Graduate Fellowships FAQs
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A:Technically, the term “grant” simply means a sum of money that is bestowed by an organization (or government) to an individual or another organization for a specific purpose. Scholarships and fellowships are both types of grants – specifically, grants made to students, scholars, or recent graduates for research, training, professional development, or other educational purposes. The term “scholarship” is more often used for awards that will be put toward tuition or other enrollment-related costs; “fellowship” is more often used to describe awards that support advanced research or professional development programs. However, in practice the terms are often used interchangeably. Always read the “fine print” to determine exactly what an award can be used for and who is eligible.
A: The Office of Graduate Fellowships has three primary functions: (1) To collect and disseminate information about graduate fellowship opportunities, and to work with students, faculty members, administrators, and programs at GMU to help identify and publicize fellowship opportunities for GMU graduate students. (2) To provide guidance and support for graduate students in the application process, and to help students learn how to craft an application package that showcases their strengths and goals. (3) To recognize participation in graduate fellowship competitions and to honor Mason graduate students’ successes in securing these awards by publicizing their achievements both in the university community and beyond.
The Director of Graduate Fellowships conducts information sessions/workshops, and provides one-on-one fellowship advising and feedback for Mason graduate students, as well as compiling and disseminating information about fellowship opportunities to the graduate studies community at Mason. The Director also works with faculty, administrators, and the wider campus community to promote the participation and success of Mason grad students in nationally and regionally competitive fellowship programs.
A:There are many different types of fellowships. Some are awarded at the beginning of the student’s graduate career to help launch them in graduate study. Some are awarded near the end to help the student complete a doctoral dissertation. Some aim to support independent research such as laboratory research, archival research, or fieldwork. Some support language training or overseas study. Some provide paid professional development opportunities similar to internships. There are also awards that help pay for the student to attend a conference or a workshop, or to work in a specific library or archival collection.
Awards may aim to encourage talented students to enter a particular academic field or line of work; to train students in skills they would otherwise have limited opportunities to develop (for example, non-western languages or specialized technical skills); to boost the participation of women, minorities, or other under-represented groups in specific academic and professional fields; to create opportunities for international or inter-cultural dialogue; to attract scholars to work in a specific library, museum, or archival collection; or to provide emerging scholars with the necessary time and money to complete important research.
In sum, there are many different types of awards. However, because awards tend to be targeted (in terms of discipline, topic, stage of your education, demographics, and other factors), the number of competitions you will be eligible for at any given moment is likely to be small, just a handful. Students should begin thinking about fellowships the moment they start graduate school, looking ahead to what they may want to apply for at what stage and strategizing accordingly.
A:Most fellowship competitions run parallel to the academic calendar. Competitions are announced in late summer or early autumn. Deadlines will be set for the autumn or winter, typically between October and February. Awards will be announced in the spring, usually between March and May, though some are earlier and some later. The actual award will typically commence during the summer or near the beginning of the subsequent fall semester. Note that this means you will submit your application 6-12 months before you can expect to actually see an award. There are exceptions: Fulbright applications fall due in early/mid September, meaning that the applicant must start work on the application during the preceding spring/summer. Some awards (such as NSF doctoral research awards) run two or more cycles per year, with multiple deadlines. Smaller, more narrowly targeted competitions may run on different and shorter timetables – for example, with spring / summer or rolling deadlines.
A: At the graduate level, financial need is seldom a consideration. External scholarships — in the traditional sense of monetary awards designed to help students with demonstrated need meet tuition or living expenses — are very uncommon, and you should not expect to fund your graduate education in this way.
Most graduate-level awards are made on the basis of academic merit, qualifications, future promise, and how well the applicant’s profile / proposal fits with the aims of the fellowship program. Some competitions require the applicant to submit a budget detailing how the requested funds will be used, while others simply offer a fixed sum to all awardees. Either way, the applicant’s need profile and personal resources (or lack thereof) are almost never considered in making the award. Applicants should also be aware that programs often set limitations on how funds may be used and/or how the award will be paid out.
A: At the graduate level, most do not. That said, mediocre scores/GPA or isolated low grades may need to be addressed or contextualized in the parts of the application that allow you to paint a fuller picture (essays and letters of recommendation.) In general, a graduate student with an isolated low grade in an undergraduate course unrelated to their current field of study will not be harmed by it.
A: Fellowship programs are indeed intensely competitive, and the reality is that even many highly qualified candidates will be turned down. But instead of dwelling on statistics, think about “fit,” which is a very important factor with graduate fellowships.Always carefully read the program’s web site and other published materials. Look over the list of past recipients. Work closely with your mentors and the Director of Graduate Fellowships and ask them for candid feedback on whether an award seems like a good fit for you. If not, you are unlikely to succeed no matter how stellar your qualifications. On the other hand, a less-than-superstar student who is an excellent fit and can make a compelling case for him/herself can be a strong contender for an award. Is the competition stiff? Yes. Do you have to be a genius? No.Even more importantly, you need to put aside the attitude that if the chance of winning is small it’s not a good use of your time. The fellowship application process is an educational opportunity in itself – to gain valuable academic and professional skills, to define your goals, and to think critically about your work. Even if you do not ultimately win an award, the skills you cultivate in this process will serve you well in any career.
