This section of our website serves to provide students who may be considering applying for major fellowships and scholarships with crucial information regarding the application process for many of these awards. Applications are encouraged from students who have a good chance of advancing and are sincerely dedicated to putting their all into the application process. The Office of Prestigious Awards is available to help you every step of the way. If you wish to build a strong application for any award, preparation can (and should) begin as early as your freshman year.

One Size Does Not Fit All

While many prestigious awards share a common goal of recognizing excellence, they differ in terms of eligibility requirements, application procedures, and expectations for successful candidates. For example, the Goldwater and National Science Foundation scholarships are restricted to applicants majoring in particular fields of study, while others, such as the Rhodes and Marshall, seek applications from outstanding well-rounded candidates without regard for academic discipline or career goals. Some require an essay or personal statement to accompany the standard application form, while others require evidence of proficiency in a foreign language. The approach one might take in applying for one scholarship may not be appropriate for another. Thus, it is unwise to prepare a generic application with the intention of tailoring it to suit the requirements and expectations of various awards.

Having The Right Stuff

Given the major emphasis that many prestigious awards place on academic achievement, it is important to determine whether your scholastic credentials are of the highest caliber. It’s also important for scholarship applicants to understand that while exceptional scholastic performance is indeed a necessary condition for serious consideration, a great GPA (3.7 or higher) by itself is not enough. There are many factors that are just as important as your academic record. Selection committees want to know what’s behind and beyond your transcript.

Understand that all of these prestigious scholarships are awards – investments in excellence from which much is expected of the recipient. Make sure that you are serious about applying and determined to follow through. The scholarship application process involves much more than simply filling out forms; it is a major investment of both time and effort. Thus, your time is much better spent applying only for those awards that fit you perfectly.

Getting To Know Yourself

An effective scholarship strategy involves more than deciding which academic courses to take and when; it is a plan for personal, as well as intellectual, development. An excellent foundation for such a plan is to write and regularly revise a personal statement which many scholarship programs, particularly the Rhodes, require as part of the application itself. Whereas your transcript and resume provide information about your achievements and experiences, a personal statement is an essay that offers understanding of the kind of person you are and the life you live. There is no prescribed format or preferred style to follow when writing a personal statement – the essay should bear the imprint of your individuality. Be imaginative, expressive and honest. Most of all, be yourself.

Practice Makes Perfect

Students should apply only if they are willing to spend the time and effort necessary to prepare an outstanding application. Once you’re satisfied with the content of your application, edit and proofread it until you’re sure it’s letter-perfect. Do not tolerate typos, misspellings or poor grammar. Bear in mind that a sloppy application may signal an uncaring attitude; if you don’t take your candidacy seriously, why should a selection committee?

Watch The Clock

It’s easy to underestimate the total amount of time involved in applying for a major scholarship. As soon as you have decided to apply, and before you begin the application process, you should contact OPA to discuss internal deadlines, policies, and procedures. Give writers of recommendation letters at least a month’s notice. Pay close attention to all deadlines. If you miss a receipt deadline by just one day or a postmark deadline by just one hour, your application will not be considered.

You’re Not Alone

No matter how bright and talented you are, you cannot win a major scholarship on the basis of your efforts alone. Early in your college career you should develop close relationships with people who can review and critique your personal statement, monitor your academic progress, help sharpen your writing and speaking skills, give you tips on interviewing and resume writing, and generally serve as a source of encouragement. Naturally, you should seek out faculty members in your major for mentorship and guidance – and remember to utilize the Office of Prestigious Awards for assistance throughout the whole process.

Recommendation Letters

Ask for letters from people who know you well. You may be better off with a letter from a professor who gave you a B if they can speak more knowledgeably and favorably about your work habits and personal qualities than a professor who gave you an A but doesn’t know you at all. Letters that supply concrete evidence of your talents and back up superlatives with examples and specifics can provide the key to a successful application. Give your recommenders plenty of advance notice and timely reminders, and be sure to thank them.


In addition to the application, in-person interviews are required for many scholarships that require campus nomination of candidates. Be sure to check specific scholarship materials for details about interviews. Anything you put in your application is fair game for an interview, so it’s important to be honest and avoid stretching the truth.

Interviews for major scholarships tend to differ from professional job interviews. Rules of conduct and appearance are more relaxed, and an interview for a prestigious award can tend to take on the tone of an intellectual exchange. You can prevent a lot of stress and nervousness if you approach the situation as a conversation rather than an interrogation.


We hope this section of OPA’s website has given you an informed perspective on the realities of applying for a prestigious award. The experience of preparing and applying for such a scholarship is immensely rewarding, whether or not you eventually win. Please do not hesitate to contact the Office of Prestigious Awards if you have any questions or concerns.