Fellowships & Scholarships – Frequently Asked Questions

FAQs

1. What is an institutional endorsement?
2. What is a nomination?
3. When should I start looking into fellowships?
4. How long is the application process?
5. What is a “mock” interview?
6. How many drafts should I prepare of my personal statement?
7. Who should read my personal statement?
8. How often should I meet with the Fellowship Advisor?
9. I’m studying abroad. Can I apply for a fellowship? How?
10. What is the difference between an internal and official deadline?
11. Does it matter whether I apply from Minnesota or my home state?
12. How do I go about researching my program of study abroad?
13. Can a TA write a letter of recommendation for me?
14. I’ve just learned of a fellowship I’m interested in, but the deadline for the application is quite soon. Should I apply?
15. Whose responsibility is it to get recommendation letters to the fellowship granting organization?
16. Do I really have to be a varsity athlete to apply for a Rhodes Scholarship?
17. How firm are the minimum grade point average requirements for scholarships that list them?
18. Can the Piper Center put me in touch with recent Ole winners of various fellowships?
19. Does the Piper Center assist recent alumni who wish to apply?

Answers

1. What is an institutional endorsement?

An institutional nomination means that a fellowship applicant is submitting their application with the official approval of their college or university, administered through the Piper Center. An institutional nomination usually indicates that a fellowship nominee has gone through an internal selection process here at St. Olaf. Certain fellowships require institutional nomination. This generally means that a university official writes the institutional letter of support on behalf of the candidate. Students cannot apply without that official letter of recommendation.
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2. What is a nomination?

A nomination indicates that a student has been selected by their institution to go forward in the competition from a general pool of applicants. A nominated student may be the same as a finalist, depending on the terms of the fellowship selection process. Certain fellowships require a “nomination” process. This means that St. Olaf does a preliminary selection among the applicant pool and nominates candidates not exceeding the number allowed by the fellowship (numbers may vary according to state or region).
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3. When should I start looking into fellowships?

It’s never too early to begin the fellowship process. Once you begin to consider your post-graduation options, look into the different programs and opportunities that are offered. As a sophomore, you should begin honing your interests and investigating possible fellowship opportunities. Even as a first-year, however, you can prepare for possible fellowships by doing well in your courses, exploring a wide variety of fields, building relationships with faculty, and meeting with your Fellowship advisor.
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4. How long is the application process?

Most fellowship applicants work for six to nine months prior to the deadline (some fellowships liken the application process to enrolling in a three-point course). While the schedule varies for each fellowship, you may attend a series of information sessions and writing workshops. The most important component of the process – and the lengthiest – is the writing and rewriting of your personal statement.
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5. What is a “mock” interview?

Once you have been selected as a fellowship finalist, you will be invited to one or more “mock” interviews to better prepare you for the actual interview. Before a panel of faculty, previous winners, and Fellowship staff, you will go through a simulated fellowship interview followed by a constructive conversation about your performance.
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6. How many drafts should I prepare of my personal statement?

The quick answer: as many as you need. While no applicant goes through the same process, most will end up writing 10-12 drafts before the final version is produced. Each draft ends up exploring different narratives, different techniques, and different emphases. The process of rethinking and revising will help you hone your focus and strengthen the application as a whole. The fruit of your labors is a statement that demonstrates both your intellectual maturation and the development of your persuasive skills.
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7. Who should read my personal statement?

When it comes to reading and editing the personal statement, the more eyes, the better. Submit your work to the Fellowship Advisor (Grant Eustice) and also ask your friends, parents, professors, and mentors to read it. They will let you know if it truly reflects who you are, and clearly defies where you want to go and why. Other readers will be able to spot areas in need of improvement that may escape your attention.
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8. How often should I meet with the Fellowship Advisor?

As you prepare your personal statement, you should meet with us to edit and revise each new draft you complete. Feel free to contact the Fellowship Advisor (Grant Eustice) whenever you have any fellowship-related questions or concerns. Even if you don’t have updated drafts, you should remain in regular contact with the advisor.
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9. I’m studying abroad. Can I apply for a fellowship? How?

Even if you’re studying abroad, you can still (and should) apply for fellowships. If you are leaving before the process begins, contact us before your departure so that you can get all the relevant information. If you are abroad when you decide to apply, email us and we can send you information and begin working with you.
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10. What is the difference between an internal and official deadline?