A: Plan far ahead (at least one year, preferably two) and always have a backup plan. Fellowships are not something you can count on to fund your education. Fellowship programs are competitive and funding is limited, meaning that even many highly qualified candidates will be turned away. What’s more, many fellowships provide only partial funding or set limits on how funding can be used (for instance, some fellowships may only be used to pay for research expenses or special training, not ordinary tuition or rent.) Graduate fellowships should be approached more as a kind of professional opportunity than a financial plan.
A: In most cases you will be eligible to apply, but if you are offered an award you may be required to become a full-time student during the tenure of fellowship as a condition of acceptance. Some awards also stipulate that you may not work during the tenure of the award. However, rules vary widely from one award to the next and depend on the amount and purpose of the award. Always read eligibility requirements and terms of acceptance carefully.
A: Definitions and eligibility requirements for so-called “diversity” awards vary considerably from one award to the next. Some awards target very specific groups, while others are open to a wide range of applicants. Some competitions consider the field of study, so women may count as an under-represented group in, say, Astrophysics, but not in Psychology. (A few competitions support men in female-dominated fields such as Nursing as well.) Traditionally, such awards have sought to increase the participation of African-American, Latino/Hispanic, Native American (including native Alaskan), and Pacific Islander candidates, and members of these groups will find the largest number of targeted opportunities. However, many awards are also open to those of Asian or Middle Eastern descent, persons with disabilities, or members of the LGBTQ community. Some competitions also include in their definition of diversity persons who are the first in their family to attend college. And there is at least one very prestigious “diversity” fellowship program – run by the Ford Foundation – that will consider candidates whose research or teaching focuses on diversity issues regardless of the applicant’s own background. Always read eligibility requirements carefully – and if you are still unsure whether you qualify, contact the foundation or agency to inquire.
A: Many fellowship programs are supported either wholly or in part by U.S. taxpayer funds, and therefore can only be used to support U.S. citizens (and in some cases permanent residents.) Some fellowship programs send students overseas to encourage citizen-diplomacy (such as Fulbright). Others are designed to groom awardees for future careers in U.S. government service or careers related to national security (such as Boren, CLS, DoD SMART, NDSEG, or PMF). These programs are generally limited to U.S. citizens. However, do not assume that U.S.-government funded programs will always be limited to citizen applicants. Many fellowships are also open to permanent residents, and a few are open to international students.
: Because many fellowship programs stipulate U.S. citizenship or permanent residency as an eligibility requirement, fellowship opportunities for international students are more limited. However, some competitions have no such restrictions, especially at the advanced doctoral level. See the Fellowship Opportunities
page for a downloadable list of fellowship opportunities for international students and other non-U.S. citizens.
A: First, attend an information session in the spring or summer, and/or contact the Director of Graduate Fellowships to discuss your plans. Currently enrolled students must apply through the Office of Graduate Fellowships (or, for undergraduates, the Office of Postgraduate Scholarships and Fellowships in the Honors College) and complete an on-campus review process before they can submit their application materials to the national Fulbright competition.With Fulbright it is very important to inform yourself early on about the different types of grants available and the destination countries. The requirements differ from one country to the next, so it is crucial to read up on the details for the country or countries you are considering. And remember: Fulbright has name recognition, but it is not the only game in town. If your goal is to go abroad, don’t overlook other opportunities! The Boren Fellowship, SSRC-IDRF, Critical Language Scholarship, and the CAORC Multi-Country Fellowship are equally prestigious and may even prove a better fit for you. There are also country- or region-specific fellowships (such as DAAD and Bosch for Germany, AMSCAN for Scandinavia, or IREX for Eastern Europe and Eurasia) that can help you realize your dream of overseas study and research.
A: Broadly speaking, the countries of western and central Europe are intensely competitive, as are popular international destinations like Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Brazil, China, Japan, Morocco, Jordan, and Thailand. Non-traditional destinations in the developing world receive fewer applications, particularly if a non-western language is spoken.However, it is generally unproductive and misguided to try to “game the system” by applying to the country you think will be “easiest” to win. Such applications are usually painfully obvious to selection committees. Successful applications make a compelling case for the country the applicant has chosen, presenting this choice as a logical extension of the applicant’s interests and motivations. The application should also demonstrate that the applicant is familiar with the Fulbright requirements and preferences specific to that country, and is well prepared to work effectively there.