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While many fellowship application processes share some similarities, each funder has its own eligibility criteria, essay questions, deadlines, and method for evaluating and selecting awardees. Be sure to read and follow the application instructions closely for each fellowship, bearing in mind that deadlines, essay questions and other application components may change with each cycle. Generally, the process of applying for fellowships consists of the following steps:



This initial stage of the application process begins anywhere from 6 months to several years before the application deadline for the year you plan to apply. For example, if you plan to pursue a graduate degree in science or engineering, you may want to apply for the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship Program (NSF GRFP). Similarly, if you would like your graduate studies or future career two have an international dimension, you might apply for the Fulbright, Gilman, Boren, or Rhodes scholarships to fund study or research abroad. At this stage, you would discuss your programs of interest with your academic advisor and get a sense of what you would need to do to prepare for these opportunities.


Preparing to apply for a fellowship can start as early as your freshman year. Preparation encompasses everything from maintaining a strong GPA, to extracurricular activities like intercollegiate athletics, study abroad, student clubs and organizations, and honor societies. Honing writing skills is crucial to applying for fellowships, as this is the primary way that you will communicate your personal narrative, research or study plans to the committee that evaluates your application.

As the application cycle approaches, keep an eye on each fellowship’s website and note important application dates on your calendar. For instance, when does the application open? When does it close? Does the fellowship require that a professor or institutional representative nominate you for the fellowship?

Once the application opens, read the essay questions and note down which parts of the application you will write (e.g. the personal statement and/or research statement), and which pieces you will request from others (academic transcripts, letters of recommendation from professors, etc.). Create a personal timeline that allows sufficient time for you to request letters of recommendation, draft your essays, and receive feedback from your advisors before the application is due. Give yourself enough time to draft, revise and polish your application materials. Keeping track of upcoming deadlines will help you break down the application process into manageable pieces during the semester or over the summer.


Generally, the application process consists of filling out an application form (usually online), drafting, revising and finalizing a personal statement and/or research statement, obtaining strong letters of recommendation from your professors or supervisors, and in some cases participating in an online or in-person interview.

Your application essays (a personal statement, research statement (where applicable) and for some fellowships, a diversity statement) are the core components of your application. This is where you give the committee a sense of who you are as a scholar, the importance of your proposed project or plan of study, and how your academic and professional goals align with those of the fellowship. These essays are your opportunity to make a strong and compelling case for why you are the best candidate to accomplish the objectives of the fellowship.

Developing a strong application essay takes time, diligence and a willingness to seek and incorporate feedback from others. Committees are made up of experts in their academic fields and read dozens if not hundreds of applications each year. With time at a premium, it is crucial that your essay clearly and concisely conveys your mastery of the subject, the value of your project or plan of study, and demonstrates your preparation and readiness to excel at this work. In this sense applying for a fellowship is similar to applying for a job. Hiring committees review many applications to find the right fit—someone who has the knowledge, necessary skills and a demonstrated commitment to the work they will undertake. Like employers, fellowship selection committees want to find the best candidate for the job. Your job is to persuade them that you are that person.

Because fellowship selection committees read many applications, application essays typically have word or page limits which must be followed judiciously. Make sure to follow all application instructions. Application deadlines are firm, so submit your application as early as possible.

Sometimes called references, a letter of recommendation is a vote of confidence from an advisor who knows you well, that you are prepared for the fellowship and will excel in the profession or field if you receive it. Funders often have specific guidance on who applicants should (or should not) ask for a letter of recommendation. Some require that all letter writers be professors, while others want the perspective of a supervisor.

When choosing who to ask for your letters, consider how each of your letter writers can speak to different experiences that you have had that you want the selection committee to know about. For example, if you are applying for a Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship, one of your letters might describe your teaching experience on campus, while another could talk about the leadership skills you gained through an internship, on campus research, or study abroad.

Ask your letter writer if they can provide a strong recommendation for you. Provide a copy of your application essays, resume and highlight any particular experiences (i.e. research, teaching, etc.) that you would like them to discuss in their letter. Make sure to plan ahead to give your recommenders enough time to compose your letter, and make sure to thank them for their time.


Scholarships and fellowships both provide financial aid to complete a course of study, defray the costs of books, research supplies, travel and living expenses. Undergraduate and graduate students can receive fellowships and scholarships. Some scholarships and fellowships are internal to a university campus and open only to students at that institution. The Office of Student Fellowships and Awards supports UTEP students who are applying for external scholarships and fellowships, which are open to applicants across the U.S. or internationally.

Unlike student loans, scholarships and fellowships do not need to be repaid. While some scholarships are based on financial need, fellowships tend to be primarily merit-based. Some fellowships come with a service or work requirement. For example, Boren Scholarship recipients are required to serve in the federal government in a position with national security responsibilities for at least one year after graduation.

Fellowships are competitive, meaning that recipients are selected from a large pool of qualified applicants. At first glance, the number of awardees may seem small compared to the total number of people who apply. Because each application requires a significant investment of time and effort, it is important to approach the application process strategically. This means being selective about which fellowships are best suited to your academic interests and qualifications, extracurricular experiences, and professional goals. The next step is to develop a compelling application package—where the personal statement, research statement, budget and letters of recommendation are all tailored to address that fellowship’s selection criteria and the essay prompts in the application form.

Even if you are not selected for an award, a well-crafted application contains ideas and narratives that can be adapted to future fellowship, graduate school or job applications. Developing a strong personal and/or research statement is an opportunity to hone skills in writing, reflection and critical thinking that are essential to graduate study and a variety of careers. While your first fellowship application may not be selected for an award, remember that the skills you have gained in articulating your research and/or personal narrative will serve you well on your next application, whether it is for another fellowship or graduate school.

The Office of Student Fellowships and Awards and network of fellowship advisors on campus can help students determine which programs are the best fit for their plan of study and professional goals. Students are encouraged to speak with their academic advisors about fellowship opportunities in their field. It is best to start early: application essays go through multiple rounds of revisions, and letters of recommendation must be requested early in order to ensure that all application materials are submitted within the fellowship deadline. For fellowships that require institutional nomination, campus deadlines can be weeks to months before the final fellowship application deadline. If you are interested in applying for a fellowship, schedule a consultation with the Office of Student Fellowships and Awards.

It is never too early to start thinking about applying for fellowships and scholarships to fund your undergraduate or graduate studies. Begin by reading about fellowships in your field(s) of study and meet with your academic advisor(s) or the Office of Student Fellowships and Awards to discuss funding opportunities. Then, familiarize yourself with the eligibility requirements, essay questions, and other application materials for each fellowship. Identify previous scholarship and fellowship awardees and ask your professors if they know of any faculty, students or staff who have received that award. Reach out to previous awardees for advice on building a strong application, as well as any academic opportunities (such as undergraduate research and the University Honors Program) or extracurricular activities (UTEP EDGE and joining honor societies) that strengthen important skills like leadership, problem-solving and critical thinking.