The Makings of a Strong Candidate
While it is critical to recognize that every scholarship and fellowship application and process is unique, there are certain characteristics and qualities that go into the making of a strong candidate for nationally competitive opportunities.
These qualities may include, but are not limited to:
- Your academic achievements: a strong GPA as evidence of a rigorous and diverse course-load. Remember that committees are well-versed in reading transcripts and will quickly recognize and evaluate a record that indicates that you have challenged yourself regularly and developed an academic record indicative of your interests and ambitions;
- Strategic, meaningful, and ongoing involvement in areas that interest you and help build a strong foundation that is complementary to your academic pursuits:
- Undergraduate research and participating in ways of making that research public (symposiums, conferences, performances, exhibitions, publications);
- Involvement with campus and/or community organizations where you have been/will be able to grow as a leader and make a meaningful contribution to the group and its causes;
- Service-learning, public service, or volunteer work at the local, national, and international levels;
- Relevant work experience and involvement in competitive internship experiences locally, nationally, and internationally. Keep in mind that more and more funding organizations are looking for applicants who have been involved in activities for a significant amount of time and have sought out opportunities beyond the limits of their campuses.
- Ability to reflect upon, write about, and articulate your personal story; purpose; ambitions and goals (academic and professional) with clarity, confidence, and authenticity: This is your moment, and in fact not only are you given permission to, but are expected to take time to truly assess your journey, what you value and find meaning in, and how that will lead toward your ability to contribute to the global endeavor.
- The ability to build a solid, supportive academic family: meaningful relationships with faculty and university staff as your teachers, mentors, and advisors with whom you have a consistent and long-standing rapport. They should be able to, in the first instance, provide you with guidance as you consider certain opportunities such as international research opportunities, graduate school, etc., as well as attest in writing to your academic strengths, achievements, ambitions, and dreams. Keep in mind that you want to cultivate a group of individuals who can write and speak to different aspects of your academic experience, including your strength in the classroom, in undergraduate research, in leadership, in public service, etc.
There are no longer any true “book worm” scholarships given to students based only on a high GPA or test scores. Opportunities described as ‘merit-based’ take into account your academic abilities, but only as a starting point and an indication of your preparation for a proposed experience, research project, or the pursuit of post-graduate studies. Your entire application should give a solid indication of why you are moving in a certain direction and why/how you are qualified to do so. Your letters of recommendation will further support those claims.