An official fellowship deadline is the date established by the fellowship foundation for the receipt of all application materials. An internal deadline is the date set by St. Olaf to receive the completed application, including letters of recommendation, transcripts, and the final version of the personal statement. The internal deadline is required so that the Fellowship Advisor can select St. Olaf’s nominees or collate and send the application materials. Both the internal and official deadlines are set in stone.
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11. Does it matter whether I apply from Minnesota or my home state?

Some fellowships include a regional application process, and you may have the choice to apply from either your home state or Minnesota, where you are attending college. The Fellowships Advisor will work with each applicant to determine the best state from which to apply, considering your own strengths and the characteristics of the regional competition.
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12. How do I go about researching my program of study abroad?

To determine which international school is best for you, begin your search on the Web, using some of the resources listed on this site. Go to the universities’ own websites to learn more about their curricula and pedagogy, and perhaps most importantly, contact faculty with whom you would like to work, both in your department here and in the schools you are researching. Professors are open to your communication and are often happy to learn about your research interests and offer their own guidance and suggestions. The Fellowship Advisor will also put you in contact with previous winners.
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13. Can a TA write a letter of recommendation for me?

It is always preferable for a professor to write your letter of recommendation. Professors who have taught undergraduates for a number of years have a larger context in which to place an applicant, and can offer perspective that a TA cannot. The Fellowship Advisor works with applicants to determine the most appropriate roster of recommendation writers for each student.
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14. I’ve just learned of a fellowship that I’m interested in, but the deadline for the application is quite soon. Should I apply?

The answer depends upon the fellowship in question. You may be applying for something that requires relatively little information, only one recommendation, and a brief essay. In this case, it may not be too late. If, on the other hand, the fellowship requires eight letters of recommendation, university endorsement, a research proposal, and personal statement, it would be too late. Experience has shown that it takes six to nine months to put together a first-rate application. What may be the best course of action is to make winning the fellowship a goal for the following year, in which case you will have given yourself the valuable and necessary time to assemble the best application possible. Always check with the Fellowships Advisor if you are in doubt and we will be happy to advise you accordingly.
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15.Whose responsibility is it to get recommendation letters to the fellowship granting organization?

The responsibility is yours. An application may stipulate that you have your recommenders submit their letters on-line. In this case, you should familiarize yourself with those procedures so that you can explain the process to the faculty member or employer in question. Oftentimes when the recommendation is asked for on-line, the foundation will send instructions to the recommender as well. If a paper recommendation is required, please be sure that you give your recommender all necessary cover sheets, the correct contact person to whom the letter should be addressed, the correct number of copies asked for by the foundation, and the relevant deadlines. Regardless of the method required for submitting a recommendation, we ask that you also have the recommender send a hard copy to the Fellowships Advisor, who will keep it on file in case there are any problems with the submission.
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16. Do I really have to be a varsity athlete to apply for a Rhodes Scholarship?

No. In the past, it was expected that Rhodes Scholars would have attained high athletic achievements either with a college team or as an individual during their university career. Now, the Rhodes Trust asks that students demonstrate their “energy to use [their] talents to the full, as exemplified by fondness for and success in sports.” The key here is that you have an active lifestyle which embodies this notion of using your talents and gifts to the utmost.
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17. How firm are the minimum grade point average (GPA) requirements for scholarships or fellowships that list them?

They are quite firm. If a fellowship lists 3.50 as the cut off, they will not consider applicants who fall below that requirement, regardless of individual circumstances, strength of undergraduate education, or justifications for a particularly low grade or weaker semester. In some cases, the Fellowships Advisor made a note of a “recommended” GPA. Although this is not a firm cut-off, it is strongly advised based on past applicants’ experiences. Some of the most competitive scholarships fail to list a specific minimum grade point average, expressing their desire for candidates with outstanding academic performance. These kinds of parameters usually mean that you should have at least a 3.80 or higher.
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18. Can the Piper Center put me in touch with recent Ole winners of various fellowships?

Yes, we can and are happy to do so when the winner or recent applicant has expressed a willingness to talk to current students. Please enquire with the Fellowships Advisor (Grant Eustice), who can connect you with those individuals.
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19. Does the Fellowship Advisor assist recent alumni who wish to apply?

Yes, we do. In many instances, you might be a better applicant for a competitive fellowship after a year’s worth of work experience or after you’ve had some time away from college to think about what specific degree objective you wish to pursue. We offer all of the same resources to recent alumni that we do to current students, so please don’t hesitate to ask for our assistance and guidance if you have already graduated, but are still interested in national and international fellowships.
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