A foolproof guide to finding fellowships and grants to graduate school.

Grants and fellowships are set up by families and organizations to grant students the opportunity to pursue some interest. These funds come at no cost to the recipient and usually help sponsor some activity that both the foundation and the student are interested in.

Many schools don’t often accommodate time spent abroad, and there is no better way to get away from it all than with money you didn’t have to earn. But grants and fellowships are not rewards. They aim to fulfill a student’s goals and plans, plans that must be definite and clear. As a result, finding and applying for the fellowship that best suits you takes a lot of time and legwork. The key to the entire process is research – your own research.

Fellowships and grants are often categorized as both academic and purposeful travel.

Academic Fellowships

The Rhodes, Marshall and Fullbright fellowships fall under this category. If you think you might be a candidate for these fellowships (be aware that the Marshall has a cut off grade point average of 3.7), make sure you prepare early. The first deadline for the Rhodes and Marshall creeps up in mid September. You don’t have to be a straight-A student and an extracurricular maniac to get an academic grant. Countless other grants provide funding for one or two years worth of tuition, room, and board at a foreign university. Some programs integrate independent research requirements with master’s requirements. If you’re interested in academic funding, you will probably have to go through not only the grant application process, but also the admissions process at a foreign university.

Universities around the world often offer their own academic scholarships for international students. If there is a specific university where you want to study, get in touch with their admissions office and ask about funding. Make sure you find out what “partial funding” means when it applies.

Purposeful Travel

Many grants support enlightening travel experiences for graduates who want to broaden their horizons. If you don’t have a specific academic project in mind, these grants fund nonacademic and work-related activities across the border. It is perfectly acceptable, even desirable, to propose a project of personal interest.

The Application Process

Although fellowships applications are designed to identify the best possible candidates out of an enormous pool of applicants, the application itself speaks otherwise. The questions are general and boring. It is your responsibility to make yourself stand out as applications don’t bring an ounce of creativity to the table. The essay portion of the applications is the best chance to capturing the attention of the readers. Don’t be fooled by the brevity of these applications. It may seem like a breeze after applying to colleges, but the trick is to find a way to represent yourself completely in one 200- to 1,000-word essay.


Most fellowships only require two or three letters, though the Rhodes requires up to eight. Several relatively general letters can be kept on file in a senior tutor’s office. Chances are if you are applying for one fellowship, you will be applying for several, and you don’t want to hassle the same recommenders for new letters every time you need one.

Not all fellowships require recommendations written by academic faculty. Having a nonacademic recommendation may help add to the depth of your personal profile. Try to find someone who has experience writing these kinds of letters to ensure it is well written and compelling.


Although not all fellowships require an interview, you should be prepared to go through this stage of the application process if necessary. This interview can make or break you. Reading interview reports of former grant recipients is a good way to get an idea of what lies ahead. If you’ve made it to the finals for the Rhodes or Marshall, it is possible to get a listing of members on the interview panel by contacting the consulate.


  • Prepare early: As you can tell applying for a grant takes a lot of work. Preparing ahead of time makes the task less daunting mid-semester.
  • Make the Deadlines: There is no worse way to make an impression on recommenders, tutors and other support networks than to make last minute requests for help.
  • Adhere to each competitions rules: These competitions are strict, and there is very little patience for those who bend the rules. Don’t exceed the word limits, and don’t submit extra materials.