Each national fellowship has unique criteria and requirements, so it is essential that you become deeply familiar with the websites and all associated information for any fellowship to which you plan to apply. In addition, there are several specific things you can do to improve the quality of your application to any fellowship.

Begin Your Application Early – And We Mean Early!

If possible, begin at least a year ahead, learning about the criteria, contacting the Office of Scholars and Fellowships, letting references know that you'll be asking for a letter, etc. Students sometimes treat applications to national fellowships as something that can be done at the last minute. "I work best under pressure," they'll say. Even if that has paid off for you in the past, it won't here. With a few exceptional students being chosen from among hundreds or even thousands of exceptional students, this is no time to write a hurried, clever essay or to rush references for letters. In addition, many national fellowships require that a candidate be nominated or endorsed by his/her institution. Effective University endorsements aren't created in a hurry. Begin by contacting the Office of Scholars and Fellowships now — literally now, during your first visit to this website.

Don't Work Alone

Your faculty, the Office of Scholars and Fellowships, and others are available to assist students through the planning and application process. They can provide crucial guidance on writing essays, selecting references and getting to know them more personally, securing a University nomination or endorsement, and (if it's early enough) making curricular and co-curricular choices that can improve the competitiveness your application. Be in close contact with the Office of Scholars and Fellowships as you create your application.

Choose a Fellowship and Follow Instructions Carefully

Some fellowships are quite broad in who they support while others are quite narrow. Choosing an appropriate fellowship (or fellowships — it is possible to apply to more than one) is essential. Be certain you meet the eligibility criteria, and be sure you've chosen a fellowship that supports students in your academic field. Fellowships provide support for students to study all over the world, so also be certain you're choosing a fellowship that will support you in where you would like to study. In addition, if you do not follow application criteria exactly, it is very likely your application will not be considered. Missing deadlines, leaving required items out, or doing things poorly are quick ways to move your application out of contention. Details matter.

Do All You Can to Improve Your Academic and Personal Standing

Choosing challenging courses and performing well, pursuing appropriate co-curricular experiences, conducting research independently and collaboratively with faculty, participating in academic conferences, keeping your GPA as high as possible, preparing effectively for standardized tests (GRE, LSAT, MCAT, etc.), getting to know faculty members personally, leading where possible in your activities ... things like these can help strengthen your application for most fellowships.