Fellowships at Mount Holyoke

What They Are & How to Apply

What is a fellowship?

A fellowship is a substantial, merit-based, competitive award, scholarship, or grant to undertake a major educational experience or goal. Winning a fellowship offers a great deal of prestige and can provide an invaluable boost to your career.

How do I apply for a fellowship?

The people or agencies who support fellowships are not just interested in giving money away, they are interested in making a wise investment. Making a wise investment means asking hard questions that intend to reveal sustained commitment to seeing projects through. 

Competition for these prizes is fierce. Thus, you should seek advice on your viability as a candidate. 

Prestigious awards undertaken through the auspices of Fellowships at Mount Holyoke – meaning those awards for which you must apply through our office – involve conducting independent research, pursuit of a graduate degree at the master’s or doctoral level, or teaching. Applying for and winning fellowships typically yields access to people, ideas, and resources on the cutting edge of new solutions to old problems, helping shape future generations of global leaders. 

Where does the money come from?

Most fellowships are funded through philanthropic foundations in order to meet some targeted need, bettering society in a specific way. Governments, supported by citizens’ taxes, also support fellowships.

It is important to understand who is funding a fellowship and why because this knowledge helps you produce a targeted and relevant application.

What comprises an application?

Fellowship applications vary, depending on their purpose. For most fellowships, some or all of the following components will be required:

  • An online or paper application form requesting biographical information
  • A personal statement – a long essay explaining why you are pursuing the fellowship and why you are suitable for it
  • Short essays – one or two-paragraph statements answering questions specific to the fellowship
  • An “issues essay” – where you answer a question that may involve knowledge of current events or particular kinds of coursework
  • Transcripts (usually official) from all undergraduate institutions, including study abroad
  • Recommendations – from 2-3 professors and sometimes professionals who know you well and can attest to your academic and personal qualities
  • A language evaluation
  • An interview – either over the phone or in person

Why do some fellowships have a “campus process” and others are “direct apply”?

For most prestigious fellowships, sponsoring foundations or agencies rely upon campus officials to prepare, and sometimes select, applicants for the award. For some awards, only students from designated colleges and universities are even allowed to apply.

“Direct apply” awards, on the other hand, are open to students from any campus, without an internal process, and the student may apply with no one on campus even knowing they are doing so.

At Mount Holyoke College, the National Fellowships Advisor in the Office of Student Success & Advising promotes a selection of “campus process” and certain “direct apply” awards for which MHC students are particularly well suited. While there are hundreds of fellowships available to students, the National Fellowships Advisor is limited to advising mainly on these particular awards.

Do “campus process” awards require additional steps?

Campus process awards entail conversation with the National Fellowships Advisor to discuss your eligibility (followed, usually, by a letter of intent by the advertised deadline).

You must then submit your initial application materials and be present for any other components of the campus process, such as being interviewed by a faculty committee.

The faculty committee typically then decides whether or not to endorse or nominate you to the foundation or agency administering the award, on behalf of the College.

A College representative will then write a letter of endorsement for your application, at which point you will officially become a Candidate.

It is a great honor (and responsibility) to be endorsed by Mount Holyoke College for one of these awards.

At such long odds, why should I even bother with “campus process” awards, putting myself through such time-consuming additional steps?

The campus process benefits you, the applicant, in important ways.

You will receive feedback and coaching from the National Fellowships Advisor on your essays and on every aspect of the application.

You will also receive guidance from mentoring faculty, who have a vested interest in seeing you succeed.

Faculty committee members will also carefully review your materials and discuss your goals with you, suggesting points for revision or pointing you to other experts or resources that can strengthen your application.

You will also receive coaching in preparation for any foundation interviews.

Finally, the National Fellowships Advisor and Senior Administrative Assistant will ensure that your application is submitted in a timely and professional manner to the fellowship foundation or agency.

What steps can a student take to become a strong fellowships applicant?

Even a year or two before you intend to apply for a fellowship, there are things you can do to prepare. If you are targeting a specific opportunity, it is important to read the requirements and make choices in terms of courses, activities, and development opportunities that fit the goal.

The qualities of a fellowship’s ideal candidate – outstanding academic achievement, intellectual focus, demonstrated leadership ability, a commitment to community engagement, and a habit of global awareness – are worth cultivating, whether they result in a win or not.

Finally, how can I learn more?

Read the brief descriptions of fellowships on offer through our office, then request an appointment to discuss your eligibility with the National Fellowships Advisor.