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Summer is Almost Here – How to Get Ready for Fall Application Season

14 May Posted by in Uncategorized | Comments

Summer is almost here… and after summer comes fall, when fellowship deadlines come at you fast and furious.  Summer is a crucial time of planning and preparation for the upcoming fellowship application season, particularly if you are facing early fall deadlines (hello, Fulbright!) or if you plan on applying to multiple competitions.  Here are some tips for how to use the summer to anticipate and manage the workload — and also to transform yourself into a more competitive applicant.

1.  Get Out Your Calendar:  Check on the competitions you hope to apply to.  Some will not open their applications until late summer or early fall, but that doesn’t mean you can’t get organized now.  Find out when the application will be available, and note both this and the submission deadline on your calendar.  Count back from there to estimate when you will need to finalize requests for letters of recommendation (at least 2-4 weeks prior to the deadline), order transcripts, and draft your essays.  Once the application is open, register and get a look at it as soon as you can — some are more involved than others.  If you’re applying to Fulbright, or to a competition that requires OSP routing, get in touch with the Office of Graduate Fellowships to find out what you need to do.

2. Really Read the Web Site / Program Solicitation:  It’s not on anyone’s summer beach reading list, but hey, you’re a grad student!  Program web sites and solicitations contain lots of important information, from basic instructions on margins and font size, to tips and advice for applicants, to insights into what the funding agency looks for in a successful application.  Read it.  Read it all.  Read it again.  Think about it.  Internalize it.  Relate it to your project.  Then…

3. Start Drafting Essays:  For competitions with early deadline, like Fulbright (September 15 for Mason applicants), summer is when you’ll need to get the bulk of the work done on your essays.  Even for competitions with later deadlines (this includes NSF GRFP, CLS, and Boren), web sites let you look at a sample application or questions before the new application opens, allowing you to get a head start on your essays.  If the deadline is between September-November, the ideal is to head into the fall semester with reasonably polished drafts.  This will allow you to share your essay and proposal drafts with your mentors and your references, giving them the opportunity to write better, more informed letters of recommendation.  It will also give you more opportunities to obtain feedback that will help you strengthen and refine your proposal.

4. Give References a Heads-Up:  Summer is a good time to chat with faculty and professional mentors and others who you may be turning to for letters of recommendation, affiliation, or support.  Even if it’s still a bit early to write the letter, let them know your plans for fall, and tell them you may be approaching them to ask for a reference.  Ask them what they need from you, and by when, to make the job easier.  Would they like a draft of your proposal?  Information about the opportunity?  A CV?  Some pointers on what to emphasize?  This will save you a lot of stress come fall, and also help you get the best possible letters of support.  But remember:  Many people travel or take time off during the summer, so allow plenty of time.  You don’t want to end up begging for favors or trying to track people down in the days before a fall deadline.

5. Get Up to Speed:  If there are any deficiencies in your application profile, summer offers a chance — maybe the last chance — to get up to speed.  Need to brush up on language skills?  Gain research experience?  Do some community outreach (think: NSF “broader impacts”)?  The application you submit in the fall will be much stronger if you can demonstrate that you took initiative during the summer.  Selection committees are more likely to believe you when you say you’ll do something if they can see you are already laying the groundwork.

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