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Writing for External Fellowships

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Tip: Consider the advice provided in the recorded Writing Proposals for National Fellowships Workshop as you draft your application. Pair with a Writing Partner through the Poorvu Writing Center for one-on-one help in drafting your fellowship application.

Tackling Essays​

Writing essays for fellowship applications requires good understanding of the fellowship program, its requirements, and its expectations. Official fellowship websites often provide helpful advice and guidance to applicants (examples include the FulbrightTruman and Udall).

Tip: Tempted to read sample fellowship essays? It's a good idea to draft your own essays first, so that you are not influenced by outside sources. Remember, fellowship committees are interested in learning about your individual project and ideas.

Tips for any application

What's the best way to begin?  Start early and do your homework.

It takes more time than you might think to explore options, seek advice from busy mentors, and put together a good application. (See elsewhere on our website for advice about asking for letters, crafting a résumé, and more.)

Note: Some key questions:

  • What are you proposing to do with the fellowship, where, and why? 
  • What does the fellowship application request?  What is the essay prompt?
  • What is the fellowship for? What is its history? What are the stated selection criteria for the fellowship? What is the audience for whom you’re writing?

Think of your application as a whole

What are the ideas you want to present? Consider what will best be conveyed by which part of your application: the letters of recommendation, the language evaluation, the letter of affiliation, the transcript, résumé/cv, short-answer questions, and essays, as applicable.

  • What can be said only or best by you?
  • What might better be said for you by other people (e.g., in a letter or language evaluation), or by your transcript, résumé, etc.?
  • Considering each essay prompt; what might you put into each answer?
  • Do essays/other pieces of the application complement one another to create a coherent narrative?
  • Be strategic about what is included.  What sheds light on key points or advances your argument?  What is interesting but not particularly relevant to the application/proposal, and therefore might be omitted at need?

As you write

Remember that audiences vary. Write for an intelligent, well-educated non-specialist, but remember that a specialist in your field might read your application.

Some committees are more likely than others to contain specialists, e.g.: Goldwater applications are read by people in STEM fields, Hays-Brandeis applications by people in arts fields, and graduate school applications are read by the scholars who might be teaching you; in these instances, write for experts in the field.

Note: Things to consider:

  • Does your application start the conversation going in the right direction and open up interesting possibilities for further discussion?
  • Does it open any subject you would rather not discuss?
  • If there is an obvious weakness in your application, it is often better to tackle it up front in your application, so that concerns are defused and questions don’t detract from your strengths.

Re-read what you've written

After you've written a draft, leave it alone for a while, and come back to it with fresh eyes. Does your draft say what you want it to say, clearly and concisely, in your own voice? Have you made the points you need to make, and is there an important aspect that you take so much for granted that you forgot to spell it out?

Note: Remember to proofread, and if you can have someone else proofread for you do that, too. Typos say that you are not taking an application seriously, so the reader need not either.

You have nothing to lose

No matter the result of your fellowship applicaiton, the process of applying will teach you valuable skills that will help you navigate future applications, interviews, and projects. Remember that you can always apply again - there is nothing to lose in trying!

Writing essays for fellowships for postgraduate study in Britain and Ireland

In addition to the advice above, consider the following key questions if pursuing fellowships for postgraduate study in Britain and Ireland:

  • What are you proposing to do with the fellowship, where, and why? 
  • Have you found the right graduate program for you, to suit your preparation, interests, and long-term goals? 
  • Why study in Britain or Ireland over another destination?
  • Why are you applying for this particular fellowship? What might you bring to the fellowship, to contribute to the community of scholars and to the mission of the fellowship?

There are many fellowship opportunities - take your time and find the experience that would be best for you and your goals.

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