What is a “nationally competitive scholarship?”
Generally speaking, nationally competitive scholarships are offered by national or international foundations and provide for graduate school tuition and fees, research expenses, teaching opportunities abroad, or in some cases, undergraduate tuition and expenses. In addition to financial support, many scholarships also offer leadership and professional development opportunities, access to alumni networks, and more.
Most, although not all, nationally competitive scholarships are awarded without considering financial need.
The term “scholarship” is often used interchangeably with “fellowship,” “grant,” or “scholar program.”
Explore Scholarship Opportunities
There are scholarship opportunities for every discipline, nationality, area of the world, and type of study! Take some time to explore the options (the NCS Scholarships Directory is a great place to start) and reach out to an advisor if you need help. NCS advisors are most familiar with the opportunities listed on this site but can give general advice about many more.
Once you have identified a scholarship you are interested in, read the description carefully and note the information detailed on both the national website and the OUSF summary. Most nationally competitive scholarship applications are due about a year in advance of the start of the intended program. In some cases, there is a mandatory campus nomination process with a deadline ahead of the deadline posted on the national website.
Each scholarship foundation defines its own mission, goals, and selection criteria—ideally, your own mission, goals, and accomplishments will match. If you are not sure if you will be a competitive candidate, though, please reach out to an NCS advisor. We are here to help.
Here are ways you can learn about scholarship opportunities:
Getting Started with the Application
In cases where there is a mandatory campus nomination process, visiting the specific scholarship page will provide you with the application instructions you will need to apply. Read through the application components carefully, paying special attention to the essay prompts and other notes that might indicate which qualities the selection committee is seeking.
Scholarship applications often require a significant commitment of time and effort, but remember, you are not alone! In most cases, NCS advisors can help you brainstorm, strategize, draft, and revise your application from start to finish. While there is no formula for a successful application, nor can NCS advisors tell you exactly how much time to invest or how many drafts to write, it can be helpful to get feedback as you progress through the process. Be sure to also reach out to other advisors in your life: faculty, PIs, supervisors, tutors, etc.
Setting Yourself up for Success
Each scholarship foundation is seeking specific qualities from candidates based on their selection criteria. All of them, however, are interested in supporting engaged individuals who will have an impact on the world. Here are some activities that will enhance your undergraduate trajectory, and more specifically, can help prepare you in applying for a nationally competitive scholarship:
- Define your goals and interests early, and regularly reevaluate them as your trajectory evolves. Selection committees appreciate individuals who are self-reflective.
- Seek out opportunities to engage in conversation on complex topics, especially keeping informed on what is happening in the news, both nationally and internationally. Selection committees want to see that you can grapple with nuanced, complicated issues without obvious or simple solutions.
- Enroll in challenging courses that expand your academic trajectory and perspective. Take courses that excite you and expand your horizons, but also help to integrate your interests, concerns, and ambitions. Selection committees want to see that you are challenging yourself, both in breadth and depth.
- When you encounter topics or issues that excite you, follow that lead. Selection committees will be impressed with the level of expertise you have developed through deep study and engagement.
- Build relationships with faculty members outside the classroom and maintain them, even after you have finished their course. Not only do faculty members make great advisors, but selection committees often look to letters of recommendation as confirmation of your talents.
- Conduct faculty-mentored research. The transition from consumer of knowledge to producer of knowledge is an important indicator of maturity for selection committees.
- Make an impact in an organization or club, both on and off-campus, pursuing opportunities for leadership and change-making. Selection committees want to envision how you will make a difference in the future; evidence of past impact is a great way to show how you will continue to be an influence for good.
- Embrace opportunities to learn about people who are different from you and give back to your own community or others. Scholarship foundations are not only investing in you, but in all the good you will likely do in the future. Show them that you are interested in making a positive contribution to society.