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Application Process & Checklist

IMPORTANT NOTE: Students interested in applying for scholarships / fellowships for the 2014-2015 academic year should meet with the Office of Fellowship Advising in the spring of 2013 in order to have adequate time and advice to begin the application process.

Please review and follow the application process and checklist below prior to beginning the application process.

National fellowships and scholarships are extremely competitive, and even the most outstanding candidates are not guaranteed success. In order to ensure that your application is a winner, you should start as early as possible and follow this step-by-step checklist. Last-minute applications invariably lack substance and cut no ice with the seasoned judges employed by granting agencies.

Step 1: Choice of Grant

Take time to read the descriptions on this site and consult the Office of Fellowship Advising (OFA) in order to identify the fellowship or fellowships that most closely match your goals. This is preferable to selecting an attractive fellowship and attempting a proposal that fits its requirements. Once you have made the choice, familiarize yourself with the foundation’s philosophy, criteria and procedures, and the documents which you will be required to submit with your application.

Step 2: Long-term Preparation

Take steps to ensure that your candidacy is as strong as possible by:

  • becoming fully engaged in your discipline outside regular coursework. Join relevant professional organizations, read the leading journals, deliver papers, and get to know the latest areas of research.
  • trying to meet the criteria of your chosen foundation. For example, the Goldwater looks for sophomores and juniors with considerable research experience, while the Rhodes seeks seniors who have engaged in extensive extracurricular activities. Others, such as the Fulbright, require detailed knowledge of and prior contacts with a foreign university.

Step 3: Application

Most foundations have official websites from which you can download application materials and some (such as the Fulbright) employ electronic submission. Check the foundation’s website to see what documents are required. Many foundations include instructions for their very detailed application procedures.

The application form usually contains short-answer questions about biographical and academic information. As it is the first document the judges will see, it should be completed thoughtfully and neatly.

Step 4: The Essay(s)

  • Before you submit your essays to the OFA, you must have at least two sources review your essay and personal statement drafts and provide feedback.
  • Refer to, and whenever possible, use the Lehigh writing resources below.
  • Contact your faculty advisor to review technical information regarding your field of study or research.

Your essays must be in final form when you submit them to the OFA. The OFA and its committee will provide high-level content feedback and suggestions only.

Lehigh University writing resources


Writing Center 110 Drown Hall or 610-758-3098 open 9am-4pm

1/2 hr appointments
up to 1 hour /week

- or - STEP 1

Online Writing Lab (OWL) Online
or 610-758-3098
up to 10 pages, note feedback desired


Career Services 484 Rauch Business Center
621 Taylor Street
or 610-758-3710
open 8:15am-4:45pm
drop-in services & by appointment

Step 3

Office of Fellowship Advising By appointment OFA director reviews final essay before committee interview (if applicable)

Step 5: Proposed Course of Study

  • The proposal should be written for intelligent readers from outside your area of research, and describe the projected course of study in some detail.
  • When writing the proposal, show that the project matches the foundation’s criteria and that your academic background makes you fully qualified to pursue it.
  • If research is involved, outline the goals, methodology, and expected results.
  • Indicate why you want to study in that program and country, and, if possible, refer to correspondence which you have had with professors in the department concerned.
  • Present a timetable showing that the proposal can be completed in the time available.
  • Some foundations (including Mitchell and Rhodes) combine the proposal with the personal statement, while others (including Marshall) separate them.

Step 6: Personal Statement

Students often find the personal statement difficult because, unlike most of their academic work, it is written in the first person and obliges them to look inward rather than at a set of data. It is a writing sample, a test of ability to communicate complex thoughts with clarity and economy.

  1. This is your opportunity to stand out and grab the attention of the selection committee.
  2. Space is limited; do not repeat information that is available elsewhere in the application.
  3. Get right to the heart of the matter and stay on point.
  4. The selection committee wants to know what makes you tick and whether you and the fellowship would be a good match.

    • Tell them who you are, why you are distinctive, what are your passions.
    • Describe one or two people, experiences, books, or ideas that have had important influences on you.
    • Indicate when and why you first became interested in that field of study, the ways in which you have pursued it both in the classroom and outside, and how it fits into your long-term career or professional goals.
    • Convey your priorities, values, and the depth of your interests.

  5. You should expect to write numerous drafts before producing one that is satisfactory.
  6. While doing so, seek the comments of friends, advisors and professors, the Writing Center, and Career Services (see review requirements above). Only final statements should be submitted to the OFA.
    • Ask whether your message is coherent.
    • Are some points inadequately covered?
    • Are there further questions that should be tackled?
    • Be sure to include only matters that are important.

Step 7: Resume

Not all application forms have space for a resume. Be sure to include a list of your activities and honors under application subheadings (“academic awards”, “community service”, “leadership”, etc.). Include only those extracurricular interests and activities that have continued for some time.

Step 8: Letters of Recommendation

Letters of recommendation are crucial to the application process. You should list your referees and their email contact information first on the application in order to give them plenty of time to respond.

  1. Selection committees are interested in assessments by professors with whom you have studied, rather than advisors who lack intimate knowledge of your work.
  2. The best recommendations offer detailed information, place the proposal into the context of your credentials and goals, and assess your suitability for the award.
  3. Provide your advisors and referees with information about the scholarship/fellowship and your accomplishments in order for them to write a positive and detailed letter.

