It's all in the preparation.

Early preparation is important in the application process! We encourage students to pursue an undergraduate research or creative project. Also, many students have a study abroad experience which demonstrates their commitment to globalization. Because letters of recommendation are a critical component of a successful application, start building relationships with faculty early in your college career.

Preparation is key

Course Selection

Take classes from rigorous professors. A student with a 3.9 GPA in physics sends a strong message that she can excel in challenging classes. When choosing your classes, keep in mind that you will need excellent letters of recommendation; consider taking more than one class from a few professors. 


Success in the classroom is necessary but insufficient for most nationally competitive awards. Evaluators look for well-rounded people. Choose depth over breadth – reviewers are skeptical of a student who joins a lot of clubs to pad a résumé. You are better off demonstrating a genuine, long-lasting interest in a few activities. 


Most awards require evidence of leadership – more than a title of President or Treasurer. Make sure you can provide detailed examples; try to take ownership in a project or activity you are passionate about. Select an activity or organization where your leadership skills can be observed by someone who could write recommendation letter.  

Recommendation Letters

Begin cultivating relationships with key faculty members early in your academic career. Give them time to make specific observations of your talents, skills and knowledge. You can get to know faculty members by taking several classes from them, working on undergraduate research and participating in clubs they advise. 

Study Abroad

Evaluators want well-rounded students, and a study-abroad experience demonstrates that you can step out of your comfort zone and appreciate other cultures. For example, the Gilman study abroad scholarship can be a good precursor to the Fulbright Program and would look good on any application.  

Undergraduate Research

Research helps you gain valuable knowledge and important life skills, including the ability to think critically, work independently, meet deadlines and accept constructive criticism. You also get to work closely with a faculty member—helpful for recommendations. Fellowships winners often complete at least one significant undergraduate research project.