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Expert Advice on Fellowships from a few 2019-20 Fellowships Ambassadors

November 4, 2019


For many students, fellowships can be a vague and daunting word. Awards provide financial support for a multitude of different contexts, including academic, travel, research, or other opportunities. Some fund opportunities in the United States while others support students going abroad. Some are for undergraduates, some are for graduate students, and some you can apply for while an undergraduate to then utilize post-graduation. Luckily, our office is here to help Drexel students navigate the fellowships process!

In addition to advising and information sessions, we’re fortunate to have a group of experienced and reliable past and current fellowship applicants with whom interested students can connect. We reached out to some of these students – our Fellowships Ambassadors – with a few questions to help advise and encourage other students exploring the possibilities of fellowships:

How did you become interested in fellowships?

Neil Eelman (BS Computer Engineering ‘20, Honors): I was first interested in exploring fellowships as a way to fund graduate studies and attended information sessions and one-on-one meetings. Through that process, I discovered the abundance of opportunities available, including those for undergraduate students. I also learned a lot about how to reflect on myself and my goals through personal statement writing and grad school info events. I eventually applied for and was awarded a Gilman Scholarship to the Netherlands for my final co-op. Now I'm in the process of applying for Fulbright, too.

Kyle Juretus (PhD student, Computer and Electrical Engineering): My advisor recommended fellowships as a means to increase my visibility outside of Drexel in terms of recognition. In addition, fellowships provide a degree of freedom in graduate studies in terms of pursuing research of interest to you and the ability to move freely within the academic realm without worrying about finding funding.

Greg Risser (PhD candidate, Biomedical Engineering): My advisor is very enthusiastic about international study and really pushed me to try it. So, I looked up fellowships and read stories people had about their experiences. I had never really spent much time abroad before, so I knew that it would be a very valuable experience for me. I met with the office and am glad that I did. They had a lot of helpful insight that made my application stronger.

What are some of the challenges Drexel students face and what advice do you have for overcoming them?

Paco Sangaiah (PhD student, Computer Engineering): With the fast pace at Drexel, it’s hard to add yet another to-do to your term, but the fellowship application process is another rewarding one that will help you reach your goals. I definitely recommend checking out some of the fellowship alumni in your field on the website and read some of their bios. They started right where you are right now!

Scott Lerner (PhD student Electrical Engineering): In terms of fellowships, it is really challenging to differentiate yourself from the other high-GPA students who are also applying. The advice that I believe helped me was to really invest in the categories the fellowship calls for. For the NSF GRFP, one example category is broader impacts. That to me meant positioning myself to give the biggest benefit back to the community and really show that I could contribute. I did this through mentoring students, participating in multiple student organizations, and extracurricular opportunities that I pursued. Everyone will be different, but the overarching point is to start early and put yourself in the best position to back up your application.

Kyle Juretus: I think most students are concerned that they do not have the qualifications to obtain competitive fellowships. Many students feel there are better applicants at other schools, or they do not have the time. However, just putting yourself out there and applying for the fellowships will not harm you in any way. Students have nothing to lose and have an excellent resource in the Center for Scholar Development that helps you during every portion of the application process.

Could you share some encouragement for students considering fellowships?

Philip Weigel (BS Physics ’20, Honors): For those looking to apply to fellowships/scholarships: my advice is to always start early. When an application is due in a busy part of the term, it becomes very hard to make good revisions and to put in a lot of effort. It's good to get an understanding of the process a few months in advance and to start thinking about the different application components (i.e. essays).

Scott Lerner: Your draft should have been turned in two weeks ago. Giving yourself a deadline will really help motivate you to get through multiple drafts and ultimately write the best application you can. Another piece of advice is that you should take your application personally. There are people who are going to read your application and ultimately decide who they think should be funded. Convince them, with your background and stories, that they need to pick you. Take advantage of that in your writing.

Dakota Peterson (BA Political Science '18): One bit of encouragement I would provide to students applying for any kind of fellowship is to just keep going. I applied for a Boren Scholarship, a Gaither Scholarship and a Fulbright grant. I did not get the Boren and came up short with the Gaither fellowship after being a nominee. But I pressed on and applied for the Fulbright, arguably the most recognized of the three. I only succeeded because of persistence.


So what are you waiting for? Come to a Fellowships 101 session to learn more about how to get started. Start searching through our database to find your fit and discover what fellowships can do for you!

See our full list of 2019-20 Fellowships Ambassadors and their profiles on our website here and read some of last year's advice in this January 2019 article.