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Application Process

Each scholarship or fellowship will have specific requirements for applications, so make sure you pay attention to details. 

For most awards, you'll need to write an essay describing why and what you want to study. Often, scholarships aren't just looking for academically well-prepared students--they're looking for you to write a unique, eye-catching proposal that demonstrates you understand the importance of multicultural, social, and political issues. 

You'll also need letters of recommendation from faculty who know you well and can talk about why you're an outstanding candidate.

Once you've identified which scholarship you're interested in, please contact the USI Contact listed with that scholarship. If you need general help understanding the scholarships, contact Dr. Sarah Stevens.

There are two main types of essays you might be asked to write: a personal statement and a proposal/statement of intent. These two essays should complement each other and give a holistic picture of both you and the work you want to do. Let each essay speak for itself and combine to show why you're a great candidate. 

Personal Statement

A personal statement is a narrative describing you as an individual. You'll write about your personal history and background, your intellectual development and influences, and your opportunities and how those have shaped you. You might include your special interests and abilities, your career plans, your life goals, etc. 

  • Aim for concise and specific language, enthusiasm, and honesty. 
  • You can't talk about everything and personal statements are generally short. Think about 3-4 points you want to develop. Your personal statement is a chance for you to show what sets YOU apart from everyone else. 
  • Your personal statement should be a pleasure to read. Take out all the filler. Start with a great hook and take the reader to the heart of your essay right away. 
  • Stay focused and establish a consistent story line. Use anecdotes and personal stories to help the readers understand who you are. 
  • Make sure you highlight the intelligence, passion, and skills you'll bring to the work. 
  • You are going to need to write MULTIPLE DRAFTS. Start early! You'll want to revise and rework until you have a solid, intriguing essay.

Don't know where to start? Think about these questions:

  • What books, ideas, courses, or events have had a profound impact on you? How so?
  • What are your most strongly-held values? How do those relate to your activities, your academics, and your future plans?
  • Think about a turning point in your life. Consider yourself before and after. How did you change and what does that change mean? 
  • What makes you feel most fulfilled? Why? 

Proposal or Statement of Interest

This essay is a more formal description of your course of study or project and may include your research focus, your degree goals, your methodology, and your timeline. 

  • Why have you chosen to apply for this award? (This course of study, at this particular institution, in this particular country/location.)
  • How do your plans relate to your preparation, your academic qualifications, and your long-range goals? 
  • Why have you chosen this area of study? What makes your project timely or appropriate? 
  • Make sure to address any specific points asked for by the award. 
  • You are going to need to write MULTIPLE DRAFTS. Start early! You'll want to revise and rework until you have a solid, intriguing essay.


Free, online 5-chapter book Writing Personal Statements Online available through Penn State's e-Education Institute. 

When you're seeking a letter of recommendation, you need to think about WHO to ask and HOW to ask

WHO to Ask

Throughout your time at USI, you should make sure to get to know your professors. This means participating actively in class, talking to them outside the classroom, and visiting them during office hours. 

Ideally, you should also look for opportunities to do research with at least one professor and make sure they know your work well. This might mean working on an independent study project or helping with your professor's research in the lab or the field. 

Take time to talk about your career plans and goals with your professors. Actively seek mentoring relationships and advice from the faculty you connect with best. 

Those faculty? The ones who know your research and work ethic, the ones who understand your goals and values? They are the best ones to write you letters of recommendation. 

You might also consider letters from other folks you've worked with closely, like the Director of the Honors Program or someone from the Multicultural Center. But at least one of your letters should definitely be from a faculty member who can speak about your academic potential. 

HOW to Ask

Early. As soon as you've decided to apply for one of these awards, you should ask your recommenders if they can write you a letter. Ask something like: "Are you comfortable writing me a strong letter of recommendation for X?" 

It's nicest to ask in person, but email is fine. If you're emailing, make sure you write a professional email that includes your full name and the context in which the person knows you. 

Let them know: 

  • When the application is due. Check if it is due to USI earlier than the actual application deadline. 
  • When you will be able to get them a copy of your application essay(s). Plan to give them a month with your materials before their letter is due. You should also provide a copy of your resume or any other documents that give information they might need to write a strong letter. 
  • If there are any specific requirements for the letter based on what award you're applying for. 
  • Give them all information about submitting the letter. Does it go in a packet? Is it submitted independently? Is it submitted online? Does it go to the USI Contact first?
  • Direct them to these webpages for tips!