Develop a Strategic Timeline: It’s Not Just about Deadlines Anymore!
The earlier you begin planning for nationally competitive scholarships and fellowships, the better chance you will have at making the most of those opportunities and the overall benefits of thinking through and developing the various pieces that go into a strong application like the personal statement, etc.
Of course, there are the obvious benchmarks you can use to start planning. But, even the actual deadlines require that you take planning ahead seriously. Almost all nationally competitive funding opportunities have deadlines at least six months ahead of the time you will see the actual funding and in most cases; it is closer to a year. Many opportunities also require students to engage in a campus application process which will tack on a few more months to the preparation process. For example, if you are applying for a Fulbright as a rising senior, you would submit your preliminary campus application in the late-spring of your junior year, complete the final campus application in the first week of September, and submit to the national deadline in mid-October of your senior year. Award announcements are made starting that next January and funding begins the following fall. Clearly, planning ahead just to meet the expected deadlines requires that you stay on top of the game.
To break it down further: national scholarship deadlines also require you to take the long-view of your entire undergraduate experience. In some cases, you will apply at the same time or even before you are actually accepted to a particular study abroad program or graduate program. In order to meet the minimum requirements of an opportunity, you will need to plan your course-schedule accordingly, pursue undergraduate research, seek out leadership or public service opportunities, and build relationships with your faculty long before you actually submit an application. National review committees expect to see their most competitive applicants have taken full advantage of every relevant opportunity available to them as an undergraduate.
It’s Not Too Soon
While it may feel like it is too soon, or even uncomfortable, to begin thinking this far in advance it is imperative that you do so. The portfolio of materials that will eventually develop for a scholarship application – like the personal statement, project proposal, or research statement – will help you to engage in the kind of strategic and critical thinking and planning that can only aid in your overall experience as a university student. And, take heart. When asked to think and write about your future ambitions, remember it is your “educated best guess.” ONSF staff, your faculty advisors, national review committees, even graduate school admission teams realize that things change and that you are very much a work in progress. That being said, your ability to show a kind of logical trajectory toward your future goals, and to write clearly and intelligently about those plans, makes you a far more interesting and competitive applicant.
Exceptional Writing and Editing Skills
Finally, good time-management and planning allows for one of the most important practices of any national scholarship or fellowship application: editing, proof-reading, re-writing, editing, using spell-check, editing, having others review your written materials, editing, checking grammar, and finally, editing! We cannot emphasize enough the importance of exceptional writing and editing skills. You should attend to your applications, essays, project proposals, and even short-answers, with the greatest of editorial care. Not only is this a form of respect for those reading your materials, it sends a remarkable and clear message to your review committees: simply, that you put time, effort, thought, and care into the presentation of your ideas which, in turn, suggests you put time, effort, thought and care into the content of the application as well.