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Director of the Office of Fellowships and Scholarships

Prof. Dean P. Chen
dchen@ramapo.edu
Office B203 (Email for Appointment)

Overview

The Office of Prestigious Fellowships and Scholarships (PFS) primarily deals with competitive external scholarships and fellowships (national and international), especially for those headed to graduate school or other postgraduate careers.

(If you are looking for on-campus scholarship opportunities for your undergraduate years, visit https://www.ramapo.edu/scholarships/)

The PFS offers individual counseling as the centerpiece of fellowship and scholarship assistance. Fellowship, scholarship, and graduate school advice includes: feedback on drafts of proposals and essays, tactics for clearly articulating the significance of the project, determining appropriate fellowship and scholarship opportunities, and obtaining effective letters of recommendation and faculty advice.

 

Application Components

Application Components Checklist:

  1. Make a list of all of the requested materials. Collate them in sequence.
  2. If you are attaching additional information, make sure that attachments are allowed.
  3. Make sure that you have all required signatures.
  4. Make sure you have all copies included in the packet.
  5. Make sure you distinguish between due dates and postmarked dates.  You must follow all deadlines.
  6. Avoid posting your application online on the due date in case there are technological issues.
  7. Make a copy of everything for yourself.
  8. Follow up on your application. Be sure to thank those who helped you with the process or wrote letters of recommendation.
The Personal Statement/Essay

The first thing you should do is verse yourself thoroughly in the requirements of the personal essay. Every fellowship will be looking for different aspects and criteria. You may want to make a list so that you can check-off each criteria.

Remember, this essay should be self-reflective. A good essay will be showing the work of many drafts, revisions, and edits. Because personal statements are personal, there is no universal or formal approach. Depending on the fellowship, the personal essay will be about 1000 words and should have a clear theme with 3 or 4 points connected to that theme.

The personal statement is an opportunity to present information about you that cannot be gleaned from the application itself. That is, use your personal statement to explain what is unique and important about you – show something that they cannot see by simply reading the application.

Every fellowship or scholarship application requires an essay in which the candidate describes his or her academic and other interests. The personal essay, personal statement, autobiographical essay, or personal narrative, allows you to introduce yourself to the selection committee. An outstanding personal essay will not win you a scholarship, but a poorly prepared one can deny you the chance to be considered a finalist.

The essay, often the most important part of the application, allows you to demonstrate how your goals, interests, and experience match with the program for which you are applying. A poorly written essay can show your lack of effort and ability. Conversely, a well-written essay can make you noticeable or help compensate for some other weakness in your application.

Typically, readers of personal statements will want you to answer the following questions:

  • What is special, unique, distinctive, or impressive about you or your life story?
  • What details of your life (personal, family, history, events) might help the committee better understand you or help set you apart from the other candidates?
  • What makes you interesting? Remember that the majority of candidates will be smart and accomplished. You need to stand out by being more committed than they are and that can be demonstrated by sharing a vivid anecdote or presenting a special individual quality.
  • What are your long-term goals? Career plans? What types of contributions would you like to make? What personal characteristics do you possess that would increase your likelihood of success in your field? Avoid clichés here. Planning to do graduate studies shows that you have purpose and drive.
  • What are your personal and professional interests? Did you acquire them in a unique or memorable way? What defining person or experience has shaped your interests? Be positive. Explain when and why you became interested in the field.
  • How does your proposal connect to your long-term goals? The fellowship is investing in you so be sure you show them that their investment is a sound one.

General Advice

  • Answer the questions that are asked – while you may be able to use the same essay for all applications, be sure that your answers fit the questions being asked.
  • Tell a story – demonstrate, with specificity, your character, strengths, vision, and experience.
  • Be specific – do not make claims about what kind of lawyer or doctor you would be without specifics. Your desire should be a result of a specific experience that is outlined in your statement.
  • Find a theme – you may think that your life lacks drama, so figuring out how to make yourself appear interesting becomes a challenge. Try and find an angle, hook, or use a metaphor.
  • Have a strong opening paragraph – the opening paragraph is vital. It is here that you grab or lose your reader’s attention. This paragraph should be the framework for the rest of the essay.
  • Explain what you know – the middle section of your statement might detail your interests and experience as well as your knowledge in the field. Be sure you can show your understand the key aspects of your field. Refer to specific experiences, courses, research, books, seminars, research projects, or any other source that addresses the career you want and why you are suited for it.
  • Don’t include some subjects – there are certain things that should be left out of the personal statement. Some examples include references to politics, religion, questionable humor, accomplishments from high school, and other “immature” references.
  • Do research – if a school wants to know why you are applying to their school over others, do some research to determine what sets that school apart from others.
  • Write well – proofread, proofread, and proofread. Be meticulous. Express yourself clearly. Adhere to any word limit or page limit.
  • Avoid clichés – stay away from common terms or tired statements. Express an original thought.

