Part 3: How to be competitive

So, you’ve heard about all of these different kinds of scholarships and now you want to know: how can I make sure I am competitive?

Probably the most valuable advice I can give you is to start early. Students are often surprised by how early deadlines are and how much planning has to go into an application. A good rule of thumb is that you should start the application process at least 6 weeks before a deadline (for smaller awards), between 3 and 6 months ahead of deadline for larger awards, and 6+ months in advance for the major scholarships.  This will give you plenty of time to order transcripts, request letters of recommendation, and write (and revise) application essays.

Starting early also means learning about awards that might be a good fit for you early in your college career—as a freshman or sophomore. For some of the most competitive awards for post-graduation or graduate school, thinking ahead can help you plan what kinds of activities to get involved in, how to spend your summers, etc.

Another good piece of advice is to be realistic and choose wisely.  If you don’t have the time to put into writing a good application or you and your fellowships office staff decide that you don’t quite fit the criteria for a certain award, it might not be a good use of time for you to apply. Also, try to have a Plan B. Since these scholarships are competitive, having a back-up plan (or two) gives you some peace of mind that one of your plans will probably work out.

For some of the major scholarships, you need to develop your resume. Try to select activities that fit into your goals and professional plans. Explore programs offered by your university in your first few years, then you might look outside your university for other opportunities that match your interests. Also, try to make your summers productive: look for paid internships or funded research opportunities.

Finally, stay positive while working on an application! These awards require written essays that can really force you to think deeply about what you want to do, what makes you unique, your strengths and weaknesses. You will have to write and re-write numerous times, as you become more clear about what you want to say. It can be intimidating, scary, frustrating, and discouraging! But challenging yourself to articulate what you are passionate about can be a great learning experience and really help you understand what you want out of life.

Working to put together a strong application can also help you improve your writing skills and your ability to discuss what experiences have shaped your perspective. That can only help you later on the job market and in your career.

Whether they win or not, though, I truly believe that students who complete a nationally competitive scholarship application gain a lot in terms of assessing their strengths and weaknesses, perfecting time management and organizational skills, improving their writing, and gaining confidence in pursuing their dreams.

Guest Blog Author, Ms. Jeanne Sokolowski


Jeanne Sokolowski is the director of the Office of National Fellowships at the University of New Hampshire in Durham. She was a first generation college student when she attended Rockford College in Illinois and, for many years, had no idea about the world of scholarships! She stumbled upon information on the Fulbright program and went on to receive a Fulbright research grant to South Korea in 2002. She subsequently earned masters degrees in education and English, and published several articles on Asian and Native American literature before falling into and in love with the field of fellowships advising.

Part 2: Overview of scholarships

So what kind of scholarships can a fellowships office help you with applying for?

Here’s the disappointing news: There are plenty of scholarships that are aimed toward helping you pay for your undergraduate tuition, but that’s usually not what a fellowship office works on because 1) there are so many 2) they sometimes have very narrow criteria (residents of a certain county or children of employees of a specific company, etc.) and 3) they offer a relatively small amount of money ($500-$1000). Most fellowships offices are small, with limited staff, so they focus on the larger, more well-known scholarships, which also tend to be the most competitive.

Note: my office takes a slightly different approach. I do advertise three specific scholarships geared toward students with high financial need. I choose to do this because the scholarships are open to New Hampshire and New England residents (a large percentage of students at my school) and because the award amounts are a bit higher ($2000-$18,000) and, in one case, renewable. You might inquire if your fellowships office is aware of any scholarships for tuition that are specifically for students with high financial need.

So what can you get money for?

One big category is study abroad scholarships. There are several major scholarships that aim to help American students get abroad. One is the Benjamin Gilman scholarship, which offers up to $5000 to students who are receiving Pell grants as part of their financial aid to take part in a credit-bearing study or intern abroad program lasting four weeks or longer. The Gilman scholarship is particularly interested in encouraging first generation college students, students of color, students with disabilities, those in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) majors, and those planning to study in non-traditional destinations (i.e., NOT western Europe, Australia, or New Zealand).

The Freeman Asia scholarship is very similar to the Gilman, but is limited to study in Asian countries.

Another award is the Critical Language Scholarship, which provides a fully-funded 8-10 week international immersion language experience in 14 different languages considered critical to U.S. national security (Arabic, Chinese, Hindi, Russian, etc.)

Some scholarships aim to identify future leaders in a particular field. One of those is the Udall scholarship, which offers $7000 and fabulous networking opportunities to sophomores and juniors who plan to pursue careers related to the environment or tribal/Native American public health and public policy. For the Udall, applicants’ records of leadership, research experience, and involvement in community activities/public service related to the environment or Native American issues is weighed as heavily, if not more, than the academic performance of an applicant.

