Frequently Asked Questions

Who should consider applying for fellowships?

Consider applying for a fellowship if your plans after graduation include any of the following:

What's the difference between grants, scholarship and fellowships?

There is very little difference in practice, and the terms are sometimes used interchangeably. There are a few minor technical distinctions: grants are the most inclusive, representing any grant of money in exchange for a prescribed purpose. Scholarships usually refer to grants in support of undergraduate education, and fellowships usually refer to grants in support of post-baccalaureate projects, or to pre-baccalaureate projects pursued outside the normal curriculum. All scholarships and fellowships are grants.

What is required in fellowship applications?

Every fellowship has its own application form. However, fellowship competitions generally ask for a transcript and record of extracurricular activities, three or more letters of recommendation and a personal statement. Some may require the GRE. For more competitive fellowships, you may also be asked for a project proposal or plan of study, and an interview.

What are they looking for?

The most universal criterion is academic excellence. National fellowships are highly competitive with applicants in the top 10 - 15 % of the class, with a minimum GPA of 3.5 (and higher for many scholarships). Many fellowships also look for a record of leadership, public service, research experience, and meaningful participation in extra-curricular activities.

How important are grades?

Grades alone are less important than the overall combination of qualities (which might include research, service, leadership, and so on), but they are still significant. Nominees for prestigious fellowships generally have GPAs at least 3.5 on a 4.0 scale. The Marshall Scholarship requires a GPA of 3.7 or higher, and in practice most fellowships also look for a similar level of academic achievement. Some Truman Scholars have GPAs in the range of 3.5 - 3.6 but have received outstanding grades in upper-division courses in their field of interest along with several years of public service. The average GPA of Udall Scholars is 3.7, but some Udall winners have had GPAs as low as 2.8 or 2.9 combined with exceptional accomplishments related to the environment in other areas. Most Goldwater Scholars have GPAs in the range of 3.9 - 4.0.  Most applicants for the NSF Graduate Research Fellowships have GPAs of 3.7 or higher, but applicants with less competitive GPAs have won awards if they show substantial improvement in their grades and a very strong application in other respects, including the proposed plan of research and very supportive letters of reference. Near perfect grades are never, by themselves, enough to win.  So many students with excellent grades apply for these awards that other aspects of the application are more decisive.

What does leadership mean?

Leadership can mean many different things and could be demonstrated in many different ways.  Strong examples of leadership usually have all of the following:  a significant problem, a unique role, the participation of others, and a concrete outcome.  A common problem is that someone is president of something, but leader of nothing.  Leadership does not necessarily mean holding the top position in an organization.  Think about what have you done rather than what positions you held.  Agencies that sponsor fellowships and scholarships almost always recommend that you avoid taking too narrow a definition of leadership.  

What makes a strong application?

In a strong application, the pieces of the application fit together well, and offer a convincing composite picture of your strengths. Your application may be compared to hundreds of others. It will likely be read by several groups of people during the selection process. To ensure that you are conveying the impression you intend, utilize the knowledge and experience of others in putting together your application package. The letters of recommendation should offer a portrait of the student that is consistent with the personal statement and other materials submitted by the candidate. A strong application will stand out from the crowd, and will impress a variety of people.

How should I prepare for nationally competitive fellowships?

You should:

How much time do applications take?

This varies with each application. Typically, people who become finalists and advance to the interviews for prestigious fellowships report spending as much or more time completing the application materials and preparing for interviews as they would spend on a regular academic course in one term. People who spend very little time on the application do not do well in these competitions.

What are the benefits for applicants who do not win awards?

Most nominees who make a commitment to the competition and accept guidance from their faculty advisors:

Can I apply for more than one grant or fellowship?

Yes. You should apply for any of the awards that are right for someone with your background and interests.

Can I apply after graduation?

Yes. It is possible to apply for most major post-graduate fellowships as a senior or for several years after graduation. For the Rhodes, candidates must be between 18 and 24 in the year of application; for the Marshall, nominees must have been graduated within the last three years. Applicants for the Gates Cambridge or Soros fellowships normally should be under 30. There is no age limit on Fulbright applications. Check the eligibility requirements for each award. Consider that some students may put together stronger applications after graduation since they have completed a senior project and developed a more mature understanding of their future plans and goals. If you think you might apply for fellowships after graduation, it is helpful if you discuss this possibility with faculty advisors before you leave campus so that they can make notes that will be helpful in writing letters of recommendation at a later date.  

Why are some competitions restricted by nomination?

Some competitions are restricted by nomination in order to ensure a consistently high quality in the applications. In these cases, restrictions are in place as a requirement from the sponsors. Competition is fierce, and there are many more qualified candidates than nomination slots.

Most of the fellowships listed in the Database are only open to U.S. citizens. If I'm not a U.S. citizen, what are my options?

Most awards described in the fellowships and scholarships database on this site are open only to U.S. citizens or permanent residents, but some fellowships invite non-U.S. citizens to apply. Consult the applications for specific information on eligibility. In separate competitions, citizens of certain other countries may apply for the Rhodes and Rotary scholarships. A permanent resident may apply for the Hertz and NSF. Only a naturalized U.S. citizen or child of naturalized parents may apply for the Soros. The Gates Cambridge Scholarship is open to citizens of any country other than the UK.  Citizens of member states of the Commonwealth may apply for certain scholarships to study in the UK.  If you are a foreign national, you may also want to contact the fellowship office at a university in the country where you are a citizen to get information about other opportunities. For the Fulbright, international students will need to contact their own embassy or consulate for procedures. 

How do I register for the GRE (Graduate Record Examination)?

You must submit scores for the GRE (Graduate Record Examination) when you apply for many fellowships. The GRE General Test is given year-round by computer at test sites. You can register over the phone or online at using a credit card. Appointments are scheduled on a first-come, first-served basis, so you should register early.

If I need research experience to apply, how can I get experience in research as an undergraduate?

Ask faculty in your area of interest if they have any research projects which you could work on in the school year or during the summer.  WPI sponsors a number of summer undergraduate research fellowships on campus each year. Consider your interdisciplinary project and major project as opportunities to engage in professional level research.  Each summer, there are many opportunities to work in research projects on campus and around the country. The NSF Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) Program and the Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education both sponsor many programs nationwide. WPI hosts three NSF REU programs in Industrial Mathematics and Statistics, Integrated Bioengineering, and Environmental Engineering and Transportation Engineering.  Locally, the University of Massachusetts Medical School has summer fellowships for undergraduates in biomedical research, the MIT Lincoln Laboratory offers research in a variety of engineering fields, and many opportunities are available in Boston, Woods Hole, and so on.  For a variety of other opportunities, see some of these websites: Pathways to Science: Summer Research, Health Related Summer Opportunities (Swarthmore), Health Professions Internships (CMU), Biomedical Programs (BSCP), Summer Mathematical Opportunities (Stanford), IT Internships (ACM), Summer Internships (NASA), and the Web Guide to Undergraduate Research.  Or search the listings on Monster or browse WPI's database of Fellowships, Scholarships and Internships.

What kinds of fellowships are available for graduate study at WPI?

WPI offers a variety of fellowships and assistantships that support graduate students. See the WPI Graduate Admissions website for information on WPI Assistantships and WPI Fellowships.

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Last modified: May 09, 2012, 10:13 EDT
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