Skills & Eligibility
I don’t have a 4.0, do I still qualify?
Yes. The various fellowships have different GPA requirements, but for the most part they look for students who are well rounded. Certain fellowships emphasize grades more than others, and this is outlined in the fellowship descriptions.
What do the committees look for in fellowship candidates?
Though there are some specific differences between the various fellowships, committees in general look for students who have demonstrated a commitment to academics and extracurricular involvement. A clear understanding of what you hope to accomplish through the fellowship opportunity is also essential.
Do I need to already speak the language to apply for a fellowship abroad? Are there programs that incorporate language instruction while I am there?
Some programs have a language component, while others select candidates with a strong background in the native language spoken in the proposed country of study. It is important to look at the requirements of each fellowship to see the amount of language experience you need to be eligible. However, if you are interested in obtaining a fellowship for the purpose of learning a language that is not offered at USC, you should consider applying for the Boren Scholarship or Critical Language Scholarship. Boren provides tuition, room, travel, and tuition expenses in foreign countries for students to learn and/or master a foreign language. Some fellowships, such as the Fulbright or Rotary, may sometimes fund language learning prior to the grant period.
Do I have to have prior research experience before applying to a fellowship?
While prior individual research or research under a professor can make a student a better candidate for a fellowship, many fellowships do not require such research. Fellowships that have a strong academic focus may weigh research experience heavier than other candidate attributes; however, students often forget that the research they do for class can count as research experience. Ask yourself: Have you ever done your own data collection, such as interviewing other students or professors for a research paper? If you are a student in the sciences, have you worked in a lab setting in any of your classes? If a professor has any information about your involvement in any of the aforementioned activities, he or she may be an important person to ask to write a letter of recommendation for you.
Do I have to have a whole research project in mind to apply for a fellowship?
For some fellowships, such as the Fulbright, candidates are required to submit a research proposal. Other scholarships may ask candidates to have applied to a university before applying, and that university may want information on your specific plans for research. However, there are many fellowships that do not ask for such a proposal.
Does my research topic for a fellowship have to be in the same area as my major, or can I pick an area that I want to learn more about?
In general, it is important to have a good understanding of the topic you want to research or study before you apply; however, this does not necessarily mean that you must limit yourself to topics within your major. If you choose a topic outside of your major, you should ask yourself, “Being that I am not an expert on in this area, what can I contribute from my prior coursework that may make a significant contribution to this new field?” This may lead you to a fascinating area of research that may make you a very impressive candidate for a fellowship. However, if you cannot find a link between your area of study and the area you are interested in or know too little about the area to be able to do this, it is best to pick an area of your major in which you are experienced.
Who Should Apply?
Is it a good idea to apply for fellowships if I just want to go abroad to tour around and maybe take a few classes?
Generally, no, it is not a good idea to apply for fellowships if you are not serious about studying or researching while going abroad (if you are interested in working abroad, the Luce Scholarship includes an internship component). Fellowships are generally awarded to students who have a genuine interest in studying or researching at a university in another country.
Can I still apply for fellowships even though I have no immediate plans to go to graduate school?
Yes. While some fellowships are specifically designed for graduate study, others allow you to do undergraduate research, acquire a second B.A., or take part in an internship. If you are even thinking about graduate school anytime in the future, receiving one of these fellowships could be a great way to give you a broader understanding of and a different perspective on your area of interest. Also, because these fellowships are nationally competitive, they stand out on any graduate school application.
Process & Timeline
After I know which fellowship I am interested in, how do I begin the application process?
The first step is to set up a meeting with the university representative. Each of the fellowships has a different process with different internal requirements, and the representative can give you this information. You should also begin gathering materials requested by the fellowship program, such as personal statements, letters of recommendation, and transcripts from all of the schools you have attended.
When should I begin the application process?
It is never too early to begin researching the various fellowships and thinking about the application process. Despite the seemingly simple application forms, the process requires time, energy, and support. For example, many fellowships require letters of recommendation, which take time to write and process. Also, if your fellowship requires a statement of purpose/personal statement, you will need to take time to generate ideas for, write, and edit this document. Generally you will want to allow yourself 3-4 months to work on your application.
Is it possible to apply for more than one fellowship?
Yes. In fact, given the similarity in the application processes and the competitiveness of these fellowships, we encourage you to apply for more than one. However, there are certain fellowships, such as the Rhodes, that you should not turn down if offered. You may speak to the campus representative for more information regarding applying for multiple fellowships.
How do I decide who to ask for letters of recommendation?
