What Can I do to Make Myself a Good Candidate for Fellowships?

The answer to how you can make yourself a strong candidate, unfortunately, isn’t as easy as make good grades, and it doesn’t mean being a member of 10+ campus organizations! Here are some tips for what you can be doing at every stage in the game.

  • Pick challenging classes. Really treat your time here at A&T as an opportunity to not just do well but to do well while really pushing yourself.
  • Take classes outside your major. If your schedule allows it, take classes that might not have anything to do with your major. You could even consider pursuing a minor. Emmanuel Johnson, who recently was awarded a Fulbright Student Scholarship, majored  in engineering, but he also minored in philosophy.
  • Go above and beyond in your classes. In the letters of recommendation they write for you, your professors should be talking about how you did more than you needed to and not that you simply completed your assignments on time.
  • Go to your professor’s office hours. Your professors are a resource. They want to see you succeed. Go to their office hours and talk about how you can improve in the class or how you can take your already great work to the next level.
  • Seek out research opportunities. It’s never to early to get started researching. All fields have research opportunities – find out about these by talking to your professors.
  • Study abroad. Talk to Ms. Whiteside as well as the Office of International Programs to find ways to fund study abroad opportunities
  • Seek opportunities to publish or present your research
  • Take leadership positions in campus or community organizations Or, if there’s an organization that you don’t see on campus that you’d like to see, start it yourself!
  • Develop your communication skills. This means both written and verbal. Talk in class. Talk outside of class to your professors and classmates about subjects you are interested in. Practice writing every chance you get. Never shy away from applying for a scholarship that you would be a good candidate for because of the writing! Ms. Whiteside is here to help you develop your writing, as are your professors and the University Writing Center.
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Graduation Guide: Tests

So you are getting ready to enter your senior year and you are considering grad school. Unlike college, where you only had test options- the SAT and the ACT – you now have many more options, and what test you take will depend on what kind of graduate program you are planning on entering.

The GRE – Many grad programs require that students take the GRE – in particular, humanities and stem masters programs. This differs from program to program, however, so check with the particular program that you are looking at ASAP. The GRE is a lot like the SAT in that it is a measure of the verbal reasoning, quantitative reasoning, writing, and critical thinking skills you should have developed in undergrad. It is laid out like the SAT, but it is a bit more difficult. Also, you complete it on the computer. You sign up for an appointment to take it – you don’t take it in a big classroom setting like you would have done with the SAT. To find out how to sign up for it, visit the GRE site. Try to take the GRE about a year before you plan to enter graduate school.

Here is an article with pretty helpful advice about how to prep for the GRE.

The LSAT. For those of you planning on going to law school, you’ll be taking the LSAT. This is a sit down test that is offered four times a year and that takes about half a day to complete. Many law schools require that you take the test by December of the year before you plan to enter your fall semester of law school, though taking it earlier is advised.

Check out LSAT tips available here.

The MCAT If you are planning on going to medical school, you will take the MCAT (Medical college admissions test). In most cases, you’ll want to take the MCAT in the calender year prior to the year in which you plan to enter medical school. The MCAT site gives this advice: “If you think that you will take the exam more than once in a given calendar year, you may want to make your first attempt in January, March, April, or May. This should allow you sufficient time to receive your scores, make a decision about your second attempt, and find an available seat later in the testing year. Seats fill up quickly, especially near the end of the year, so the earlier you test and make a decision about a second attempt, the higher the likelihood that a seat will be available for you later.” This is a computer based test, but it is offered with less frequency than the GRE, so you’ll want to sign up as soon as possible.

Check out more MCAT tips here.

The PRAXIS is part of the teacher certification process. Those of you who are ed majors should be talking about this with your adviser. Check out information about NC state teaching licensure requirements here.

The GMAT is for individuals who want to get a graduate degree in management, including an MBA, a Master of Accountancy, and Master of Finance programs. If you are planning on getting an MBA, however, you most likely do not need to be worried about this right now. There are differing opinions on how long students should wait to begin business school, but most programs still prefer that students have between 2-4 years of job experience, and will usually reflect this in their admissions decisions. The reasoning here is that students who have job experience have been able to develop analytical, teamwork, leadership, analytical, and communication skills necessary to succeed in an MBA. There are some exceptions to this, and it is of course always important to do thorough research into the programs that you are interested in and to ask admissions officers this questions specifically. This Wall Street Journal article talks about some schools that are starting to admit students straight out of undergrad, and it also talks about some interesting programs that target students straight out of undergrad.

