Students find value in applying for nationally-competitive fellowships.
Every year, thousands of students around the world put hours upon hours of work into fellowship applications. They write and rewrite essays 10 to 20 times over. They prepare for every possible question an interviewer could ever throw at them. They refine their research proposals and then refine them again. Applying for nationally competitive fellowships essentially becomes another class.
Those who are selected earn incredible opportunities. They study abroad, conduct funded research, earn scholarships and network with professionals. While fellowships certainly have their perks, the most rewarding part for many is the application process itself.
“My greatest reward from going through this entire process,” MU senior Anurag Chandran says, “was finding out who I am, my interests and why am I doing certain things the way I do.”
Chandran, who was recently selected for the Schwarzman Scholars Program, worked closely with the MU Fellowships Office to make himself a competitive candidate, and he did so successfully. Of the initial 3,000 applicants, only 111 were selected.
Dozens of MU students have used the services of the Fellowships Office, directed by Tim Parshall. Parshall works closely with each student to develop his or her application, but one of the most important parts, he says, is “helping students define what they really want to do.
“It’s a discovery process,” he says. “You pretty much have to go through that to apply successfully.”
The essays students must write for these applications require them to fully evaluate their reasons for applying. If they want to convince a group of strangers that they’re the best person for a program, they must be able to convey their passion for it—something that requires a great deal of time and reflection.
Sophomore Salah Daghlas recently submitted his application for the Barry Goldwater Scholarship Program. While the feeling of finally turning in the application was satisfying, he says the most rewarding part of the process was learning more about himself.
“I had to think deep and think about all the past experiences I had,” he says. That self-reflection helped him better understand why he holds the career goals that he does.
Kevin Bird, a senior at MU who applied for National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship Program and the Fulbright U.S. Student Program this year, said the process forced him to fully consider why he wanted to study science and pursue a PhD.
“The ability to take a step back and sort of focus in on what you’re capable of and what your goals are,” Bird says, was extraordinarily valuable in spelling out his research project and explaining why he was interested in it.
Bird was also an honorable mention selection for the Goldwater Scholarship in 2014.
A major part of all applications, Parshall says, is the writing. The essays are never a simple one-and-done. “It takes a lot of revisions to write a compelling essay,” he says. “The students who sincerely engage in the process improve their writing skills tremendously.”
This is something many of the students who have applied for a fellowship have seen, including MU senior Sasha Gubina, who was selected as a 2014-15 Boren Scholar.
“It is very difficult to get your point across and sway your audience in just a couple short essays,” she says, “but the challenge taught me to choose my words wisely and to really grasp my reason for applying.”
The Boren Scholarship allowed Gubina to spend the 2014-15 academic year in Jordan.
Bird agrees, adding that he learned how to write a compelling essay that sells himself in a genuine way. “That’s sort of a weird way to write because people don’t write to sell themselves,” he says. “But it’s what you’re going to do the rest of your life to apply for jobs.”
The fellowships office is open to all MU students, and those who those who have used it agree that working with Parshall and Graduate Assistant Rachel Newman greatly contributed to their success.
“They are knowledgeable and encouraging individuals who will work tirelessly to ensure that your application is well-written and that every document is submitted properly,” Gubina says. Working with the office, she adds, “will give you a better chance to actually earn one of those honors.”