Other awards that identify future leaders include the Goldwater Scholarship, which selects students in STEM majors who have the potential for successful research careers, and the Hollings Scholarship, for sophomores who demonstrate interest in fields related to the mission of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

Similarly, there are fellowships that identify students who want to go into public service careers or the Foreign Service. The Truman Scholarship, named after President Harry S. Truman, looks for “change agents,” who plan to work in public service careers (the government, non-profits, educational institutions, etc.) The Rangel or Pickering scholarships are specifically for those who would like to have a career in the Foreign Service (working in consular and diplomatic services for the Department of State and representing the U.S. abroad).

Besides these opportunities, there are a number of awards that provide funding for graduate study, either in the U.S. or abroad.  For students studying in STEM fields, the National Science Foundation, Department of Defense, Department of Energy, and NASA all have generous, but highly competitive, awards.

For students looking to study in the U.K., awards include the Rhodes, Gates Cambridge, Churchill, and Marshall fellowships.

Have you ever heard of the Fulbright program? Fulbright grants provide full funding for study, research, or English teaching in over 140 countries; students must hold at least a bachelor’s degree by the time the grant starts. (It is a pretty long application process—you apply about a year before the grant period begins!)

Fulbright is one of the main scholarships for many fellowships offices because there are quite a few awards offered each year (around 1500!) and because it is open to students in all fields.

If you choose to do independent research on a Fulbright, you have a lot of flexibility! A Fulbright can allow you to design your own project: you might research and write a young adult novel on the Jewish community in Morocco during WWII, interview and videotape contemporary Chinese artists, or study how the engineers in the Netherlands design flood-resistant houses and dikes. There is also a special business internship program in Mexico; a “combined” grant in Austria that allows you to teach English, take graduate level classes, and volunteer in the community; and grants for doing a master’s degree in the UK, Italy, France, or several other countries. Additionally, Fulbright offers English Teaching Assistantships in over 60 countries. There are lots of options!

Fulbright believes that recipients play an important role as cultural ambassadors and they look carefully at applicants’ ability to engage in cross-cultural exchange successfully.

I hope this has gotten you excited about some of the possibilities that scholarships offer! Next time, in the third and final post, I’ll talk about how to be competitive for scholarships.

Guest Blog Author, Ms. Jeanne Sokolowski


Jeanne Sokolowski is the director of the Office of National Fellowships at the University of New Hampshire in Durham. She was a first generation college student when she attended Rockford College in Illinois and, for many years, had no idea about the world of scholarships! She stumbled upon information on the Fulbright program and went on to receive a Fulbright research grant to South Korea in 2002. She subsequently earned masters degrees in education and English, and published several articles on Asian and Native American literature before falling into and in love with the field of fellowships advising.

Competitive National Scholarships: Why You Should Make Friends with your University’s Fellowships Office Staff!

Did you almost skip reading this blog post because of the word “competitive”? I’m glad you didn’t. You might have a better chance of receiving a competitive national scholarship than you think!

This is going to a be a three-part post. In today’s entry, you’ll learn about what a scholarships/fellowships office does. The next two parts will cover different types of scholarships and how to be competitive.

Part 1: Scholarships/Fellowships and what those offices do

First things first: the questions most students at my university ask me (so I’m guessing you are curious, too):

  1. What’s the difference between a scholarship and a fellowship?
  2. What does your office do?
  3. How competitive is ‘competitive’?

Scholarship vs Fellowship

The short answer is that it doesn’t really matter. One definition is that fellowships are for graduate school, while scholarships usually apply to undergraduates, but again—the difference is not that important and the terms are used interchangeably. You might also hear the words “grant” or “award” thrown around, too! The important thing is that this is money from external sources (anything outside your university).

The Work of the Office

Most of my work involves getting the word out about scholarships to students and then helping them understand if they are eligible, if they would be competitive, and how to apply. I hold information sessions for various scholarships and I also visit classes or student organizations and speak about specific scholarship opportunities. On my website, I keep an up-to-date database of scholarships.

The first big decision students make is whether or not to apply for a scholarship. “Eligibility” refers to the non-negotiable aspects or what is mandatory for you to be able to apply. This might include being a U.S. citizen, your year of graduation, your major, etc. “Competitiveness,” on the other hand, is how well you fit the profile of an ideal candidate and whether you have the qualities that particular scholarship is looking for. I help students consider if they are a good fit for a particular award, whether they have time to put together a strong application, and what the timeline will be for applying. The final decision is the student’s, but I can help answer questions and help provide guidance.

