A-Z Index

Getting Started

What is a Fellowship?

Fellowship is a term that encompasses nationally competitive grants, scholarships, and similar funding opportunities. Typically, fellowships fund study, research, or teaching in the U.S. or abroad. The fellowships listed here are nationally competitive, prestigious awards and are investments in your future.

Frequently Asked Questions

I am a freshman, is it too early for me to be thinking about these fellowships?

No! It is never too early to start planning; it takes time to build the necessary experiences for these opportunities. Come by our office and we can help you plan your next three years at Northwest so that you will build a strong set of experiences.

Will a nationally competitive fellowship help pay my current tuition and fees?

In most cases, no. These fellowships are largely international opportunities and cannot be used at Northwest. However, some awards can be used to fund study abroad experiences while you are an undergraduate student. Note that funding is not typically available for 9 to 18 months after the application is due, so advanced planning is necessary.

Who are competitive candidates for fellowships?

Competitive students are energetic and high achieving, with the potential to make significant contributions for the public good. Additional assets include

  • High GPAs
  • Service-learning courses or meaningful volunteer experience
  • Honors courses (and other rigorous coursework)
  • Research experience
  • Teaching experience (become a supplemental instructor, peer advisor, or tutor)
  • Studying abroad (preferably for a full semester)
  • Leadership and participation in campus and community activities

If these are really competitive, it seems like a long shot. Why should I bother applying?

Students at Northwest have been successful. Additionally, students who have applied say that the application process is rewarding and educational whether or not they win. Applicants develop skills used later in life, such as proposal writing and interviewing, and receive personalized mentoring that can help them determine long-term goals and assist them throughout their educational experience. And, finally, the only guaranteed way to ensure you will not receive an award is to not apply!

When should I start my application and how much time do I need?

Applications are lengthy. Most successful applicants spend 2 to 4 months working on the actual application and supporting documentation. Expect to go through multiple rounds of essay drafts with our office, fellowship advisors, and your faculty advisor/mentor. Remember that several of the fellowships also have a campus interview and nomination process, which often requires earlier deadlines and more time. Most of these applications are due in September of your senior year, so you will need to start working actively on your application in the spring of your junior year. You can begin pre-planning and making yourself a more competitive candidate even earlier. It is never too early to stop by our office!

What can the Fellowships Office do for me?

We work with students who are eligible for nationally competitive fellowships, grants, and scholarships. We provide

  • Advice on programs and activities to strengthen your educational experience
  • Information on fellowships and other opportunities to help you achieve your goals
  • Support and assistance leading to and throughout the fellowship application process, including how to strengthen essays and interview skills
  • Guidance for securing strong letters of recommendation

Getting Started

Plan Ahead

It is never too early to start planning for your future, even if you are a freshman or sophomore. Whether applying for graduate school, research opportunities, or study abroad, you may be asked for evidence of your leadership and service activities as well as your academic achievement. The decisions you make now will affect your choices later. Start thinking about what excites you and where you would like to be in five years or so. Take time to gain varied experiences on campus, in the community, through internships, or through experiences abroad.

Here are some tips to ensure you get your money’s worth out of being a student at a top research university.

  • Strive for academic excellence in challenging courses.
  • Pursue activities that develop your leadership and communication.
  • Seek campus and community service experiences, including Service Learning courses.
  • Explore undergraduate research.
  • Get to know your instructors each semester and develop mentors, and make sure your instructors get to know you!
  • Consider studying abroad and learning a foreign language.

While some awards are available for first- and second-year students, most call for serious preparation beginning in your junior year.

The steps you take to get the most out of your education at MU will also make you better prepared to apply for nationally competitive fellowships. See Enhancing Your Education View PDFfor more information.

Visit the Northwest Fellowships Office

Contact the office at and visit Northwest Success 360 to set up an appointment with Dr. Elyssa Ford, the Director of the Fellowships Office. You will meet with Dr. Ford in Valk 53. Before your appointment, think about what you want to get out of a fellowship program, why you are interested in pursuing a program, and what type of fellowship you are most interested in (visit our database at Find a Fellowship). Some fellowships require that your application is submitted through our office, while other fellowships require that you submit on your own. In either instance, many students find it helpful to seek guidance from our office regarding the application process, personal statements, and letters of recommendation.

Your Application

Start the Application

In order to submit the most complete application that accurately represents you, your interests, and your goals, it is important to start the application early. Below are some important links and documents:

Application Essentials

Here are some essential tips for conducting your fellowships campaign in a professional manner. You want to work in a manner that promotes success both for the present and the future.

  • Application Essentials View PDF (by the University of Missouri) 

The Personal Statement

This short piece of writing is your chance to convey your passion and personality in the application: who you are as a person, why you want to the fellowship and how it will prepare you for a future career path, what distinguishes you from the other applicants, and how you will contribute to the program itself.  If you dedicate significant effort and thought into this portion of the application and meet regularly with the Fellowships Office for critiques and suggestions, you will successfully engage fellowship review committees that read through hundreds of applications.

  • The Quest of Composing the Personal Statement View PDF – Advice for writing a personal statement from the University of Missouri Fellowships Office Director
  • The Do’s and Don’ts of Personal Essay Writing View PDF (by A. Scott Henderson, Furman University)
  • Writing the Personal Statement (by The Writing Lab, Purdue University)
  • Personal Statements and Essays (by Fellowships & Scholarships Office, Worcester Polytechnic Institute)
  • The Personal Statement (by University of California-Berkeley)

Letters of Recommendation

Most fellowship programs require that you obtain at least two letters of recommendation, usually from faculty.  Before even beginning an application, get to know your faculty.  What professors have you visited during office hours and engaged with regularly in class?  Who conducts research that interests you?  Once you decide on a faculty member to write a letter of recommendation, bring that person your unofficial transcript, a clean draft of your personal statement, resume, and descriptions of the papers and presentations that you completed in his/her class.

  • Writing Strong Letters of Recommendation View PDF – The step-by-step process to formulating and writing a good letter, along with lists of terms that demonstrate performance.
  • Letters of Recommendation (by Loyola University Maryland) 

The Interview

Often, major fellowships, such as Fulbright and Truman, require an interview for finalists.  Here are some helpful links to prepare for one-on-one or committee interviews:

Northwest Links

Here are some important resources and programs available to you on the Northwest campus.  In addition to our office, these other programs provide you with the tools to apply to national and international fellowships as a competitive applicant.

Next Steps

Whether or not you are awarded a national fellowship, the process will give you experience in the application process. Often students who apply to fellowships also apply to graduate or professional schools. The following document gives advice on when to begin thinking about graduate school and the application process.