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City College Fellowships Program

Tips for winning financial support for study and research

(Prof. Susan Besse)

Why should you apply for scholarships and fellowships?

  1. for financial support: to reduce working hours and to keep debt at a minimum;
  2. track record of success looks impressive: shows initiative, resourcefulness, good organization;
  3. to gain experience writing applications, and in particular to learn to clearly articulate your interests and explain the nature and significance of your research project;
  4. to build relationships with professors who write you letters now and in the future;
  5. to gain research experience and/or enhance academic preparation;
  6. to broaden your contacts, enter new communities, experience life at different universities

What's out there?

for undergraduates: (just a sampling):
  1. at CCNY and CUNY:
    • Kaye; CCNY alumni scholarships; Weston Scholarship; MARC; Colin Powell CenterFellowships; Rangel Center Fellowships, Belle Zeller, etc.
    • departmental prizes, student services funding
    • study abroad awards: Naumberg; STOCS
    • internships: Watson; Rosenberg-Humphrey; Colin Powell Center Fellowships, etc.
  2. summer research fellowships: CCFell; MURAP; SR-EIP; NSF-funded REU, etc.
  3. external scholarships: Hispanic Scholarship Fund; US Department of Education Academic Competitiveness Grant (ACG); Rotary Scholarships, etc.
for graduating seniors:
  1. major national grants (portable): Soros, Gates, Javits, Ford, NSF, NIH, Truman, etc.
  2. international fellowships: Rhodes, Marshall, etc.
  3. fellowships awarded by individual graduate schools
  4. professional association fellowships
  5. other private foundations: Hispanic Scholarship Fund, etc.

What makes for a successful application?

  1.  fit between you and the eligibility criteria
  2. excellent personal statement and/or description of proposed research
  3. excellent letters of recommendation from faculty
  4. timeliness and respect for the process (follow instructions, make sure you application is complete and looks and reads like the work of a professional)

Can I do anything to influence (positively) the letters of recommendation? Yes, lots!

  1. Make sure to ask for letters in advance: at least two weeks for small grants, four weeks if you want feedback on the personal statement you will use, six weeks for recommendations fordoctoral programs. It is best to ask in person if possible, and then confirm by email.
  2. Make sure to inform those who will write letters of the eligibility criteria for the grant and to give them any information that they may not have concerning how you meet these criteria (for example, financial need, community service, leadership, etc.)
  3. Help out those who will write you letters by giving them information: your resume (with prizes won, extracurricular activities, employment, etc.); your transcript (highlight courses you have taken with them); copies of the best papers you have written for them or for others (to jog their memory and encourage them to write in detailed and specific terms about your academic skills); your personal statement
  4. If there is a weakness in your record (a bad semester, low test scores, etc.), consider asking those writing you letters to address this (which can be better than doing so yourself).
  5. Make sure they have contact information: how to reach you by email, phone, and snail mail (if relevant)
  6. Tell them in writing when the letter is due, how it should be submitted, and to whom (on line? given to you? sent directly in the mail?)
  7. Make SURE to sign a cover sheet (or enter your signature online) waiving your right (or not) to see the letter. It is considered better to waive your right.
  8. Remember to follow up with a thank you and also let those who wrote letters know the outcome (positive OR negative) of your application. Since you may be asking for more letters in the future, pay attention to this detail!

What else can I do to maximize my chances for success?

  1. Regard applying for scholarships/fellowships/prizes as a key component of your CCFell "project." Allocate TIME to researching opportunities and to applying.
  2. Take initiative, get organized. (Brilliance is not enough!) In late summer or early fall, make a calendar for the whole year of deadlines you want to meet. PLAN AHEAD!
  3. Invest energy in building relationships with faculty to gain academic support, information about opportunities in your field, introductions to their colleagues and professional organizations/groups/seminars, etc.
  4. Maximize your efforts. For example, RECYCLE:
    • if you have to write a paper for a class that might be eligible for a departmental prize, write it with this in mind, revise, and submit it.
    • if you want to apply to a summer research program (applications due Jan- March), prepare during the fall semester by writing a paper or doing research that will enhance your qualifications and academic preparation, help you define a summer research project, and thus allow you to write a strong application.
    • if you have done research that could be presented at a conference, apply to be on the program, and if successful, apply for travel funding.
  5. Don't get discouraged when you receive rejections and don't take it personally.
    NO ONE wins every fellowship he/she applies for.
    Just keep applying!


How else can I ensure my financial well-being?

  1.  If you have to work for wages, consider what will bring the most rewards (decent pay, flexibility in schedule, academic learning involved). For example:
    can you tutor at the Writing Center or for your division or department?
    can you get a paid position as a research assistant in a lab or other context?
    can you work at a not-too-demanding job in an administrative office at the college?
    if you have valuable skills, can you develop a "micro-enterprise," for example: helping MAand PhD students in Psychology with statistical parts of their research; tutoring high school students attending elite private schools; copy-editing; translating; setting up and managing web pages; teaching foreign language or music; etc.? Consider other alternatives like dog walking (that you can combine with jogging), catering, baby-sitting (Saturday night babysitting in Manhattan brings high hourly wages and lets you study when the kids go to bed)…
  2. Avoid credit card debt! Seek alternative loan structures to credit card debt.
    • Take out (a reasonable—not crushing—amount of) low-interest student loans if you qualify. Not taking out student loans can be "penny wise and pound foolish." Invest in your education at the points that will make the most difference to achieving your goal of being a fully funded PhD student.
  3. Take financial planning seriously. Try to maintain a reserve so as to avoid constant crisis management (which usually ends up being expensive).
    • Avoid buying books when you can use library copies; bring food to campus; get subsidized health insurance if you qualify; use Skype to telephone abroad (including to landlines);avoid bank overdraft fees; etc.