Obtaining scholarships and fellowships for graduate school is more complicated than finding scholarships for an undergraduate degree, but that doesn’t mean there are no opportunities out there. Far from it! It does mean that more will be expected from your application materials. This makes sense, given that, after all, you are being trained to be an expert in your field (and your CV and essay should reflect that). Before you can prepare your brilliant application materials, you, of course, need to first find a scholarship or fellowship to which you can apply. Both steps – finding opportunities and applying to them – require strategy and work, but once you get the hang of things, it will all become much less onerous. To provide you with some guidance for this endeavor, we offer here five key tips to help you identify scholarship and fellowship opportunities and, once you have found them, submit a successful application.
A note on the difference between scholarships and fellowships
Scholarships can support you more broadly in your studies and often come with fewer expected deliverables from the recipients. Fellowships are usually awarded for research and sometimes involve research requirements or even structured programs. Fellowships are more common in graduate study because most money at this level is intended to support research. Regardless of whether you find a scholarship you want to pursue or a fellowship, the following tips will be helpful.
To find scholarships/fellowships, start local, then expand out to international.
When looking for scholarship and fellowship opportunities, it is important to think locally first, then expand your search outward. By this I mean, start looking first at your program, then your university, then your region, then your country, then internationally. This will ensure that you don’t overlook any opportunities. Your program is the obvious place to start, of course, but opportunities within the program might not be well advertised. This is where professors and fellow graduate students can help. Reach out to mentors in your area of study to see which scholarships/fellowships they have applied to. Also, make sure you have signed up for any university newsletters or social media that might advertise opportunities. Regionally, consider local chapters of major professional organizations. For example, the main professional organization for the study of literature is the Modern Language Association. However, this organization also has regional associations that offer additional resources for students in the area. You might also wish to look at the webpages/resources for similar university programs in the area. They might be advertising local, national, or even international scholarships/fellowships for which you could be eligible but that are not posted at your own institution.
Identify your specialties and the stakeholders for that area of study.
Funding at the graduate level all depends on which area within your field you plan to study. For example, within the very broad field of engineering, there are many areas, such as electrical, computer/software, chemical, and so on, to choose from. Within these specialties, there are even more areas to study. You might be in a chemical engineering program and work on manufacturing research, while a fellow engineer in your program is focused on nuclear energy. For identifying scholarships/fellowships, it will be important to have a clear sense of what areas of study you want to focus on and the professional organizations, corporations, government agencies, university departments, and other groups that might be invested in that type of work. This is especially the case if your work can intersect with other fields of study. A good example of this is environmental studies, for which there are centers and organizations around the country that concentrate on multiple fields that address environmental concerns (such as sociology, engineering, and legal). Funding from these types of multidisciplinary organizations should not be ignored.
Work smarter, not harder, to expand your scope and increase your chances.
At the beginning, applying to scholarships/fellowships might feel like a chore on top of all your other responsibilities. This isn’t helped by the fact that it is a numbers game, and even the most successful applicant will need to apply to many opportunities to see results. In fact, there was a recent trend on Twitter in which fellow academics shared their “failure CVs,” listing all the fellowships and awards they had applied to and didn’t get! That said, once you have completed one or two fellowship applications, you will begin to see the broad similarities between them, which will enable you to start reusing materials. In the broadest strokes possible, most scholarships/fellowships require some description of your current or planned research project(s) and a CV centering on your past research experience. Once you have a research CV and a couple of paragraphs describing your work, you will be able to use copy/paste quite a bit when applying to new opportunities.
Learn how to explain your research or practical experience to people outside your specialty within a field.
Imagine your audience. For some applications, the application readers will also be experts in your specific area of study. However, for other applications, the reader might be an expert in a different field. I suggest preparing two descriptions of your research/work. The first should be for fellow scholars in your particular corner of research. This one can be very technical and specific. The second should be a description intended for someone who is in your field of study but has a different research focus. This description should be a bit more understandable to people outside your specialization. Having these pieces of writing on hand will serve you very well when applying.
Learn to describe your impact on the scholarly community.
Stating your scholarly impact is an important component of most scholarship/fellowship applications. What this means will vary by opportunity. For some applications, this will mean the intervention you are making in a field of study (e.g., “People have studied X, but no one had studied Y until I came along!”). For other applications, this could mean the real-world impact your work will have on addressing a societal issue (e.g., “My engineering work on nuclear power safety will give the United States better options for energy consumption.”). If you can describe your work in terms of impact, you will be well prepared to tackle any application.
Vanessa Febo has ten years of experience teaching academic and professional writing at UCLA, with a special certification in teaching writing techniques. She has drawn on this expertise to guide clients to placements at top institutions, including Harvard, Stanford, and USC. Before joining Accepted, Vanessa coached UCLA students through the application process for graduate programs, major grants, fellowships, and scholarships, including the Fulbright, Stanford Knight-Hennessey, and the Ford Foundation Fellowship. Additionally, Vanessa has extensive experience successfully guiding clients through applications for a diverse range of programs, including those in business, humanities, social sciences, and STEM fields. Want Vanessa to help you get accepted? Click here to get in touch!