Once a student decides to apply for an award, I work with them very closely on their application. We discuss appropriate letters of recommendation (and how to ask for them). I provide support and feedback on application essays—this is probably the biggest part of my job. If a university nomination is required, I coordinate that process. For some scholarships, there is an interview; I prepare students for those, as well.

The best part of my job, of course, is when students win! and I can publicize their success.

 The Odds of Winning

A lot of students don’t consider applying for fellowships because they think they aren’t competitive with a less than perfect GPA or because they go to a state school. Not true! Sure, every year, geniuses with a 4.0 or undergrads from Harvard and Yale win some of these awards, but not all. And particularly in the case of scholarships that are funded by the U.S. government, there is a real emphasis on diversity, which includes student diversity, diversity of schools and geographic diversity!

The funding agency determines what type of applicant they have in mind and what qualities are most important to them.  Some scholarships weigh academics heavily; others don’t even have a GPA cut-off. A number of scholarships have selection criteria in which academics are balanced with other skills and qualities.

 Another factor is how many scholarships are available for a given competition. Some can be quite competitive, with only 30 or 40 students are chosen from across the entire country. Some scholarships actually limit the number of students a university can nominate, so you might have to compete with other students at your school before actually being considered in the national pool.

Other scholarships are more democratic, with a larger number of awards; these offer a pretty good chance of success if you meet the criteria. One study abroad scholarship, for example, offers around 2,800 awards each year. If you fit at least a few of their criteria, your chances aren’t bad at all.

Next time, I’ll go into some examples of scholarships and what you can get money for.

Guest Blog Author, Ms. Jeanne Sokolowski


Jeanne Sokolowski is the director of the Office of National Fellowships at the University of New Hampshire in Durham. She was a first generation college student when she attended Rockford College in Illinois and, for many years, had no idea about the world of scholarships! She stumbled upon information on the Fulbright program and went on to receive a Fulbright research grant to South Korea in 2002. She subsequently earned masters degrees in education and English, and published several articles on Asian and Native American literature before falling into and in love with the field of fellowships advising.

Happy Holidays!

Happy Holidays students! Whether you are a high school who is nervous about the applications you submitted, a first year college student who is processing all the growth, changes and learning that has taken place this past term, or a senior who is wondering “what will happen next?”, we hope you enjoy your downtime outside the classroom.

Now is a great time to reflect on the quarter/semester that has just passed. Here are some questions to think, or better yet, journal about:

  • My greatest successes this term were…
  • These things were successes because…
  • My biggest blunders this term were…
  • They were blunders due to…
  • My favorite teacher/professor this term was… because…
  • My favorite course this term was… because…
  • Next term, I need to make more time for…
  • Next term, I need to spend less time…

High school students – use those questions and your responses to help clarify some of your college expectations, such as, majors of interest, how you handle time management, how you interact with your teachers, classmates and friends.

First and second year college students – use those questions and your responses to help you manage your living/housing transitions, major, courses and long-range goals.

Third and fourth year college students – use those questions and your responses to help clarify what you want out of your remaining days as a college student, how you are approaching your long-range goals and setting yourself up for success.

Make time for reflection, it is a powerful tool, and useful for critical thinking and decision making! It is a gift to give yourself this holiday season.


Happy Thanksgiving – Finals are almost here!

Happy Thanksgiving, it is a time to be thankful! Cindi and I hope this holiday season finds you happy, healthy, safe, warm and loved. However, before going into full break mode, it is also time to prepare for finals!

Over the past two weeks, in my advising sessions with students, I have told all my advisees, “Happy Thanksgiving – enjoy the day, because this is not a break.” Finals are right around the corner so enjoy Thanksgiving Day, and maybe some downtime on Friday, but the rest of the holiday weekend is academic preparation time.

Have you thought about how you are preparing for finals? Do you have a strategy to study for the 14 chapter, cumulative insert course subject name here… exam? What is your approach to tackling the 12 page English essay that you have been putting off? And, how about that group project; are you pulling your weight with the task(s) you have been assigned, are you being a cooperative and supportive group member? Remember – it is a group grade!

The above examples are real topics that have been discussed with numerous students. SMART goal setting was used to outline realistic study plans for each course. A SMART goal is = Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Timely. Having a strategy to get through study tasks often makes the study time less daunting since you know what you want to accomplish. Here is an example.

Goal: To earn a ‘B+’ or better grade on the Calculus final.

