What is a “national scholarship” or “national fellowship”?
A national scholarship or fellowship is prestigious merit-based funding awarded through a national competition to fund your education. Often, the term “scholarship” refers to undergraduate awards, and “fellowship” is more commonly used with graduate awards, but this is not always the case.  Always review eligibility guidelines to see if you are able to apply for an award at a certain time in your academic career.  Some awards will fund your UConn education; others may fund future educational opportunities at other institutions or abroad.  Some awards come from government agencies; others come from private foundations.  All are “external” awards that must be reported to the Office of Financial Aid at the institution where you intend to use the award.

What if I just want money to pay for my UConn education?
Many prestigious scholarships and fellowships are geared toward graduate school. Some, however, such as the Goldwater, Udall, Pickering, and NOAA Hollings, are undergraduate scholarships that may be applied to your UConn education. To search for need-based or regional scholarships, visit the Office of Student Financial Aid Services for advice. Also, check with your school or college to see what prizes might be available in your major.

When do I apply? Do I need to be nominated, and if so, how do I get nominated?
Some national scholarships require campus nomination before you can enter the national competition.  ONS&F posts and advertises deadlines for applications for nomination. The campus competition takes places typically 3-6 months before the national competition.  Applications for the campus competition are posted on the ONS&F website and are typically shorter versions of the national applications. A faculty panel considers and grants nominations; some competitions require an interview at the nomination stage. Any nomination granted to a student at the campus-level is contingent on the candidate’s ability to successfully complete the national application to the satisfaction of the Director of ONS&F and by the specified deadline.

There are also many prestigious scholarships that do not require nomination. Students may apply directly for these awards (usually through an online application), but are strongly encouraged to seek advice and support from ONS&F and/or a faculty mentor. In every case, candidates should carefully read ALL the rules and requirements before submitting an application.

What are the odds? How competitive are these awards?
The odds vary. Here are some recent statistics:

Scholarship No. of Applicants (approx.) No. of Awards
Goldwater 1,343 396
Rhodes 838 32
Marshall 981 36
Udall 429 55*
Truman 587 54
Mitchell 300 12
Gates Cambridge 750 40
NSF Graduate
Research Fellowship
12,000+ 2,067

* The Udall Foundation awards scholarships in two separate categories; in recent years they’ve awarded 37 scholarships in the environmental category and 18 in the Native American policy category. 

* For the U.S. Student Fulbright Program, see: us.fulbrightonline.org/statistics

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Why bother?
All national awards are highly competitive which is why winning one garners not just financial support but also prestige and recognition for you and your university. Having a national award on your resume will make you stand out as a candidate for graduate school and/or employment. Moreover, whether or not you win in the end, going through the application process will help you focus and gather materials for your future plans. In other words, the process can be just as valuable as the award!

Will a merit-based scholarship affect my financial aid?
Sometimes. Any merit-based scholarship will be factored into your financial aid package.  Legally, your total awards may not exceed the cost of your education. If you have no financial need, you should still consider applying for an award to gain from its prestige value, but you may not be able to collect the full monetary value of the scholarship. In some cases, a student may be able to apply scholarship money to a particular lab or research expense that is considered to be part of his or her education.

Do I need a specific GPA?
GPA requirements vary by competition. Always read the criteria and rules to determine whether you are eligible. Generally, prestigious scholarship competitions look for a GPA of 3.7 or higher. There are exceptions, however, particularly with public-service oriented scholarships (such as the Truman or Udall), where high involvement can mitigate a slightly lower GPA. In all cases, prestigious scholarship competitions look at much more than your GPA.

What else do I need to be competitive?
Again, specific criteria vary by competition, so read the rules. Generally, reviewers are looking for strong academic records and rigorous academic plans; previous honors and awards; some kind of research experience; involvement (community service, campus activities, sports); leadership and initiative; creativity and vision; and strong support from faculty and other professionals.

Do I need a resume? If so, what should it look like?
You always need a resume for nomination and sometimes for the competition itself. Some scholarship applications ask that you list your resume items on their application form. If you are submitting your own resume for consideration, format it to highlight academic achievements, research, and any public service before your employment history. In other words, arrange your categories accordingly: education; honors and awards; research, publications, presentations; service; employment; other activities.

Do activities and/or grades from high school count?
A few competitions DO look at high school materials (e.g., Truman and Udall allow you to list high school service activities). However, most competitions are just interested in your collegiate career.