 

Long Odds, Big Rewards

The fact of the matter is, most people who apply for fellowships don’t get them – this is what makes them competitive and prestigious. In last year’s Fulbright competition for the full grant to the UK, for instance, there were 706 applicants and 46 recipients. Does this mean you shouldn’t apply? Not exactly – one of these recipients was A&T student Emmanuel Johnson, who will be studying for a graduate degree in robotics at the University of Birmingham this fall.

This application wasn’t Emmanuel’s first – he applied for several other awards that he did not win before finally winning the Fulbright. The process of applying for the other awards helped him sharpen his competitive ability. By working hard and persevering, he was able to take what he learned from the other competitions and apply that to the Fulbright.

You may still be wondering why you should apply for a prestigious scholarship and fellowship if the odds are so long. For students who are competitive for these awards – meaning, students who have a strong academic record as well as a strong record of leadership and involvement – there are a few things that might be gained from competing for a prestigious scholarship:

  • Development of writing skills. Applications for prestigious awards require that applicants write a lot. Most applications will require that you write a personal statement as well as a proposal of how you plan to use your fellowship. Writing these two things will give you a chance not only to lay out your goals and personal history, which is required for graduate school applications, as well, but it will also give you a chance to practice writing a proposal, something that will come in handy in any professional environment. Finally, this will give you a chance to practice your writing, again, increasing your competitive ability in the workplace.
  • Development of time management skills The applications require a lot of work and organization. Invariably, you will develop ways to manage your time as you complete a major project.
  • A better understanding of who you are and what you want out of life. These applications will demand that you think about who you are and what your goals are. What better time to do that than college, which you are getting ready to embark on your career?
  • Enhanced knowledge of your field and other cultures If you apply for an award that will require you to travel abroad, you’ll have to investigate that country. You will also have to research and consider innovations and issues in your field.
  • Development of oral communication and collaboration abilities In the process of applying for these awards, you will likely face campus interviews and presentation sessions. You will have to present your proposal, and you may have to be recognized at university events. This is a chance for you to practice developing the poise and oral communication abilities that will be required of you in future professional and academic settings .
  • Get to know your faculty members The process of applying for awards will force you to collaborate with faculty members to develop your award as well as to talk about future plans.
  • Complete a challenge outside of your comfort zone. Even if you don’t win an award, you’ll have the satisfaction and confidence that comes from tackling a major challenging and completing it.

Interviews

Many scholarship and fellowship competitions require you to interview. Some of these interviews may be in phone and some may be in person. Increasingly, skype and other methods of video conferencing are being used for interviews, and these methods can involve their own challenges. The most important thing to remember about the interview is that it is a tool that you can use to your benefit. Try thinking of it as a way to deliver information about yourself and your personality that might not have been able to show a selection committee via your written material.

Other things to consider:

  • Always, always practice. One practice interview is better than none, and of course, many are better than one. If you are an A&T student, I am always available to do a practice interview with you.
  • If you are an A&T student, another great resource is career services.
  • If you know that you will be interviewing via skype, do a test run ahead of time with a friend. Make sure that you are sitting in a space that is clean, well, lit, and where you can easily be heard. Also, if you are at home, lock up the pets. You don’t want a cat photobomb in the middle of your interview.
  • If you are interviewing via phone, do a practice interview over the phone. It’s important that you practice getting your points across without depending on visual cues (gestures, facial expressions, etc) that your audience won’t be able to see
  • If you are interviewing in person, give yourself plenty of time to get there. I cannot stress this enough.
  • Wear professional attire – no matter what the job is. Again, I can’t stress this enough. For a more in depth guide, look at this.
  • Be confident. Look your interviewers in the eye. Speak up – make sure they can hear and understand you, especially on a phone interview!
  • Listen to the questions carefully and answer the question that they are asking. Be thorough but don’t ramble.
  • It’s ok to admit if you don’t know the answer to a question.
  • It’s also ok to allow a moment or two of thought before you answer a question.
  • To prepare for your interview, re-read your resume and any other material that you might have sent the interviewer. Use this to anticipate what questions the committee might ask you. Anything that you have sent them is fair game.
  • If you indicated on your application that you speak another language, be prepared to answer questions in this language.
  • If your application involved a proposal for how you will spend grant money, be prepared to discuss the details and the methodology of your project.
  • For the major fellowships, be prepared to talk about current events, especially in the country that you are applying to go to.
  • Following up interviews with a thank you is generally a good idea. Always do this for job interviews. This is often a good time to follow up on a question that you may have stumbled on or not answered to the best of your ability.

