This couldn’t be further from the truth. National scholarship and fellowship committees are not only interested in students from ivy-league institutions; in fact, they are increasingly interested in recognizing students from a diverse range of institutions. The recognized quality of your home institution does not determine your own quality. It may actually suggest you had to make a greater effort to take advantage of every possible opportunity available as an undergraduate.
Scholarships and fellowships are competitive and there are no guarantees as to the outcome. But, of course, if you don’t apply you will miss out on the possibility of winning. And more importantly, you won’t have the chance to benefit from the process of thinking through your dreams and plans to achieve those in a meaningful way. In our opinion, engaging in the application process is invaluable: it will help you as you plan to make the most of your experience at UT and as you prepare for other opportunities including graduate schools, internships, other scholarships, and jobs. (Student survey data we collect each semester support this opinion.) Taking full advantage of the guidance provided by the ONSF will help you refine your application materials and plans for further engagement. So … competitive? Of course. Worth the effort? Absolutely. Engaging in the application process allows you to begin to refine and clarify your future plans. The outcome of that process, regardless of whether you actually win the scholarship, is worthy of recognition. It is an opportunity to share with your peers, faculty, and university staff, and to affirm to yourself that you have tremendous potential, motivation, commitment, and a purposeful direction.
Many opportunities don’t advertise a specific GPA and often use it simply as one of many indications as to the quality of the applicant. The “whole package” is far more interesting and compelling, as is a transcript that indicates a rigorous course load. That said, a strong GPA is expected and will only add to your strength as a stellar candidate who can attend to both your academics and your co- and extra-curricular activities in a meaningful way. It also is worth mentioning that the standards for determining the GPA are far more difficult to assess with the onset of grade inflation, etc. Again, it is just one part of your story.
If you have “done it all,” you’ve probably not done much of it well. So … be wise, reflective, and critical as you begin to determine what is worth your time and energy (and begin to do this as early as your freshman year). As an undergraduate, the most obvious priority should be your academics, but consider involvement with things that directly relate to your studies and/or future ambitions. For example, undergraduate research may be a meaningful way to engage your subject outside of the traditional classroom. Or perhaps involving yourself in a relevant service activity would make sense, especially if it means there is room for you to grow as a leader. Even pursue jobs and/or internships that have bearing on your overall plans. For example, if you are interested in public policy, find ways to expand your experiences to include work on a national or international scale. Whatever you do, make a point of choosing with intention as opposed to collecting random activities to simply pad your resume. Review committees quickly recognize students who have set out to do it all without a clear sense of why. Doing it all won’t serve you in the end and it certainly won’t make for a cohesive, intentional set of experiences that indicate your commitment to your discipline(s), your interests, and your proposed future plans.
There are a number of need-based scholarships, but there also are opportunities — many, in fact — that do not take financial need into consideration and instead take as their focus your academic merit and preparation for future successes. Furthermore, nationally competitive scholarships and fellowships are about more than the money; they are an investment in you and your future. Review committees are looking for applicants who recognize that at this stage in the process, it is about fully engaging in your education and all of the experiences available to support your academic pursuits.
Some national opportunities such as the Critical Language Scholarship, Boren, Goldwater, Udall, and Truman require you to apply early on in your undergraduate career, but many others, including opportunities in support of post-graduate studies in the UK or the Fulbright, require that you apply, more or less, around the same time during the fall of your senior year. Incidentally, you will also likely apply to graduate school or professional opportunities at the same time, but because one application lends itself to others and because there is no guarantee of the outcome of your application for a national scholarship, it makes sense to apply for multiple opportunities. What a terrific problem to have if you are compelled to make a decision between multiple opportunities! It’s best to lay the groundwork for as many options as possible. And know too that in most cases, graduate schools will defer should you receive a Fulbright, Rhodes, Marshall, or other nationally recognized scholarship.
Start by reviewing materials on the Scholarships and Fellowships section of this website. Then, contact the ONSF for further help selecting the best scholarships for you. We can help guide you through the application processes for many national scholarships.