Action Steps for studying for the 12 chapter cumulative exam, the week before the final:

  1. On Saturday, for two hours, review the textbook, lecture notes and practice problems for Chapters 1-6 (approximately 20 minutes for each chapter). From this review, make a list of ‘things I know well’ and a list of ‘things that need deeper review.’
  2. On Sunday, before 2pm, for two hours, review the textbook, lecture notes and practice problems for Chapters 7-12 (approximately 20 minutes for each chapter). From this review, add additional items to the list of ‘things I know well’ and a list of ‘things that need deeper review.’
  3. On Sunday evening, before 9pm, spend 1.5 hour, reviewing the Chapter 1-6 items “that need deeper review.”
  4. On Monday, before 5pm, spend 1.5 hour, reviewing the Chapter 7-12 items “that need deeper review.”
  5. On Tuesday, meet my study group and spend two hours doing practice problems from Chapters 10-12, since they are new concepts which have not been part of a previous test.
  6. On Wednesday, before 2pm, spend one hour, doing more practice problems from Chapters 10-12.
  7. On Wednesday, before 9pm, spend up to two hours, doing difficult practice problems from Chapters 1-9.
  8. On Thursday, review textbook and lecture notes, for at least one hour.
  9. On Saturday, meet my study group, to discuss and do practice problems from all the Chapters, for at least two hours.
  10. On Sunday, do a few more practice problems of the ones that have been particularly challenging, for no more than two hours, before 5pm. Sleep peacefully for the 8am exam on Monday.

Now, take some time to outline YOUR study goals for your upcoming exams, essays and projects. Allow the timeline established in the goals to help you manage your time and effort in the upcoming week(s). Deeply learning and understanding your course materials is the reason you are in college – be proud of what you have learned, and let your knowledge shine by earning great grades!

Good luck with finals preparation!

Real Experience

When we wrote On the Quad, we had many students in mind including first generation students  (students who are first in their families to go to college).  We did this for many reasons, but chief among them was that Heidi and I had many experiences advising real students from all kinds of backgrounds; we noticed that some students “understood the system” due to family lore, sibling’s tales, or other legacy ways.  Consequently, our book starts at the beginning, thinking about what kinds of institutions of higher education exist and then discussing how to consider which one might be a good fit for you (the reader).

It is hard for any one of us to know the experiences of others.  But, sometimes we do get to hear their stories.  In this story here from NPR’s “Been There:  Lessons from a Shared Experience,” we hear two first generation college students — one who has recently graduated from his university and the other who has just transferred from a community college to a 4-year university — talk about negotiating college life.

They don’t necessarily discuss the ins-and-outs of what college is, how to fill out a FAFSA, or how to study.  What they do talk about include how to fit in with other students who are different from them — often the differences manifest in economic ways (What if you can’t afford to go hang out with friends at a club because the cover charge is just too high?).

It’s a great chance for anyone — first generation or not — to gain a peek into what the person next to you in your math class might be struggling with.  Take a minute and listen.

Academic Status Report (Or, What’s my current grade?!)

Here at my institution (a large state university in the SW), we undertake something called “academic status report (ASR)” at the end of the 6th week, start of the 7th week of the semester.    This ASR is shorthand for “what is your current grade”.  At first, I was not impressed with this requirement (it was more work for me!); but, now I have come to embrace this moment in the semester when I, as an instructor, take stock of my class and the students in it; I like to imagine that it is good for the students also to take stock of their classes and how they are faring.  If your university DOES do it, do not fear it.  At 6-7 weeks in, it actually gives you time to correct your studying behavior for the class if needed; OR, it can add confidence to your current routine — give you the nod that you are doing things well.

If your school does not use such a method, do not despair, we can help!

Step 1:  find your syllabus;

Step 2:  Figure out how many assignments (quizzes, tests, essays, discussion board posts, etc.) have already been due/completed;

Step 3 :  Figure out the total number of points each assignment was worth;

Step 4:  Figure out your score on each assignment;

Step 5:  Add up your score on each assignment; add up the number of points for each assignment.;

Step6:  Divide YOUR points earned by the TOTAL points of assignments combined.

Following these 6 steps above, will give you a percentage that is indicative of your current grade in the class.  For my class, any student below a 70% gets a notification from me.  That’s a good cut off point.  But each of can decide for yourself:  what grade do I hope ultimately to earn in this class?  Then, make your own ASR and decide if you are on the path to that grade (or higher).  If you aren’t, then NOW is the moment to make changes.  Go see the professor in office hours; go visit the teaching assistant; start swapping notes with a classmate.  Pay attention; make a plan and go get the grade you want!  You can do it!

Need help?  Email us, we can help you figure it out!

