Reviewing Scholarship Applications

First, we are grateful to all those who elect to serve on our campus application and interview committees. Thank you very much; we couldn’t support our students’ efforts without your significant contribution to our processes. Our faculty review and interview committees are vital to our process in large part, because the committee is entirely responsible for selecting UT nominees and fully endorsing a student’s candidacy.

ONSF staff facilitates the review process and guide the interview experience, but do not participate in the final selection. Following the committee review and interview, the ONSF consolidates all notes and assessment from faculty in order to craft evaluations and formal letters of endorsement that bring together all committee members’ assessment of the candidates. In some cases, such as for the Goldwater and Truman, UT is limited to certain numbers of applicants that can be forwarded to the national committees.

General Guidelines

We trust that you are more than familiar with competitive grant processes, what makes for strong applications, compelling personal statements, and effective project proposals. But, here are some general guidelines to help you review UT national scholarship applications, participate in campus interviews, and nominate the best candidates:

  • When reading an application, cohesion and authenticity are key.  Does the candidate’s personal statement, project/program proposal, CV, and transcripts hang together in a meaningful way that suggests a cohesive plan or course of action over the last 4-5 years as an undergraduate? Do these pieces fit together in such a way as to make a compelling and strong case for the next steps proposed – either a program of study, a research experience, a project abroad, and other nationally competitive opportunity? Are there obvious threads that tie together the candidates story and experiences that reinforces their authentic sense of themselves and what they hope to accomplish?;
  • Are there evident gaps in a candidates’ story, either in their academic record, in a suspect letter of recommendation, in some incongruous break in their CV or co/extra-curricular activities?  Can those gaps be remedied through application revisions or would the candidate be a stronger applicant if they waited to apply in another year and/or after having put a little more time into, for example, undergraduate research, leadership experiences, foreign language study, etc.?;
  • Does the candidates’ personal statement capture the readers’ attention and make a compelling case for an invitation to interview? Is it evident that the candidate has carefully assessed the scholarship program and fits well with the opportunity?  Is there evidence in the candidate’s writing that they have given significant thought to how this fits into their larger vision for themselves – graduate studies, a life of research, international engagement, public policy work? Are there ‘hot-spots’ or areas in the personal statement that could cause problems in an interview situation? For example, has the candidate focused on a political position, a faith-statement, or exceptional personal issue that may be inappropriate in a personal statement?;
  • Does the candidate’s transcript indicate a high-level of academic rigor? GPA is important, but far more interesting and telling is the level and quality of the courses taken.  Has the candidate consistently taken advanced course-work, even taken graduate classes or initiated independent study or undergraduate research in order to supplement their curriculum? Has the student engaged in significant research, however that is defined by their discipline, and pursued activities like a thesis, senior project, advanced writing and presentation opportunities throughout the course of their undergraduate experience?;
  • Has the candidate participated in significant leadership experiences, been involved in community, national and international activities, or related opportunities that suggest the candidates’ potential to become an ‘agent of change’? Has the candidate sought opportunities to expand their horizons and think beyond their university, their local community, and even state? Do they think out-of-the-box?;
  • Do they meet eligibility requirements, especially as related to language training, significant research experience, leadership and public service activities, etc.?;
  • Do they have the requisite experience to succeed in their particular programs of choice? Can they undertake high-level research at an institution in the U.K.? Have they made the necessary contacts in a foreign country to successfully solicit a letter of affiliation for the Fulbright? Do they adequately argue for a future professional life of research, even if they are looking a MD programs, when applying for an opportunity like the Goldwater or NIH Oxford-Cambridge Scholars’ Program;
  • Are their written materials well-crafted, grammatically correct, and evidently proof-read? Do they address questions and essay purposes with creativity and authenticity?;
  • Are they a strong candidate, but really should be considering a different opportunity or postponing their application in order to more fully prepare in the coming year?

Providing Feedback and Further Guidance:

Aside from actually selecting UT’s nominees, our faculty committees are key in providing students with significant and constructive feedback on their applications and eventually, in their interview preparation.  Here are some of the things worth suggesting to candidates:

  • Ways to strengthen their writing;
  • How to further elucidate significant experiences that should take the foreground rather than appear as a mere footnote in their statements;
  • Creative ways to address the ‘gaps’ in their writing, CVs, transcripts or other areas that may appear lacking;
  • Suggestions for other contacts at foreign institutions, graduate programs, across campus, etc., that may help the student further develop their research ideas, policy proposals, and/or identify terrifically compelling and well-suited opportunities;
  • Suggestions on preparing for interviews – questions to anticipate, gaps to address, and general tips on handling scholarship and fellowship interview questions;
  • Suggestions for scholarship programs that may, in fact, be a better fit for their interests and course of direction;
  • Encouragement. They value the opinions and advice of their faculty and take a good deal to heart. This is their opportunity to experience challenging dialogue with a well-educated, non-expert, generally friendly audience.  Your honest assessment of their efforts, meritorious simply by the fact that they have made it to a campus selection process, is extremely valuable.

The Truman Foundation has made available a variety of resources for faculty review and interview committees, including sample questions for mock-interviews, and advice from those who have sat on the national committees. Visit their website for more information. 

If you have had significant experience sitting on national review committees and have further advice on the subject, please feel free to share your insights by email with ONSF staff.