Hints to Improve Your Essay

Your personal essay for different fellowships or different schools will vary because an effective personal statement addresses the definitive criteria of each specific organization. The personal essay is not a narrative résumé. Rather, it should tell a quick and meaningful story about you that the reader cannot glean from your transcripts and any relevant admission examination.

A good personal essay conveys your individuality through concrete examples, details, and personal anecdotes. Be sure that the opening sentence and paragraph grab the reader and intrigue them to read further. Be honest about your achievements and strengths while staying modest and realistic about your weaknesses. Avoid being gimmicky, cute, arrogant, or self-deprecating. Try to be clear and graceful and focus more on your positive attributes.

A Few Style Tips

  • Find a thread that binds the paragraphs – for example, in your autobiographical narrative, start with your background and an experience/person that had a formative influence on your interest. You can then move to subsequent events/undertakings that honed your specific interest and discuss your academic growth. Then, discuss your future ambitions or long-term objectives. Finish with how the scholarship or graduate studies will contribute to your goals.
  • Persuasive writing relies on strong verbs – nouns and adjectives are not as powerful. Verbs signify action and can show evidence of past performance rather than merely piling up nouns and adjectives.
  • Use the active voice – the passive voice projects weakness.
  • Choose precise words – use clear words and phrases rather than abstract ones. Don’t turn to the thesaurus in all instances. Avoid using etc. as it can show that you don’t know how to finish your sentence.
  • Too many metaphors may confuse – ensure that your metaphors are precise. Avoid either putting more than one metaphor in a sentence or overextending the metaphor.
  • Cut unnecessary preliminaries and inflated phrases – don’t explain what you are about to say, just say it. Phrases like, let me add, the fact that, on the whole, etc., should not be used.
  • Use elegant sentence variations – be sure to vary your sentences. Vary structure: simple and complex, long and short, exclamations. Vary beginnings: start each sentence with a different noun, preposition, participle, or adjective. Vary sentence lengths: avoid overly long and complex sentences. What worked for Faulkner may not work you for you here. Vary words: do not use the same words if not used deliberately for effect.
  • Use consistent verb tenses – if using background influences that are still with you, use present tense. For past experiences, use the past tense. You would be surprised what a difference this makes.
  • No clichés – clichés are lazy expressions, sometimes.
  • Do not use “very” – this is a crutch. You usually do not need to use the word.

Useful Links on Sample Statements/Essays

https://owl.purdue.edu/owl/job_search_writing/preparing_an_application/writing_the_personal_statement/examples.html

https://www.rochester.edu/college/studentfellowships/opportunities/fulbright-sample-essays.html

Interviews

Fellowships may require interviews for candidates who are short-listed. If you are called for an interview, it signals that they were impressed with your application. Be sure to prepare for the interview!

Preparing for the interview:

  • Re-read your application – most interview questions will be based on your application.
  • Prepare an opening and closing remark – the first question will be to tell them about yourself and the last will be any closing comments you wish to add.
  • Practice interviewing – this office will set up mock interviews if you would like.
  • Prepare possible questions – be sure you know the award itself and why it is named after someone, if it is.
  • Expect the unexpected – you may be asked anything.
  • Be caught up on current affairs – depending on the award, you may be asked questions regarding current issues so you should read the daily papers leading up to the interview.

During the interview:

    • Dress neatly and appropriately.
    • Be your articulate self.
    • Try to relax. Prepare and think of it as a discussion.
    • Remain calm, pause, and breathe.
    • Don’t talk too much or rush to answer a question. Pause and collect your thoughts.
    • Avoid one word answers. Add an explanation.
    • After you’ve answered a question, sit quietly and wait for the next one.
    • Be sure to establish and keep eye contact. Remind yourself of body language and posture.
    • If you can, use the interviewer’s names.
Letters of Recommendation

Strong letters of recommendation will have a significant influence on whether you will get the scholarship or admittance into the graduate school. The strong letter shows that the recommender knows you well, with detail. When you choose a recommender, choose those who know you well and with whom you have established a relationship. Ask professors whom you have taken multiple classes with, worked on a project with, or participated in a small seminar. Letters from people who know you well are far more valuable than letter from well-known people who know you less and may write a form letter.

Approach letter writers as soon as possible. If you know you will need a letter in October, you may ask them months in advance and give them deadlines as the date approaches. Depending on the letter writer, a good letter may take weeks to write. When you approach the recommender, discuss your plans of study and why you want to apply. Provide them with a written description of the program or scholarship, your essay, transcript (if they ask for it), and honors list.

This article in the Chronicle of Higher Education provides a very useful overview of the rationale for the process.