How to Research College

High School students, it is the start of a new year and you have many exciting activities you are participating in and looking forward too! We know your schedule is as busy as it has ever been, however, we want to remind you to plan college visits throughout the year as well. Sophomores – it is not to early to start college research; juniors – it is important to make the visits and tours a priority; seniors – even after submitting applications, if you applied to a location you have not visited, do your best to get there!

Starting your research and visits early gives you time to process numerous things:

  • What majors am I interested in?
  • What are the newest majors on this campus, and why? (These often say something about the job market – but that does not mean you must be interested in it!)
  • What type of campus setting is most attractive to me?
  • Which of my current activities do I want to continue during college, and what opportunities do I have to continue them here?
  • What types of living environments does the college offer? Do they meet my expectations?
  • For which grants and/or scholarships might I qualify?
  • What is the sticker price of this institution, and what does that really mean?

If you are thinking, “well, I plan to go to community college first and then transfer – this research is not important to me right now.” I politely ask you to reconsider. Although spending 2-3 years at community college before transferring to a Bachelor’s granting institution is an effective way to save money on tuition, it is just as important to research your community college options as well. Some have transfer admission guarantees with regional or state universities, but do they offer the prerequisite courses you need for the major you plan to pursue? Additionally, do not forget to learn all you can about the financial aid process as aid eligibility begins when you start college, even if you do not use it that year, and it has an expiration date.

We know you are busy and we know this sounds like a lot of work, thus, use the first four chapters of ‘On the Quad’ to help walk you through this process (the book is only $.99, totally worth it!). Do not delay, do your research; deciding where you will spend your college years is a big decision!

Welcome Back!

Students! Welcome to the start of the new academic year!

How are you feeling? Excited? Nervous? Stressed? Concerned? Relaxed? Comfortable? You may have a reason to feel all those things, they are common for new and returning college students.

For me, the start of a new year is exciting and a bit stressful. Exciting because there are new students to work with, there are returning students to reconnect with, and new programs to implement. But, things are stressful too – sometimes there are a lot of people seeking my time and attention, and although it is great to be wanted, I must figure out how to best balance my responsibilities.

As you are kicking off your new academic year, take some time to think about how you are going to balance your schedule. You have classes, you need time to study (reading your textbooks, doing practice problems, essay writing, exam prep, etc.) – follow that Carnegie Rule(!), you might have work/intern/lab/research hours, you must make time for health and wellness (i.e. eating, exercise and sleep!), and of course – your social life!

Now, instead of just thinking about these things, grab a pencil and paper, and diagram your week. Putting all your activities on paper will give you the big picture view of where your time is going to be spent. Seeing it all on paper may cause a little anxiety, sometimes the reality is there are not enough hours in the day to do all the things you want to do, but, it also allows you the opportunity to prioritize and figure out how to create balance.

This activity is not something you should do just once each academic term, it could – dare I say should – be done at the start of each week. Each week of your academic term has different tasks: papers, exams, group projects and activities, as such, assessing your scheduled weekly can be a great tool to help you manage your time. Give it a try and let us know how it goes!

Preparing to Balance College Life with Current Life

In On the Quad, we take quite a bit of time to discuss this issue — balancing your life before college with your life once college begins.  For some students, it means moving away from home, living somewhat independently (for example in the residence halls/dorms), and being more responsible for everyday life than perhaps one was in high school.  For other students, it means continuing to live at home, commuting to college, and being more responsible for different aspects of everyday life.

But, in BOTH cases, going to college means that your interactions with your family — your role as son/daughter and sister/brother — will change.

We have lots of ideas regarding how to begin thinking pro-actively about these changes.  Some of these ideas include thinking purposefully about how to manage current family chores with school work.  For example, do you help your family by taking care of younger brothers/sisters?  By preparing meals?  By doing grocery shopping? Or, household chores (laundry, cleaning, lawn care, etc)?  If so, make a list of the ways that you currently contribute to the house and family; then, sit down with your parent(s) and discuss how these things may change once college begins.  Be realistic.  Remember:  You may feel like you have more time on your hands due to fewer classes (than high school) and less homework; but, college work will catch up with you!  Make a plan about how to use your time everyday — schedule in meals, sleeping, studying, class time, work, household chores/duties, and fun time.  With this information, your parents will see that you are serious about your college education as well as continuing to contribute to the family.  Enlist older siblings to help out!

This is a great video which tells, in first person, about one woman who is determined to go to college even though she contributes greatly to her family and their care.  As you can see in the video, her family supports her and wants her to succeed.

Start making a plan today about how to handle your role in your family and your upcoming role as college freshman!  Be prepared and ready to contribute and succeed.