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Fellowships Office

Guide for First- and Second-year Students

There are many merit-based national and international academic award programs that provide funds for undergraduate and graduate study in the U.S. and abroad. These competitive fellowships are funded by government and private entities outside of the University of Rochester and should not be confused with traditional sources of financial aid. Fellowships provide outright awards that do not have to be repaid. Such programs recognize not only academic achievement as demonstrated by grades but also intellectual passion and future promise as revealed through endeavors that go beyond typical course or degree requirements. Other selection criteria often include career goals, leadership ability, campus / community involvement, character, sense of purpose, depth of commitment to the greater good. Financial need is also a consideration for some, though not all, awards. The most famous and coveted of these fellowships is the Rhodes Scholarship for graduate study at Oxford. Other highly competitive prestigious awards include the Beinecke, Churchill, Fulbright, Gates Cambridge, Goldwater, Marshall, Mitchell, NSF, Soros, Truman, and Udall.

Although most of the national and international fellowships programs target students who are past the first year of undergraduate study, beginning students are advised to become familiar with these opportunities early in their college career in order to develop a plan for future competitiveness. If you want to study abroad (and you are strongly encouraged to do so) or if you are at all considering graduate school, you should find out in advance how to obtain a fellowship to help you achieve your goals.

The Director of Fellowships in the Fellowships Office (4-209B Dewey Hall) recruits students and coordinates the application process for many award competitions. Students may also apply directly to the sponsoring foundation for some awards. On the other hand, some of the more prestigious programs require explicit University nomination or endorsement; in these cases, there is a formal campus application procedure, with much earlier deadlines than the national application due dates. Prospective candidates are required to complete a campus Fellowships Preliminary Questionnaire, or FPQ, before being considered for nomination/endorsement for certain award programs; see the summary lists of fellowships by class year for further details about the FPQ and campus nomination procedures.

So what can you do as a first- or second-year student?

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Search for academic competitions that accept applications from first-year college students and investigate those for which you might be eligible in your second and third years. Many award programs are only open to certain categories of students—for example, science or humanities majors; those of a specific class standing (sophomore, junior, etc.); those wishing to study abroad in certain parts of the world; those planning certain graduate degrees and careers; residents of certain states; applicants of particular ethnic backgrounds, etc.

Attend a fellowships information session; check out the fellowships pages on this website; meet with the Director of Fellowships in 4-209B Dewey Hall.

Use scholarship databases available on the Internet.

Check bulletin boards in academic departments, Wilson Commons, the Career Center, chapel, Financial Aid Office, etc., for notices about special opportunities, such as summer research, internship, workshop, and volunteer programs; discipline-specific scholarship competitions; essay contests; undergraduate conferences.

Most award programs have websites; these are usually quite comprehensive and often include application forms and profiles of past winners.

Here are some Web links to help you get started:

You will also find helpful resources in the Career Center Library (e.g., how to fund unpaid internships) and the reference area of Rush Rhees Library (e.g., grant and scholarship guides). In addition, the Center for Study Abroad has information about award programs for undergraduate study abroad (e.g., Boren/NSEP, Gilman, and Rotary Scholarships).

Establish a list or bookmark websites of programs that interest you. Note eligibility requirements, selection criteria, application components, instructions for completion and submittal of application, and application filing deadline.

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Make choices and seek experiences that will enrich your education and personal growth--and enhance your ability to be competitive for future opportunities:

  • take challenging courses in multiple disciplines; study a foreign language; maintain high grades; pursue intellectual interests further through independent study and research; volunteer to assist faculty with their research projects; be a tutor, TA, or workshop leader; apply for summer research programs at UR as well as those available at other universities; see these websites:
  • read widely and include a daily national newspaper (e.g., New York Times, Washington Post) or news weekly to keep abreast of domestic and international events and debates in the social, political, and cultural realms.
  • polish your writing and oral presentation skills.
  • pursue paid and unpaid internships; visit the Career Center for possible funding of unpaid internships.
  • obtain leadership positions and use them to effect positive change.
  • engage in campus activities and groups, long-term community service, social and political advocacy—move beyond your comfort zone; visit the Rochester Center for Community Leadership, located in Wilson Commons.
  • study abroad, volunteer abroad—see Center for Study Abroad and Career Center for guidance on how to obtain outside funding for these opportunities:
  • develop and share your artistic talents.
  • participate in essay contests and student conferences; attend public lectures; take out student membership in a professional society in your field of study; submit work for publication.
  • apply for smaller awards to start honing your application preparation skills and begin building a winning profile.
  • establish connections with faculty and administrators who can mentor you, and continue to develop these relationships over time.
  • take initiative; live imaginatively; create your own opportunities; make a difference in everything you do.

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  • know how far in advance you need to prepare your application; deadlines range from a few months before final selection and disbursement of the award, to as long as 15 months; if University nomination is required, it is usually necessary to begin the campus application process in the semester prior to that of the national deadline.
  • talk with the Fellowships Coordinator or a counselor in Study Abroad, OMSA, the Career Center or other relevant office about the award(s) you would like to apply for.
  • download application materials from program websites or obtain them from the relevant campus office; practice completing the application; use the previous year's application until the current version becomes available.
  • establish a list of faculty and others whom you would ask to write recommendation letters; when asking for letters, give the person information about the award program as well as a summary of your academic and extra-curricular interests, achievements, and goals; allow recommenders sufficient time (4-6 weeks) to write their letters.
  • review essays of past applicants and winners when available; examples are available in binders in the Fellowships Office for some of the most high-profile national competitions.
  • start writing early enough to allow adequate time for the preparation and revision of your application and essay(s)—you will have to revise; work with counselors in the Writing and Career Centers on your essays and résumé.
  • show drafts of your application essays to a faculty mentor and seek critical feedback.
  • observe campus and national application deadlines; keep copies of everything you submit.

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Remember to thank faculty and others who helped you and to notify them of the outcome of your candidacy.