Advice to Letter Writers

Letters of recommendation are a valuable component for graduate admissions and/or fellowships and scholarships. Since you agreed to write the letter, the student has demonstrated trust in your ability to seriously assess their capability for future graduate work. Your letter should be honest and support the applicant. If you do not feel that you can write a supportive letter, it is a professional courtesy to inform the student that you cannot write a letter on their behalf. If you choose to write a letter, be sure to write a focused letter that reflects the qualities that make the student stand out. Remember, the student is competing against many other qualified and competent applicants so you want to write what makes your student unique. Letters that are rich in detail often carry more weight.

Give details

  •  Avoid clichés or generalizations
  • Give details about actual work done by or with the student. What are their strengths or weaknesses?
  • Give personal anecdotes if possible. What character strengths does the student possess? How are they exhibited? Are qualities like determination, tenacity, creativity, leadership, etc. displayed?
  • Be sure to give a context to your relationship. How long have you known the student? In what capacity? When making comparisons to other students, how many students are you choosing from?

Avoid unlimited praise

  • While you want to be supportive, the committee wants a fair picture of your student. Do not exaggerate in such a way that the student seems “too good to be true.” One way to avoid such unlimited praise is to talk about some aspect of the student that remains underdeveloped. Unrealized potential leaves the committee envisioning an applicant who can grow without limits.

Read criteria and address specifically

  •  Be sure the applicant provides you with the criteria the committee is looking for. This will allow you to address the criteria specifically in your letter. Comment only on the criteria that is related to your area of knowledge.
The Résumé

Some scholarships have a designated space for you to list your activities, honors, and awards. Others require you attach a list. Be sure that you follow the instructions with regards to length, activities, and accomplishments. The résumé provides the selectors with a quick overview of your academic background, leadership, and service roles. Be selective and list all significant honors. Be sure to elaborate on your awards in your essay if applicable.

  • Use terminology for your headings.
  • Note the date -month and year.
  • List your activities in chronological sequence with the most recent first.
  • Restrict your activities to the college or university level, unless you have remarkable and pertinent high school achievement that warrants inclusion.
  • When you use an acronym, spell it the first time you use it followed by the acronym in parentheses.
  • Give brief explanations of entries that are not self-explanatory.
  • Where applicable, briefly note your responsibilities.
  • Be honest. Don’t claim you can speak French unless you honestly can.
  • Be consistent in your layout: use the same font, size, headings, format, etc.

For useful tips on building a good resume, visit Ramapo’s Cahill Center:

https://www.ramapo.edu/careercenter/first-year-resume/

The Proposed Program of Study

Many awards such as the Fulbright, Truman, and NSF require a separate proposed program of study or project proposal, whereas in other scholarship applications the proposed program of study is part of the personal essay.

The project description should be written without jargon, in plain language, and should be no longer in length than the application stipulates. Try to capture the attention of the reader immediately, much like writing a newspaper article. The proposal should include:

  1. History and Definition of the Project
    Clearly describe the specific program of study or research planned. Include the period of proposal and outline the general ideas and questions to be explored. Explain how the project was conceived and how it will advance your intellectual development and career plans. Describe the history of the project, noting whether it was initiated by you and/or part of a larger project.
  2. Work Plan, Methodology, and Schedule
    Outline the work plan, methodology, and schedule for the grant period. Note your preliminary work (reading, study, research) that you have done or will do on the project prior to the beginning of the project; the planned stages, weekly or monthly, if possible, for completion of the project; the critical approaches to be employed; the location of the project, and what travel might be conducted for the project. If a foreign language is involved, cite specific experience with the language and have a reference letter that attests to your adequacy in that language for the project.
  3. Statement of Qualifications
    Detail your educational background; specific project-related courses and experience; and your major intellectual interests. Provide your current academic status and graduation year. This statement should be no longer than one or two paragraphs. Additionally, the fellowship may request an official transcript.
  4. Bibliography
    Construct a one-page bibliography of the resources that will be used and a listing of organizations sponsoring or advising the project. For organizations, provide names of specific authorizing individuals and telephone numbers. Although not every application will require you to submit a bibliography, you will have, at least informally, compiled most of the information while writing sections 1 and 2. It is an invaluable resource if you are selected for an interview.

Sample Project Proposals:

https://iis.berkeley.edu/examples

https://www.nsf.gov/pubs/2004/nsf04016/nsf04016_1.htm

https://cies.org/project-statement-samples

https://www.rochester.edu/college/studentfellowships/opportunities/fulbright-sample-essays.html

https://www.smith.edu/fulbright/prep/abstracts.php

Transcripts

An official transcript of all colleges attended, certified by the registrar’s office, is almost always required. In some cases for scholarships, high school transcripts may be required as well. Be sure to order transcripts well in advance of the deadline. Be sure to verify whether a form is required to be sent with the transcript or whether a form is needed to request the transcript.

Visit our Registrar’s Office: https://www.ramapo.edu/registrar/forms-transcripts/