Before you begin
The first thing you should do is to read the requirements carefully and make sure you are eligible for the fellowships that you plan to apply for. Apply only if you are eligible. You may not be eligible for FLAS and other fellowships sponsored by SPAS area/country centers because of your citizenship or the nature of your study program. Search for fellowships and scholarships that you are qualified for. Look through the SPAS “Funding” information and check with various UH offices that handle fellowships and scholarships.
It is a fact of life that only a handful of students are selected to receive competitive fellowships like FLAS. Successful fellowship applications typically have the following components:
- Excellent statement of purpose
- Promise of future contribution to the field of study
- Solid academic records
- Strong recommendations by the faculty
With additional investment of time and energy, you may be able to improve your application substantially.
“How can I improve my statement of purpose?”
If you are beginning or have just begun a graduate program, you are probably unable to discuss specific research projects with details. You can, however, emphasize your background and preparation that make you a great candidate for a graduate program in the chosen field. Present your past experience, such as your undergraduate courses, study abroad, research, and personal experiences, that influenced or shaped your goals and objectives for graduate study. Then, you can discuss your intended focus and research topics even if they may be preliminary at this time. Your discussions of concrete examples from the past allow you to talk about your future objectives with greater assurance.
If you have been in graduate school for two years or more, even at the Master’s level, you are expected to have a well-defined research topic. Your statement of purpose should outline the objectives and methods of your research project. If your project requires special materials, or involves a study abroad or a research trip during the fellowship period, you must explain them in your statement.
It is important to argue how your project will contribute to your discipline as well as to the study of the target country/region of the fellowships. Explain the significance of your project in broader terms, showing its relation to larger scholarly dialogue or theoretical issues in the field.
“What do you mean by future contribution to the field?”
Your academic department probably rewards graduate students who make contribution to that particular discipline. The FLAS selection committees also prefer students with such promise, but, in addition, they look for students whose subject matters are focused on the target country/region. In fact, a large number of UH students conduct studies related to these countries/ regions. So, what makes your study unique and different from other students’ programs? What new knowledge and understanding do you think you can contribute to the particular discipline and area studies? Are you utilizing new materials and methods, or are you examining existing materials from a new perspective? Is your topic little studied but important? If so, is your research project feasible with a realistic time table?
Not everyone is expected to get a Ph.D. and teach at the college level. If you plan to work in the private sector, or serve in the government or a non-profit organization, you should state so. But, how does your current academic program relate to your future career path? With your academic knowledge and background on the target country/region in your discipline, what difference do you think you can make? These are some of the questions you should try to answer.
“Can I recycle my statement of purpose?”
You may be able to reuse essays (or parts of essays) for multiple applications, but you must remember to tailor them for specific purposes. For instance, if you have already submitted your dissertation proposal to your academic department and wish to incorporate it in your fellowship application, a simple cut-and-paste may not be sufficient. You should probably reduce jargon and other technical aspects and at the same time highlight pertinent information, such as your focus on a particular country/region of the world. For FLAS applications, the selection committees look at both your language training plans and your academic program relevant to the study of the target country/region.
“How can I get strong letters of recommendation?”
You may want to ask your potential recommender directly, “Would it be possible for you to write a strong letter of recommendation on my behalf?” There are some professors who write ambivalent, if not negative, letters. You do not want such letters.
You should give your recommenders at least two weeks to complete the letters. You may want to follow up with them a few days before the deadline just to make sure the letters were sent. Many professors are punctual and responsible, but some may need such follow-ups.
Unless your recommenders know your graduate work extremely well, they need reference materials about you. You can provide them with your most recent resume, statements, or a short paragraph reminding them of your recent accomplishments and your academic goals and plans.
Always remember to send thank-you cards to your recommenders. Keep in mind that you may be asking them to write on your behalf again.
“My GPA is not very high. Is there anything I can
do about that?”
A high GPA is always a plus in your application. If you do not have a high overall GPA but earned good grades in your major courses, you may want to mention that in your statement. The selection committee is likely to overlook poor grades from your early undergraduate years. If you have multiple “Withdrawals” and “Incompletes” in your graduate records, you may want to explain your circumstances, such as sickness and family problems in particular semesters.
Read the application requirements carefully and determine whether you need an official transcript, or whether an unofficial transcript will be sufficient. Make arrangements to obtain both UH and non-UH transcripts at least two weeks before the fellowship deadline. An official UH transcript ordered at the Cashiers for $5 reaches the fellowships office in 10 days or so. Rush service costs $15 per copy and still takes about 5 days. Printouts of your grades from MyUH screens are not appropriate to submit because they are unofficial and often difficult to make out.
FLAS applications must be RECEIVED by the deadline. By two weeks before the deadline, make every effort to draft your statement of purpose and ask your professors for recommendations.
Proofreading to correct typos and grammatical errors is always necessary, and most students remember to do so. What is often forgotten is to have someone review your statement and other parts of your application. Ideally, this person should be your primary academic advisor or a committee member, but could be others experienced in reading and writing scholarship applications. Use remaining time before the deadline to get feedback and improve your application. Before sending it off, make a copy for your future reference.