Many apply for fellowship and scholarship programs and many get rejected. When that happens, we tend to take it hard and think negatively of ourselves and this way of thinking discourages us from reapplying or pursuing other opportunities.

How should we take an application rejection? A rejection is not a negative reflection of you as a person but rather of your application. The selection committee reading your application does not know “you” and the only thing they will know about you is what you share with them through your application. The stronger your application is, the better your chances to get accepted. So take the time to work on it. Think of your application as a self-nomination and back it up with strong essays, clear careers objectives, stellar recommendation letters, etc… You want to leave your reader “wowed” saying, “I’d love to interview this person!”

Applying for cultural, academic or professional programs will be a long and tedious process. It takes commitment and volition to be able to submit a strong, competitive and complete application. If you put the right amount of work and have what it takes your application will see you through.

The following is what comes to mind when people ask me for advice on what they should do when they are preparing to apply for a scholarship program.

Tip #1: Do Your Research!


The first thing I recommended you do when you are considering applying for any scholarship program is to do your research. Familiarize yourself with the program in which you are interested. Start first by visiting the program web page, making sure to watch any related videos, reading the articles, and going through profiles of current scholars and alumni. This should give you a good understanding of what the program goals are and what the recruiters are looking for in prospective participants. This first crucial step will help you decide whether the program is a good fit and whether you have what it takes to win the scholarship. Doing your homework will also help you figure out eligibility requirements (age, degree, nationality, GPA, etc…), fields of study and/or research, tests required, in addition to career opportunities after the program. Do not start your application before doing your research!

Tip #2: Contact the Program Office


The next step is to get in touch with the entity managing the program. You can start this process by sending an e-mail requesting an in-person meeting with a staff member. Once you have your appointment set up, make sure to prepare a list of questions to ask. Do Not go to the meeting unprepared. If you go to your meeting unprepared and your first question is “what can you tell me about the program?” their response will be: “Have you checked our website?” and “Have you attended any information sessions?” So do take the time to prepare a list of questions you could not find answers to online.

Some program web pages will have an FAQ page, so make sure to ask questions that are not listed there. If the following questions are not included in the FAQ, consider adding them to your list:

1- How many participants will be selected to take part in the program?This is a good question because it will give you an idea about the competitiveness of the program and your chances of getting accepted. Some organizations and institutions will post stats about their admission or acceptance rate and previous pools of applicants. If these stats are not available online, make sure to ask about them.

2- What is the selection process? This is helpful in the sense that you will understand how the committee will look at your application in terms of test scores, recommendation letters, essays, transcripts, etc… Understanding how each element of your application will be reviewed will help you figure out any weaknesses. For instance, poor grades could be explained in your personal statement and an emphasis on your resume could balance your transcripts.

3- Is it possible to get in touch with a current participant or an alum of the program? Getting in touch with someone who went through the same process of applying is the best way to get advice and best practices that would save you a lot of time.

4- What advice would you give applicants? Listen carefully to what they say…if there is anything you don’t understand now is the time to ask for clarity.

Tip #3: Attend an Information Session


If you did not get the chance to have a one-on-one meeting with a program staff member, then I highly recommend that you attend an information session. Attending an information session is a good way for applicants to understand the specifics of the application process and gather tips from the recruiters. If the managing entity does not have an office in your country, a virtual meeting might be an option. Some organizations and institutions make it possible for prospective participants to get in touch with them through organizing webinars, virtual information sessions, and one-on-one virtual meetings.

An Information Session is also a good opportunity to meet other applicants and be part of working groups where members commit to meet on certain days and work on their applications. This is a good way to keep you on track and motivated to complete your application. Make sure you attend!

Tip #4: Create a Timeline


As I mentioned above, applying for a scholarship will be a lengthy process and you might lose track of time. You need to be organized and diligent in order to be able to submit a competitive application. One thing that could help you stay on track is to create your own application timeline. This will give you a bird’s eye view of the application process and help you create an action plan. Pick your own deadline to submit the application and work your way back to the day you heard about the program. Your timeline should cover the following items:

  • Contact the program office;
  • Attend an information session;
  • Start the application;
  • Brainstorm topics for your Personal Statement;
  • Request Letters of Recommendation;
  • Draft your Personal Statement;
  • Request /Collect Transcripts;
  • Update your Resume;
  • Proofread and finalize your Personal Statement and Resume;
  • Conduct a final review of your application and;
  • Personal deadline to submit the application. Yes, you can submit your application before the deadline!

This list above lists some of the important elements of any application but you can adjust it depending on the program to which you are applying.


Tip #5: Create a Tracker


Now that you have gathered all the information and details you need to know about the program and put together a timeline, it is highly recommended to complement this with a tracker.

What is a tracker? A tracker is a document you create that could be in Word document format or Excel spreadsheet that helps you list all the tasks related to your application(s), prioritize them, track your progress, and most importantly meet your deadlines. If you are applying to multiple programs with a similar timeline, a tracker is your best tool to stay organized.


What is listed above is just an example of what your tracker could include but you can create your own based on how detailed you would like it to be. (If you are interested in receiving a tracker or timeline template, please reach out to me).

The most important part of working with a timeline and a tracker is respecting and following them.

Being prepared and aware of what it takes to apply for such programs would be very helpful. Some might be competing with other applicants from their country and in some other cases with applicants from other parts of the globe, so be mindful of that.

If you know someone who is interested in applying for a scholarship or fellowship program, please share this with them as it would be a good heads up for what their very first steps should include in order to be on track with their application requirements.

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