Advance Planning for Fellowship Competitions

While there are no guarantees in fellowship competitions, there are some things you can do during your four years at Elon University to maximize your chances of positioning yourself as a competitive candidate for graduate school admissions and national fellowship competitions.  Many of the experiences and qualities valued within fellowship competitions in particular dovetail neatly with the Elon Experiences, which include leadership experience, study abroad, intercultural exchange, internships, service learning, and undergraduate research.  Taking advantage of the many opportunities Elon offers to pursue such experiences is one way to prepare yourself for your future beyond Elon while also ensuring that you make the most of your undergraduate experience.  The following four-year timeline offers suggestions for other things to consider as you work toward both of these worthy goals.

First year

The most important thing to do is to become immersed in your courses and perform as well as you can in them.  You should also attend cultural events and grapple with ideas; many fellowships are reserved for students who are familiar with current events and have thought about ways to improve the world.  It’s wise to get to know professors – they can help you plan your four years and recommend opportunities.  In addition, get involved in campus organizations.  If you do not find an organization that interests you, take the initiative and start one.  Become involved with the community through service or internships that complement your interests.  Finally, take advantage of the summer – find unique and impressive work, service, and/or study opportunities.  Talk with the Director or Associate Director of National and International Fellowships, your professors, Career Services, acquaintances, and local leaders for ideas.

Because some of the opportunities available through the Office of National and International Fellowships are open to undergraduates, it would be useful to schedule an appointment, introduce yourself, and discuss your options and possibilities.  

Second year

This year you should take challenging courses and maintain a high grade point average.  Choose a major and become immersed in it, and in the process, find a mentor or two.  Form and continue to build solid relationships with faculty.  Look into research opportunities, study abroad programs, and internships.  Continue performing service in the wider community and begin assuming leadership positions in campus organizations.  Try to take advantage of the summer for positive ways to earn money, serve, or study.   In general, begin thinking about how you are making a unique mark within your university and the wider community.  While it is natural and perfectly acceptable to get involved with a number of different organizations during your college career, keep in mind that most of these competitive fellowships are looking for people who have a coherent narrative about who they are, what they have done, and where they are heading.  Be careful that in searching for breadth in your studies and extra-curriculars you don't eliminate the possibility for depth in the things that really matter to you. 

If you are interested in opportunities such as the Truman, Goldwater, or Udall Scholarship, you will need to begin working with the Office of National and International Fellowships during your second year. 

Third Year

This is an especially important year.  Take challenging courses and maintain a high grade point average; work closely on an academic plan with your adviser and mentors.  Do undergraduate research and present what you learned at SURF or other regional or national conferences.  Become involved in Honor societies.  Continue on-campus leadership and service outside Elon.  If it is an option, study abroad and/or do an internship in areas related to your interests.  Document your achievements and honors in an impressive resume.  Spring is the time to investigate post-graduate study, in terms of particular programs and schools and also funding opportunities, including a number of national fellowships.  Carefully prepare for and then take the necessary standardized admissions tests applicable to your graduate school plans (e.g. GRE, LSAT, MCAT).

If you are interested in pursuing a post-graduate national or international fellowship, your application will likely be due this summer.  DO NOT wait until you return to campus your fourth year to begin to think about opportunities, or you will have likely missed many such opportunities. 

Fourth Year

It all comes together this year.  Maintain academic excellence and do a capstone experience in your major.  Continue leadership and service.  Finalize your resume.  Ask faculty for references, giving them lots of information and time.  Apply to carefully chosen graduate schools and national fellowships.  Choose a fellowship, graduate school, internship or job that’s right for YOU, and feel proud of your accomplishments as you receive your diploma.