Some general information and advice about applying for national or international fellowships

Fellowship winners are not made overnight. Ideally, you will present a consistent pattern of academic and extracurricular activities that fit the purpose of the fellowship that interests you. A personal history is not built in one semester. If your interests and goals change along the way, that’s fine; think about how to connect your newfound passions with your previous experiences.

Remember that one of the best ways to prepare to apply for an external (national or international) fellowship is to apply for Carleton-funded fellowships! Each year, Carleton’s Office of Student Fellowships awards thousands of dollars of support for Carls to engage in research or other independent projects, make art, gain experiential learning, and pursue other activities.

Being a successful applicant for an external fellowship demands research and planning in advance, providing yourself enough time to work through drafts and revisions of your materials, consulting with the many people who can help you through the process, gathering materials for all applications, following through with the entire application process, and persevering with multiple applications in case some are not accepted.

Research and planning

Know the fellowship and know how your qualifications, experience, GPA, and other things fit or don’t fit with it. ‘Fit’ is one of the most important elements of a successful fellowship application and nearly all fellowships have comprehensive websites with lots of information and advice posted on them to help you figure out whether that particular one is for you.  Many of those websites are linked from the Office of Student Fellowships webpages, but you can also search the internet for additional information.

Allowing time

Consult early and watch deadlines for things like pre-application forms, which are often mandatory.  Some external fellowships also have an on-campus competition before you can be nominated or endorsed for them.

Requesting Recommendations

All national/international fellowships require recommendations and these are a very important part of the application. Read the information provided carefully and ask yourself which potential recommenders are the right ones to ask for a particular award. What kind of recommendation is required? Who knows you best for the purposes of the award criteria? Is the award one where the title or standing of the recommender matters?

Recommenders are usually professors, employers or supervisors, mentors, or some combination of these. Marynel is always available to consult about choosing recommenders!

Once you have identified your potential recommenders, reach out to them using these guidelines for requesting recommendations.

Drafting and revising

As early as possible, begin writing early and seeking feedback on your drafts.  Some excellent advice on the personal statement, the centerpiece of most fellowship applications, can be found here.


Throughout the entire process, remain aware of the people who can help you and do not hesitate to call on them.  Previous applicants can tell you what worked for them or what the program is truly about; advisors, mentors, and professors can share insights granted by years of experience; and your peers are good initial proof-readers who also have a good understanding of you as a person.  The Writing Center and the Reference Librarians at Gould Library are also both excellent sources for trained or professional help. 

Finally, Marynel Ryan Van Zee, the Director of Student Fellowships, is available to help at any stage in the process, from researching opportunities to reading and commenting on drafts, to guiding you through the exciting steps of being a finalist.  Don’t hesitate to contact her at or call ext. 4300 to make an appointment.

Gathering materials

Request your recommendations with plenty of notice and provide them with the materials (including your application or proposal!) they need to write a strong recommendation for you. Transcripts can be ordered free-of-charge through the Hub; if you need to request transcripts from any previous institution, be sure you do it with plenty of time to meet the fellowship deadline(s).

Following through

Watch for and meet all the deadlines for submitting the application; prepare for and participate in mock and final interviews (for external awards); provide any additional paperwork; meet with those who write endorsement letters, as requested; and be attentive to all the multiple, small things you will have to handle to complete the process.


Most importantly, being a successful applicant requires PERSEVERANCE.  Be prepared to write more than one fellowship application before you are successful. Don’t put your eggs in one basket and remember that there is a lot of value in the process itself!