Writing the Personal Statement

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Tips for Writing the Personal Statement

  • Read the prompt. Several times. Make notes on it. Write out the question as you understand it. When you give your personal statement to others to look over, make sure they have the prompt. Following directions is important here.
  • List the characteristics the scholarship/grad school is looking for. Direct your response toward these characteristics. Think about ways you demonstrate that you’ve got what they are looking for. Use this to make sure that you are staying on topic.
  • Not sure what to write about? Ask people who know you well. Your parents, friends, teachers, and employers may remember instances where you have demonstrated certain qualities. Use these people as resources, (though, with the exception of teachers and employers, not references!)
  • Show, don’t tell. Don’t just tell that you are a hard worker; illustrate this by showing us examples of times when you demonstrated this. Explaining about all the work you did to organize a recycling campaign at your school is much more convincing than just saying, “I work really hard.”
  • Strike the right tone. Be confident but not arrogant, humble but not self-deprecating. Does this sound like a hard line to walk? It is! You want to sound sure of yourself, but you don’t want to sound as though you are over-inflating your self-worth. This is where it helps to ask someone else to read over your personal statement
  • The writing always counts. Even if the prompt says that they are mostly concerned with getting to know you, they can’t get to know you unless they can understand what you are saying about yourself. Most jobs require applicants to communicate with others, and most scholarships tend to reward this behavior because people who can communicate well will usually do well. Be sure that whatever you are turning in is well written
  • Read, Rewrite, Revise. Repeat. Read what you’ve written – out loud. This is the best way to catch grammatical errors. Give your statement to other people to read, and always consider their suggestions, even if you don’t agree. (If more than one person gives you the same advice – you should probably take it!). Rewrite what you’ve written. This means that you should allow yourself the time to write several drafts. After you’ve settled on your final draft, revise. It’s hard to convince someone you are serious when what you’ve written is filled with grammatical errors.

For more help, check out: Writing Personal Statements

Resources for Personal Statement Writing

The following resources are great sites for getting help in writing personal statements.

Ten Basic Rules for Asking for Letters of Recommendation

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1.       Ask early (six weeks to two months)

2.       Organize your material – know what you are applying for, what you need, and what the criteria for the application are.

3.       Provide your recommender with any applicable forms, envelopes, addresses, stamps, instructions. Your recommender shouldn’t have to do any work for you beyond writing the actual letter and sticking it in the mail.

4.       Ask your recommenders to look at the personal statement you’ve written for your application. This is helpful for you and this is helpful to your recommender.

5.       Always waive the right to see the letter. Scholarship committees and schools do not take seriously letters that you haven’t waived the right to see.

6.       Always choose a recommender who knows you well and who you are confident will represent you in a good light. This is why it is important to form relationships with teachers beyond the classroom early in your academic career.

7.       Choose who you ask to write you a letter based on the opportunity. If it is for an academic scholarship, you should ask people who can comment on your academic ability (your professors). If it is for a scholarship that involves leadership and service, you should ask someone who can comment on these aspects. For graduate school, the rule of thumb is to ask someone who has a degree in the field that you are going into.

8.       Pick your recommenders strategically. Review what information you are using for your application and use this to determine what other items you need filled in.

9.       Set reminders on your own calendar for the dates on which you should follow up with your recommenders. Even though your recommender is responsible for getting his or her letter in on time, you are responsible for making sure he or she does it – you are the person on the line here!

10.   Remember you manners – thank you notes are important. You never know when you’ll need your recommenders to write you another letter.

For more help, check out: Letters