Applying for an Award
Who should apply for a major award?
The simple answer is: any good student. The more complete answer, however, comes from understanding that there is broad-based national competition for well established, notable awards. Unfortunately, not all qualified students can win an award. Thus, you should not just meet the stated minimum criteria for a particular award -- for example, a 3.5 GPA -- you should exceed the criteria by a comfortable margin. When in doubt, ask Janice McDonald in the Office of External Scholarships, Fellowships and Awards. The record of several recent Binghamton students indicates that many of our students are highly competitive and that more should be applying for prestigious national awards.
What is "the fit"?
Fellowships, scholarships, and assistantships come in a variety of shapes and sizes. Some aim to support creative writing, for example; others wish to promote scientific research. The better the "fit" between your strengths and the goal of the award, the easier it will be for you to develop a sound application.
In looking for an award, you should pay little attention to prestige value. More important is the way your student profile matches the purpose of the award. If you have a high GPA and few activities, you will want to concentrate on grants that emphasize academic excellence. If, however, your academic record is good and you have extensive experience in extracurricular activities, you may want to consider one of the awards that seeks to recognize activities and leadership.
In short, before you apply for an award, you should assess yourself realistically. Once you have a handle on your strengths, you should look over the possibilities and see what awards might be suited to those strengths. This website does not presume to offer a comprehensive list of available grants. Rather it offers examples of the types of awards to be found. Look over the list and check other sources for possibilities.
The Application Process
Definitive announcements of most major awards arrive on campus in late summer, but candidates should begin preparations a semester to a year before you apply. Application deadlines, stipends, eligibility, and selection criteria vary, but only slightly, from year to year. Operate on the basis of last year's information -- that is, the information given in this website.
What never changes is the need for interested applicants to contact the appropriate advisor at least a month in advance of the stated deadline, and for the major international awards (Rhodes, Marshall), preferably much sooner, at least during the preceding semester.
What makes a sound application?
A sound application must demonstrate to the appropriate selection committee that the applicant meets the criteria for an award better than anyone else. Winning candidates for an award must present themselves in a positive, unique light. Each candidate must differentiate himself or herself from the other applicants.
Each award generally has its own application form. Some are straightforward and others idiosyncratic. Read the application carefully, make sure you supply the requested information. Always proofread and follow all directions and deadlines carefully.
Official transcripts are requested through the BU Brain. Please allow three to four business days to be processed and mailed. Review your official transcript for completeness and accuracy before having it sent. If you have studied at other colleges or universities, you may also need to obtain transcripts from these institutions.
The personal or research statement is the most important part of the application. Think carefully about your essay, write a first draft, seek constructive comment from faculty and friends, then refine the draft. Repeat the process until the essay accurately represents you and your goals. Be honest and sincere. In most cases you are writing for experts in your field; do not try to fool or second-guess your readers, do not misrepresent yourself. Let your personality come through in your statement.
Before you start drafting the statement, think through exactly what you want to do and why. Think about your strengths as a person and the strengths of your candidacy. Demonstrate that you have thought seriously about what you have learned in your academic career and your life experiences and what you hope to learn/experience in the future.
If you are writing a personal statement, do not simply replicate a transcript or list of activities. Personal statements should provide a sense of who you are and what's important in your life and your future.
Research statements should include a detailed discussion of your proposed course of study and why it should be carried out at the university you have selected. Show that you are academically prepared for the research and how the research fits in with your long-term goals.
Presentation is as important as content. Correctness and style are considerations. Proofread your final copy, then ask a friend to do the same. Check for spelling, grammar, and punctuation. Under no circumstances should you exceed the word limit. Express yourself clearly, with economy of word and elegance of thought and expression.
Resume/List of Activities
This will change in content depending on the criteria of the award in question. It is best to reorganize your listing of activities and/or jobs as requested and not to submit a resume/list of activities written for another purpose. List all relevant information, but if you have more entries than can fit in the space provided, be selective. Your activities should reflect your varied interests outside the classroom so reviewers have a sense of who you are and what you believe in.
Letters of recommendation
Select your recommenders carefully, paying close attention to the orientation of the award for which you are applying. Request letters from potential recommenders who know you best. If the award has a strong academic orientation, all your recommenders should be able to speak to your academic ability as well as to your proposed project. If the award considers your activities as well as your academic record, you should view the letters as a package that will present a complete picture of your candidacy.
A good letter of recommendation will accomplish three objectives:
- Provide facts about the applicant,
- Provide a judgment about the applicant's ability, and
- Give the applicant an identity that distinguishes him or her from other applicants.
It is not a good idea to wait until the last minute to request a recommendation. Schedule a meeting with your recommenders to discuss your proposal well in advance of deadlines. It is helpful to provide a copy of your proposal, your resume, and a written description of the award to assist your recommenders in writing the letters. Be sure to let them know to whom the letter should be addressed, where it should be sent, and the deadline when it is due. It is customary for you to provide the recommender with a stamped envelope, properly addressed.
Most award committees invite a limited number of applicants for personal interviews. Sometimes you will have several weeks to prepare for them; in other cases you will have only 24 hours. A mock interview with an advisor or faculty member or even a friend can be a good way to calm the jitters and help you anticipate possible questions. Imagine yourself as the interviewer and reread your application as objectively as possible, looking for holes, contradictions, and weak spots. What kinds of questions does it raise? Some committees may deliberately try to rattle you. Others simply want to give you a chance to show what you know. You may be asked questions relating to current events or recent developments in your field. You may be asked about your reasons for your proposal. There is no way to anticipate every question. The best approach is to be honest. If you don't know the answer to a question, say so. If you can, connect the question to something you do know. Relax, be yourself, and enjoy this chance to talk with some very interesting people.
If your application for an award is turned down and you can reapply in a subsequent year, do so. You have already gone through the process once; consider it a learning experience, use what you learned to help strengthen your application for the next time.