What do “they” look for in a personal statement?
You! The personal statement is often the only opportunity for you to stand apart from all the other talented students with good grades who are applying. They want to know what makes you, you! That said, a personal statement should also emphasize your academic and professional achievements and potential – the scholarly version of you. Remember, these awards are funding your education and your future aspirations. It helps to be a good writer who can communicate with vivid, detailed language. The Rhodes and Mitchell Scholarships require that candidates do not receive feedback (from anyone) on their personal statements.  Nominees for other prestigious scholarships, however, will receive individual feedback from ONS&F on their personal statements, which they can revise for the national competition.

ONS&F recommends that students also visit the Writing Center for assistance with personal statements. (Make an appointment with a tutor.) Students are also advised to work with faculty mentors or professors in their field(s) of interest at every stage of the application process.

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Who should write my letters of recommendation?
It is helpful if your recommender has strong academic or professional credentials, but it is important to ask someone who knows you well. It is better to have a good, detailed letter from an associate professor than a generic letter from a dean or a senator. For some scholarships, letters from employers or professionals associated with public service can be useful. When you ask for letters of recommendation, be sure to describe the scholarship competition in depth and review the criteria for selection. Your recommender should be able to write a 1-2 page letter with specific examples of how you meet, if not exceed, the stated criteria.

Do I need to submit test scores (such as the GRE)?
Test scores are not requested during the nomination stage, but some competitions do require or strongly recommend them, like the NSF GRFP, NDSEG and other prestigious graduate fellowships that do not require nomination. Test scores are generally not required for the Rhodes, Marshall, or Mitchell, although there are exceptions depending upon the targeted degree program.

Will there be an interview, and if so, how do I prepare?
An interview is required at the nomination stage for the Truman, Rhodes, Marshall, and Mitchell competitions. These competitions, along with a few others (including the Carnegie Jr. Fellows, the Pickering, and the Hertz) have an interview phase at the national level.  Our faculty nominating committee uses the interview to assess a candidate’s ability to prepare for this rigorous finalist stage. Many interview questions are based on material provided by the candidate in his or her application. Some interview questions address matters of national and international concern (usually related to the interviewee’s discipline, e.g., economics, stem cells, or global warming).

There are many strategies to prepare for interviews, and nominees will receive guidance on what might work best for them. To prepare at the pre-application stage, candidates should thoughtfully consider their achievements and aspirations and practice articulating their goals. They should be knowledgeable of current events related to their studies, such as reading substantive media (e.g., The Economist, New York Times, or BBC online). They should be able to answer “standard” interview questions, such as “What is the last book you read? Who is a major influence in your life? If you had five minutes with the President, what would you say?”, as well as questions specific to the candidate’s interests.

Candidates should arrive at their interviews a few minutes early and be dressed appropriately (as if for a job interview). They should make eye contact with the interviewers, listen thoroughly, and think clearly before answering questions. Avoid taking too long to answer a question (60 seconds is acceptable). It is OK to pass once on a question that you cannot answer or to ask the interviewer to repeat a question. Appropriate humor and a smile are always welcome!

Can I get help with my application for nomination?
Advisors will consult with potential applicants about applications for nomination on an availability basis. Ideally, any potential candidate should speak with an advisor before starting an application for nomination, to be sure he or she is eligible and competitive. Fill out an in-take form to get started!

Do I need to be an Honors student to work with ONS&F? 
The Office of National Scholarships & Fellowships serves the entire UConn community, including undergraduate and graduate students. You do NOT need to be an Honors student to apply for a national award.

When is the best time to look into national scholarship opportunities?
Now! It’s never too early. Even freshmen should be aware of the criteria for prestigious scholarships so they can prepare. Some competitions invite underclassmen (e.g., the SMART allows freshmen to apply; Goldwater and Udall deem sophomores eligible). Reaching for a prestigious scholarship means enriching your education with a strong academic foundation and meaningful extracurriculars – so get started! If you are a senior, do not despair; in many cases you are still eligible for some big prizes even after you graduate. Fill out an in-take form to get started!

Some of my letter writers asked for guidance. What should I tell them?
First, tell them “thank you”! Letters of recommendation are extremely important parts of these applications. Candidates are competing on a national basis. Everyone who applies is a great student who is doing interesting things. The best letters explain in detail, with specific examples and concrete comparisons, how and why you are the best of the best. Be prepared to provide your referees with whatever materials they need to write a detailed, thoughful letter. Then, encourage them to visit Penn State’s online module on “Writing Recommendation Letters.” It includes sections not only on national scholarships generally, but on specific scholarships and their criteria (including sample letters for most of them). This is a great place to begin. And of course, we recommend that letter writers share their letters with ONSF staff ahead of time.

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