harder to see don’t show up when you are merely going through the motions; you have to look for them.
Organization is another. Many students discover amazing opportunities one week before they’re due. Some applications are more lengthy and time intensive than grad school applications, so preemptively keeping track of deadlines is really important.
Third is building a supportive community for yourself, mentors and allies who will write letters and recommendations for you that you can line up well before deadlines.
Let’s talk about a few specific scholarships and what you have found to be key to getting these grants: [12:35]
- NSF Graduate Research Fellowship – I try to find a way for students to articulate the value of research in broader terms – that are more specific than, “I’m going to save the world,” but articulating them for someone not an expert in your field. Science-oriented students sometimes forget to share things about their personal lives and accomplishments not related to their studies, so I focus on that as well because that is also really important.
- Fulbright – I’ve written them for myself and for many students going to many different countries. The scariest part is the letters of affiliation they need to acquire. Students have to prove they are in contact with community organizations or faculty or universities that will support them while abroad. Fulbright doesn’t want to drop students in the middle of nowhere without a support network, so that letter proves that you can do that, and build a sense of community. Students can reach out on their own and build that network, but they get nervous and think someone needs to give them permission to do so. The really together applicants have really good letters of affiliation. Make those relationships first, develop your project, and send it to them before they write the letter.
- Paul & Daisy Soros Fellowship for New Americans – This is an amazing opportunity and one of my favorites. I show it to a lot of undergrads who haven’t thought about scholarships, and it shows how creative you have to be in thinking about yourself. It is for the immigrant community and first generation, which is amazing, and recognizes very specific experience. It usually opens doors to how students think about opportunities, but is really competitive. The personal essay becomes so important and students really do put a lot of pressure on themselves. The Soros Fellowship is asking for self-reflection on what it means to be in the US as someone with relationships new to the US or not part of the US, and requires students to share detailed facts about themselves and tell a story at the same time. It is a very short essay that has a lot of things to accomplish. Make sure to use the exhibits with it if you can!
- Tang Scholarship – I learned about this scholarship from working with a particular student from Silicon Valley. I found the Silicon Valley Community Foundation (SVCF) that gathers a number of philanthropists in the area who have all created scholarships that are very specific to the donor. The Tang is for a Pacific-Islander or Asian-American who identifies as gay and is interested in continuing their studies in a number of different fields. SVCF is a great example of a philanthropy organization with different requirements from donors, where you see a really long list of scholarships all different from one another, but with the common thread that donors come from Silicon Valley. A few examples are the Latino Scholarship for Students in STEM, and Women at San Jose State University Scholarship.
- Cambridge Gates – With any scholarship created by a large donor it is very important to understand the mission of the organization, so before you write you want to understand what the organization is all about, and how you can show that your experiences and goals might match the mission. Storytelling is really important, though some students get so stuck in the technique of storytelling that they get off track. It really is a few drafts in that you get a better sense. Give yourself time. Write as much as you can and then redraft hopefully three times at least.
- Stanford Knight-Hennessy – This is a relatively new scholarship with a similar mission to Cambridge Gates. You need to look at the mission of Knight-Hennessy when applying, and if you choose to apply it speeds up the timeline. You have to apply for K-H pretty early in the summer or very early fall if you want to be considered for it, so you have to apply much earlier in the season than if you were just applying to Stanford. Timing is very important because you need letter writers to be ahead of the curve on the general application season. The prompt is a connect-the-dots prompt, which means be as clear as possible about where you ended up where you are. I like that it is such a clear prompt.
Many of the top scholarship also require an interview, like Schwarzman for example (See our interview with Dr. Rob Garris, Director of Admissions, for more info). Any advice on how to prepare? [37:34]
If you can set up mock interviews with people you know, do it. Time them, and make sure they are as short as the interview you are planning. Some are just 20-30 minutes long and you will have so many nerves that could get in the way of the 30 minute interview. If you can practice dealing with those nerves in a short timespan that is really helpful. Being up to date on current events is important, anything that might be a headline, as you might have someone who asks something which might surprise you. Finally, have a good strategy to help move on to the next question.
What do you wish I had asked you? [43:01]
No one has ever asked me about my writing, and so much of this work and what I do with Accepted clients is work through the writing process. Rarely do people ask if writing is hard for me, too, and yes, it is a lot of work. Generating content is the hardest part for me. So to get back to your question, “Is writing hard for you, too?” and the answer is, “Yes.”
• How to Get Into Grad School, and Get Jobs After Grad School
• The Most Important Asset in Grad School Applications: Time
• Schwarzman Scholars: For Global Leaders Interested in China
• Society of Women Engineers: The Community for Women in Engineering
• Paul & Daisy Soros Fellowship for New Americans: Funding, Community for Immigrants
• Getting Accepted to U.S. Universities from Abroad