Student Fellowship FAQ

What is a fellowship?

A fellowship is nothing more than a fancy word, interchangeable with scholarship or grant, for an award that will support study abroad, research, graduate study, teaching, or an internship. In a couple of instances — Udall and Goldwater, to be exact — a fellowship will help pay for your undergraduate education here at Rutgers as well.

How high does my GPA have to be?

That depends on which fellowship we are talking about. The threshold for a few is set very high; others not as much. Many fellowships, even those considered among the most prestigious, have qualifying GPAs that can be described as reasonable. If you have a 3.0 grade point average or above, we encourage you to set up an appointment with our office and we will find at least one award for which you could apply.

It seems that I qualify for a variety of fellowships. What do I do next?

Make an appointment with our office. Together we can sort out which of these fit best with what you have accomplished already and what you hope to accomplish in the future.

Can I apply for more than one fellowship?

Absolutely. Students are encouraged to apply appropriately AND broadly. In other words, you should apply for every fellowship that will get you to where you want to go and with which your qualifications fit snugly. But remember, you never do yourself a favor when you force yourself into a fellowship competition in which you either clearly don’t belong or only barely.

The deadline for a fellowship I am interested in is only a month away. Should I still apply?

Absolutely. Although it is best to start the process as early as possible, mustering a competitive application, like most things in life, is not about how long you work at it but rather how well. What matters most is that your qualifications meet the priorities of the fellowship, and since you think this particular fellowship is "perfect" for you, it is worth applying to. Set up a time to meet with our advisors as soon as possible.

Some fellowships require an institutional endorsement. How do I get one?

Our office is a one-stop shop, and among the many things we supply, beyond encouragement, guidance, and support, is the institutional endorsement itself, written by the Director of Distinguished Fellowships on the candidate’s behalf. The institutional endorsement is one reason why it’s better to begin the process of applying as early as possible: The longer we have to get to know you, the better the letter that we write for you is likely to be. The same logic also applies to the recommenders you selected to write their own letters to support your candidacy.

Who should I ask to write my recommendation letter?

Traditionally, students are encouraged to request letters of recommendation from high-ranking professors. Since most applicants are current or recent undergraduates, it makes sense to have Rutgers faculty represented in your recommendations. However, the situation is much more flexible than most believe. The bottom line with recommendations is that they must be detailed, specific, supportive and enthusiastic. To receive a recommendation like this, you must choose someone who is willing and able to write the sort of letter described, whether the recommender is a professor or a supervisor. It is important that the recommender knows you well and likes you so that they can craft a great letter that is detailed, specific, supportive, and enthusiastic. If the substance of your relationship with a professor is nothing more than having received a high grade in her class, that is not enough to generate the quality of letter you are looking for and you should search elsewhere.

How should I go about asking for letters of recommendation?

When it comes to asking for letters, it is important that you give people a chance to say no. A lot of faculty members feel obligated to say yes to your request even if they don’t know you well enough to write the kind of letter that will help you to be competitive. Remember, the best recommender is not simply someone willing to write a letter, but rather someone who knows and likes you well enough to craft a great one for you that is detailed, specific, supportive, and enthusiastic. When asking for a recommendation, let them know that you would very much appreciate it if they would write in support of your candidacy but also that you understand perfectly if they don’t feel as if they know you well enough to write the kind of letter you need to be competitive.

Once someone who knows you well enough to write a letter has agreed to do so, don’t think your work is over. It is your responsibility to provide the recommender with the necessary information and materials needed to get the job done. Be ready with the papers you wrote for their class, copies of the prospectus for your senior thesis if you are writing one, descriptions of any research you’ve been involved in, your resume—anything and everything that contains the kind of specific information about you and your accomplishments that would help your recommender stitch together a personal and professional portrait of you that will be useful to a fellowship committee in making its selections. Make sure the recommender is also aware of the requirements of the fellowship and your goals for receiving the fellowship.

However, even if you shower your letter writers with all the supporting material in the world, your effort will probably go for naught if you don’t allow them enough time to sit down and do the hard work of writing a worthy, valuable letter of recommendation. The time necessary for this varies, but it is best to give them two months’ notice and, if possible, no less than one. 

Lastly, make sure all your letter writers understand how and exactly when they must submit their recommendations. The less they have to worry about the process itself, the more energy they’ll have to devote to that tower of praise.