Applying for National Scholarships--Overview of the Process

Components of national scholarship applications

Application materials required for submission vary. Essay length, prompts, and number of recommendations will differ between programs. However, the components of applications to most programs include:

  • Personal Statement/Statement of Purpose—This is a reflection of you, your experiences and accomplishments—academic and otherwise—and shows how the program to which you are applying fits with your overall academic and career goals.


  • Letters of recommendation—Most programs ask for three recommendations; a few ask for more (e.g., Rhodes asks for five to eight, Mitchell asks for four). Some programs want letters only from faculty who have taught you or supervised your research. Others want recommendations from people who know you from non-academic contexts. In all cases, letters for these programs need to be rich in detail, describe your accomplishments, explain what sets you apart from other students, and attest to your suitability as a candidate and for your chosen field. Please refer recommenders to these guidelines for writing strong letters of recommendation.


  • Research Proposal/Plan of Study—Some programs, like the Goldwater and NSF, require a research proposal that draws on research you have been doing to suggest directions for research you plan to undertake. Some programs, like the Marshall, require you to describe your plans for coursework/research you want to undertake in the program you are applying to.


  • Institutional Endorsement—In addition to nomination, some programs (e.g., Truman, Marshall, Rhodes) require a letter of institutional endorsement. This letter provides a comprehensive overview of the applicants and is usually written by the college President, Provost, or Dean.


  • Transcripts—You will need to provide transcripts from all undergraduate institutions you attended. Be sure to clear up any unresolved grades, INCs, or permit grades from other institutions before submitting transcripts. Some programs require official transcripts. Order transcripts with plenty of time for processing and sending, generally no less than 2 weeks before a deadline.


  • Completed application and resume—Generally, the application allows space for you to include items from your resume, like internships, employment, leadership positions, community/public service activities and other relevant experience. Some programs also require a resume or CV.


A note on the process


Applying for national scholarships is a lengthy, but guided process. Students work with the National Scholarships Director, faculty, and mentors to develop their applications, essays, and to prepare for interviews. Applying for competitive national scholarships requires a serious time commitment.  Students begin the application process early. And while some programs might only ask for one or two essays, competitive applications require writing multiple essay drafts. Students generally begin preparing applications and essays for the most competitive awards six months to a year in advance.



Internal deadlines

Regardless of whether a program requires an official endorsement from the college, if you plan to work with the National Scholarship Director, in many cases, you will be required to submit a strong draft of your application by an internal deadline that is generally two months before a program’s official deadline.  

Campus nominating committees

For scholarships that require nomination, a committee of faculty (some from your field) and/or administrators review drafts of applications, essays, and recommendation letters, and an unofficial transcript to nominate candidates.  Some programs (e.g., Truman, Udall, and Goldwater) limit the number of nominations each institution can make. Students work with the National Scholarship Director, faculty, and mentors to develop drafts for review prior to and after the internal campus deadline.

Last Updated: 06/27/2023 10:29