It is important to have recommenders from all aspects of your life. However, if academics are stressed by the scholarship, it would be best to request most of the letters of recommendation from professors, and if the award is granted on the basis of leadership, it would be best to have faculty advisors of organizations you lead write a majority of the letters of recommendation, and so on. Also, each recommender should be able to contribute something unique to who you are and why you are such an impressive candidate.
Is it better to get recommendations from people with “big names” or people who really know you?
It is better to choose recommenders that personally know you and can attest to your unique talents or skills. Strong letters are those that are personal as opposed to contrived from a resume. Try to ask professors (as opposed to Teaching Assistants) to write your academic letters of recommendation. Consult with someone in the Academic & International Fellowships Office if you have more questions regarding this matter.
When are the fellowship winners announced?
This varies by fellowship, but typically winners are announced within 2-3 months of the submission of the application. Some of the fellowships require personal interviews for finalists, which may delay the announcement of winners.
Purpose of a Fellowship
Can these awards fund USC study abroad programs?
With the exception of the Boren Scholarship, Gilman Scholarship, and Rotary Ambassadorial Scholarship, these fellowships are not designed for USC study abroad programs. They are national awards that allow you to select a program of study at an institution abroad, or to do independent research abroad. This means you may have to submit an application to a university located abroad in order to be eligible for some of these fellowships (note: if you study at an institution outside of a USC abroad program, the units are not necessarily transferable to USC requirements).
Are fellowships for completion of a whole degree program?
It is possible to complete a degree program with a multiple-year fellowship, often times a second undergraduate degree. For programs that are one year or less, you can choose the area that you want to study and/or research, but completion of a degree is not required.
Are all fellowships for study abroad?
Although most of the nationally competitive fellowships that we administer through our office are for study abroad, there are certain fellowships that allow domestic study. For example, the Truman, Goldwater, and Beinecke Scholarships can be applied toward domestic study. Also, Boren graduate fellowships allow a domestic component in conjunction with study abroad.
If I am chosen for a fellowship abroad, are the funds sufficient to cover any personal expenses I may have?
Students receive enough funding to maintain a modest lifestyle. In addition, some fellowships include health insurance, and economy round trip flights.
Preparation & Finding the Right Fit
How competitive are the fellowships?
Each of these awards is highly prestigious and competitive (which is another reason to apply for more than one). The degree of competition depends on the number of awards given in proportion to the number of applicants. The Rhodes and Marshall scholarships are among the most competitive.
Is there anything that I can do to prepare for these fellowships early in my college career?
Absolutely. Maintain a strong academic record and take advantage of academic opportunities available outside the classroom, such as research opportunities. It is also important to get involved in extracurricular activities. Don’t try to do everything, but do focus on a couple areas that you are passionate about and strive to make a difference. Finally, get to know your professors as they are an invaluable resource academically, as well as for letters of recommendation. Consider applying for an undergraduate fellowship during your time at USC; receiving one of these fellowships makes you more competitive for a post-graduate fellowship. Make sure to review all of the different fellowships on this site because some of them are open to first- and second-year students.
How can I search for an opportunity that fits my interests?
Many resources exist to support applicants in their search for a program that fits their interests and future goals. USC Academic Honors and Fellowships has helped to develop a USC Awards and Fellowships searchable database for this purpose. While this is not an exhaustive resource it is a great starting point. You might also find these resources useful:
There are many scholarships for study abroad. However, most are geared to promote the study of critical languages (Arabic, Chinese, Korean, Japanese, Russian, etc.) and destinations outside Western Europe and Oceania (Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Middle East). Students should research scholarships well in advance of studying abroad as many applications are due six months to more than a year in advance of travel. Plan strategically to give your application a competitive edge. Overseas Studies Advisors can offer guidance.
You can use this online searchable database by searching for specific criteria, such as country, language, and field of study. The database will gather a list of programs that may interest you and will provide you basic information for you to contact the programs of your interest.
IEFA is the premier resource for financial aid, college scholarship and grant information for US and international students wishing to study abroad. At this site, you will find the most comprehensive college scholarship search and grant listings, plus international student loan programs and other information to promote study abroad.
Choose from thousands of exciting study abroad programs worldwide.
Every student should reap the benefits of study abroad – to get a leg up on future employment and a fresh perspective that comes from encountering another culture. That’s why CIEE does more than any other international educational organization to make study abroad affordable.
UK Research Excellence Framework
Interested in doing research and/or attending graduate school in the United Kingdom? Research prominent UK research projects using the UK Research Excellence Framework, a new system for assessing the quality of research in UK higher education institutions. The website offers a searchable online database and an initial analysis of REF impact case studies are available.