    • Discuss the details of the fellowship with your advisors and referees. Remind them of work you have done in their courses, and suggest matters that the letter should emphasize.
    • Provide copies of your application documents (the proposal, personal statement, resume, and transcript), as well as the foundation’s description of criteria that the letter should address, and the official recommendation form (if not auto-generated via email from your application).
    • Make sure they know the deadline, how, and where to submit the reference.
    • Some letters should go to OFA. Others, like the Fulbright, send electronic forms to identified references for completion and submission by the references.
    • Follow up before the recommendation deadline to ensure prompt submission.
    • Follow up with a written thank you, and keep them informed of developments.

You should request a recommendation at least a month before the deadline. Professors tend to get very busy and take sabbaticals, during which they may be away from campus for several months.

Step 9: Official Transcript

  • You should obtain official copies of your transcripts well in advance of the application deadline for upload into your application. Official Lehigh University transcripts may be obtained from Lehigh University's Registrar:
  • Make sure you know where to send your resume. Some require batching with your application materials through Lehigh's Office of Fellowship Advising; others require receiving them directly from the Registrar.
  • Request official transcripts from all post-secondary schools attended (including study abroad programs if you did not study abroad on a Lehigh University program).
  • The transcript that you scan and upload must be a document that was produced by the Registrar and must include one or more of the following features: the registrar’s signature, the Registrar’s seal, an institutional watermark, or it must be printed on official institution paper.
  • A document that you personally print from your academic history does not meet official transcript requirement.
  • Failure to submit all required transcripts can seriously affect the viability of success of your application.

Step # 10: GRE Scores

GRE scores are required by some foundations (including Churchill, Ford, Mellon, NSF). Note that the General Test may be taken throughout the year, but the Subject Test is given on a limited number of occasions. For information:

Step 11: Allow Plenty of Time

  • Most application procedures are very complex, and frequently take much longer than students anticipate.  
  • Allow yourself time to edit, and write your essay and collect the necessary documents well in advance of the foundation’s final date for submission.
  • For fellowships requiring university nomination, all documents must be submitted to the OFA at least a month ahead of the official deadline to allow time for distribution to and review by the OFA committee.

Step 12: The Interview

What to expect

  1. All essays, transcripts, resumes and copies of applications must be submitted electronically to the OFA prior to your interview appointment.
  2. Applicants for major awards are usually interviewed on at least one occasion. While no two interviews are exactly the same, most have a number of common features.
  3. Some require institutional committee interviews and endorsements.
  4. Dress for an employment interview: collar shirt, tie, and sports coat are appropriate for males. Jacket and skirt or pants are appropriate for females.


  1. The chairperson will begin by introducing the members of the panel, and will ask a few questions to make you feel at ease.
  2. The interview committee member with most knowledge of your specialty will ask some probing questions about your proposed course of study.
  3. The other panelists may raise matters that interest them. They usually focus on one or two issues, although one might ask a series of rapid questions about diverse topics.
  4. After about twenty minutes, the committee will give you the chance to make some closing remarks, then thank you for coming.


Members of the interview panel will be scholars and professionals from diverse fields. They have reviewed your application materials, and want to find out whether you are as impressive in person as you are on paper.


Typically, the panelists have three main concerns.

#1: The application itself.

  • They want to assess how well you understand your specialty, and to determine the feasibility of the proposal.
  • They may delve into any aspect of your personal statement, as well as courses taken outside your major and minor, and activities listed on your resume in order to find out what kind of person you are.
  • Do not assume that the panel members share your view of what is important in the application.

#2: Whether you would be a good representative of your country.

  • You are not required to be wholly uncritical of the United States, but foundations tend to shy away from candidates who seem to be excessively negative.

#3: How your mind works, since your transcript leaves much unsaid.

  • They want to assess the breadth of your interests, how you “come across”, whether you are thoughtful, tolerant, mentally agile, and can express yourself clearly and concisely.
  • You should expect questions about diverse matters outside the application, such as current events, travel, books you have read recently, performances you have attended.

Step 13: Helpful Hints - How to win them over


  1. Be knowledgeable about the country and the university to which you want to go.
  2. What do you know about the history of the country and its current situation?
  3. Why did you choose that particular institution to attend?
  4. Which professors would you ideally want to study under?
  5. How will they enable you to implement your proposal?
  6. Be ready to answer questions about the granting agency. For example:
    • Who was George Marshall (if applying to the Marshall scholarship)?
    • What principles were dear to Cecil Rhodes (if applying to the Rhodes scholarship)?
    • What is the purpose of Fulbright grants (if applying to the Fulbright program)?
  7. Think about the non-academic aspects of your application, so that you are able to give intelligent and thoughtful answers about them.
  8. Why is that apparently trivial entry in your resume important to you?
  9. Be prepared to explain your plans if you do not win the fellowship.
  10. Dress professionally.


  • The best interviews are almost conversational in the sense that they have a logical flow and a pleasant give-and-take between the candidate and the panel.
  • Listen closely to each question and, if necessary, pause before answering it directly and briefly.
  • Avoid stock answers.
  • Do not try to force the interview in the direction that you want.
  • Speak clearly, and address the whole panel, not just the questioner.

Be yourself

  • Take the opportunity to convey your enthusiasm for the subject, the reasons it is so worthwhile, and what you would like to accomplish as a scholar.
  • Do not be aggressive or dogmatic, or ramble on about your accomplishments.
  • Try to come across as an individual who is confident but also flexible, willing to consider contrary views, and prepared to acknowledge and discuss any weaknesses in the application.
  • Inject humor if the opportunity arises.
  • Avoid nervous habits (twitching, fidgeting, cracking knuckles, scratching hair, etc.).
  • Do not get flustered by a switch of direction or interruption, which usually signifies that you are handling one line of questioning well.
  • At the end of the interview, be prepared to respond briefly when the chairperson asks whether there is anything you wish to add.

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