Becoming a Strong Candidate
If you have your sights set on applying for nationally-competitive fellowships in the future, there are things you can do to become a stronger candidate over time.
Keep your grades up. Strong grades are a fact of life for nationally-competitive awards. While 3.2 is sometimes a minimum GPA requirement, actual GPAs may be much higher for certain awards.
If you have a genuine and credible explanation for lower grades (such as serious illness, working two jobs to support your family, etc.), you may still be OK. However, note that a lower GPA will raise questions about your organization, commitment, and ability, areas which will need to be exceptionally strong otherwise.
Grades by themselves are almost never enough to obtain a nationally-competitive award, however.
Engage with the world beyond your classroom. Get involved in something you care about. Strong applications usually show evidence of sincere leadership and passionate engagement with something in the world at large. This might take the form of public service or community work, or it might be engagement with the world of ideas, in the form of research and conference participation. Fellowships look for students with vision, plus demonstrated drive and commitment to pursue that vision.
Get to know faculty. It’s worth the effort to form and sustain strong professional relationships with faculty and other mentors, as these often form the backbone of a strong fellowship application and even career path. You might seek out research opportunities, if appropriate, though there are other ways for forge these ties. For example, you could consider stopping into office hours for a reason other than to discuss your grades. You might stop by to discuss career options or to ask about a particularly interesting or challenging point raised in class. Or you might want to talk about your interest in applying for fellowships or other awards.