Suggestions for Scholarship Applications

These suggestions are intended as general guidelines for preparing a successful application.  Each scholarship has different eligibility requirements, application procedures, and selection criteria.  Not all scholarships, for instance, expect that students will have identified and contacted host country academics before applying for an award.

Although these suggestions have a “research” spin and a “graduate” hop, they’re just as applicable to undergraduates preparing study abroad scholarship applications.


Don’t be intimidated by the competition.  Every year UI students compete successfully in prestigious national competitions.  Often the competition is every bit as fierce for internal awards as it is for external awards.   Not all students succeed, but one thing is certain – if you don’t apply, you won’t receive an award.

Start early

The sooner you start, the better your final proposal is likely to be.  It takes time to develop a first-rate research proposal and establish contacts abroad.  You may need to complete background research in the U.S., take classes to give yourself a sound methodological base, or brush up on a foreign language before you go abroad.

Use your resources

Writing a successful grant is a team effort.  The UI has an abundance of resources – faculty who have experience in a foreign country, graduate students who have conducted research abroad, and hundreds of international students.  Solicit advice and assistance from faculty and students inside and outside your department and UI staff who are in a position to help you!  Staff in the Study Abroad office, the Honors Program, or the Division of Sponsored Programs are prepared to assist you at any step in the process.  Call to make an appointment.  Sponsored Programs can also help you with express overseas mailing and international phone calls.

Read what others have written

Most applications require a proposal and a personal statement, or some combination of the two.  The essays of students who have received awards are a good source of ideas and are often available for review.  Check with the appropriate office.

Define your objectives clearly

You’ll need to articulate clearly what you intend to do, why you want to do it, and how you intend to accomplish it.  How will this project further your academic and career goals?  How will it contribute to the literature of your field? 

Set precise, manageable limits

Proposals that are too vague or too ambitious to be completed in the allotted time will not be competitive.  Make sure your proposal is both valid (this is a timely and innovative proposal tacking an important question) and feasible (the applicant can accomplish what s/he proposes to do).  The more tightly focused and specific your proposal, the better it will be.

Write clearly and concisely

A good idea isn’t enough.  Proposals have to be well written.  The better “read” your proposal is, the more likely the reviewer(s) is going to get excited about your idea.  Find out who will be evaluating your proposal.  Often it must appeal to readers both within and outside your discipline.  Organize it logically, break it up into paragraphs / sections, avoid jargon, and eliminate grammatical and spelling errors.  Pay attention to the appearance of your proposal, too.  It should be printed on  a good laser printer. 


First drafts rarely fly.  Get your thoughts down on paper, then discuss your ideas with your academic advisor, other professors, fellow students in your department, your roommate or spouse, and the scholarship administrator.  Coax and coerce as many people as possible to read your proposal and be open to their criticism.  Some readers can help with the content of your proposal, others with the form.

Establish contacts

In some cases, it’s necessary to have letters of support from appropriate academics in the host country and/or evidence of institutional affiliation.  In other cases, it’s important to have secured access to archival material.  Professors in your department may already have good connections you can use.  Introduce yourself, share your ideas, and ask for advice and assistance (email has helped this process considerably!).

Follow instructions and remember deadlines

Answer all questions clearly and concisely, in accordance with the instructions.  Don’t submit additional, unrequested materials; they’ll probably be discarded without a second glance.  Submit your application on time, or you’ll have invested a great deal of time and effort for naught.

Complete your Human Subjects Review

If your research involves human subjects, you must submit an application to the Human Subjects Office, 300 CMAB, for review by the Internal Review Board.  The IRB assures that the subjects are being clearly informed as to the true nature of the study, that the risks and benefits are clearly stated, and that confidentiality is maintained to the fullest possible extent.  (Proposals from most students in the Social Sciences and Humanities will be considered “of minimal risk” and be approved quickly.) 

Students should allow 3 to 4 weeks for their applications to be processed; the person named as the Principal Investigator on the application form will be notified of approval by mail.  The Human Subjects Office publishes an on-line Investigator’s Guide to Human Subjects Review as well as application forms and templates.  HSO also maintains a library of written and video materials and conducts workshops; see their website for details. 

Apply for other awards

If you’ve applied for one award, you’ve already done 90% of the work for the next award(s).  Repackage.  Cut and paste.  Put slightly different spins on it to match the intentions of specific grants.  Apply for anything and everything that makes plausible sense.  It’s a good problem to have to choose between which grant(s) to accept and which to decline!


This can be a discouraging process.  Don’t take “no” personally.  You’re simply not going to get everything you apply for.  You’ll learn in the process and will be able to make improvements from one grant to the next.  Keep at it.  Be persistent!

Writing Your Application

A few suggestions when it comes to the actual writing (based on common problems observed while reading rough drafts)

By Faith Adiele, UI Writers’ Workshop graduate

Write naturally!

Avoid fancy polysyllabic words, academic jargon, misuse of the pronoun “myself” and convoluted sentences written in the passive tense with dangling modifiers and way too many prepositions. The Fulbright mission is to fund individuals with cross-cultural communications skills, not to underwrite academic studies. Use your natural voice to be clear, concise and honest.

Be specific!

Most first drafts are terribly vague.  Say exactly where and when you are going, what you are doing, who you are seeking, and why.  Each paragraph should have a topic sentence, that is, and important point it is trying to convey. Avoid code phrases, general unfocused goals such as “contributing to the body of knowledge,” and the specialized rhetoric of your discipline.  Find someone to read your draft who knows nothing about your discipline.

Be succinct!

Most first drafts are way too long and use entire phrases when one word would do. Go through your draft with a colored pen and try to cut out 25%, even if you are under the page limit.  It is also easy to fall into a vocabulary groove when composing on a computer, so print out your proposal, then go through and circle all the repeated words and phrases.  I guarantee you-you’ll be amazed.


It is amazing how many statements forget to mention why the applicant has chosen that particular country or what the applicant knows about the place.  It should be clear to readers why you want to go to the country you have chosen, what you plan to do there, who your contacts are, what is the significance of your project, and how this meets the larger goals of the Fulbright.  You should assume that general readers may know little about the country or your discipline and will need to have that information contextualized by you.

Match your personal statement to your proposal!

Many students spend most of their time on their proposal and then short-change their personal statement.  Your personal statement is the ideal companion to your research project and should be crafted as such.  Review the trajectory of your life and what moments brought you to this particular project.  How might you package your personal and work and educational experiences to show your readiness?  This is an opportunity to show passion and confidence.  You do not have to be arrogant, but do not waste your time being coy, either.  Avoid phrases like “my diverse interests” and “I learned a lot” which tell us nothing.  Better to focus on a few seminal life events and show how they shaped you into the exciting Fulbright candidate you are today.