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If you are considering applying to a scholarship or fellowship, the ten steps listed here should prove a solid foundation from which to build yourself a successful application.  Regardless of the order in which you pursue these goals, the earlier you start the process, the more successful you are likely to be.  Following these steps will help you develop a record of applying your skills through experiences that foster attributes valued by graduate schools, scholarship committees, and employers.

Step 1: Strive for excellence in challenging classes.

Many scholarships and fellowships look for applicants with a GPA above 3.9, thus you should aim to differentiate yourself within these limits by doing well in challenging classes.  Taking honors courses or learning a second language could be the deciding factor between you and a candidate with similar qualifications.  Furthermore, the skills you attain through this step will provide personal and professional benefits beyond the scope of any one scholarship or fellowship.

Step 2: Get work, internship, and volunteer experience in your field.

Direct experience relevant to your field of interest is essential to a successful application.  An ideal application will provide an appropriately balanced record of work, internship, and volunteer experience that highlights your ability to apply skills relevant to your discipline, and demonstrates initiative, responsibility, teamwork, and selflessness.  Listed below are MSU resources you should utilize in your search for work, internship, and volunteer experience.

Step 3: Get to know your professors and other faculty.

It is important to develop good relationships with your professors and other faculty, as they will often be the ones to provide you letters of recommendation.  Professors can also offer mentoring, employment references, and other career and academic opportunities such as research assistantships.   You shouldn’t’t be shy about approaching professors during their office hours to ask questions or provide comments, as professors are generally eager to interact with curious students.

Step 4: Develop a global perspective.

Scholarship committees prefer curious individuals that are passionate about the world in which they live.  Therefore, you should work to develop a broad and informed perspective by seeking out a variety of viewpoints on current issues and events.  A good place to start is regular reading of a publication covering national and international stories, such as the New York Times or Wall Street Journal.  You should also aim to illustrate your interest in a variety of subjects through participation in relevant research projects, classes, and extracurricular activities.

Step 5: Seek out leadership positions that are important to you.

The organizations that fund scholarship and fellowship programs are hoping to support and develop the next generation of academic, business, and political leaders, giving applicants with leadership experience a competitive edge over others.  To gain such an edge, you should seek out one of the many leadership opportunities available to you on campus.

Step 6: Get involved in interesting extracurricular activities.

Most scholarships and fellowship require involvement in extracurricular activities, and those that don’t prefer it.  You should pursue extracurricular activities that are both relevant to your goals, and unique enough to distinguish you as a well-rounded individual.

Step 7: Develop your communication skills.

Many scholarships and fellowships require interviews with multiple interviewers, so you should practice expressing yourself appropriately in an interview setting.

Step 8: Apply for large and small scholarships.

Each small scholarship and award is a building block to a larger one.  You should also consider submitting essays to writing contests or publishing your writing.

Step 9: Start early

You should allow yourself plenty of time to write and repeatedly revise your application before the due date.

Step 10: Don’t give up if you don’t receive the scholarship.

Scholarships and fellowships are so competitive that many qualified applicants inevitably get shut out.  However, being turned down for a scholarship is an excellent learning opportunity that should be drawn from in future scholarship application attempts.

Many of the awards the Distinguished Student Awards Office coordinates require an institutional endorsement.  Such awards have an earlier application deadline and an internal competition that may include an interview. You cannot apply for these awards on your own without going through the DSAO internal competition. Awards that require an institutional endorsement are indicated with an asterisk (*).

To Apply

  1. Think about what is important to you and your future career goals.
  2. Browse Awards, research eligibility requirements, and attend a NIFS information session.
  3. Submit an Intent to Apply Form and e-mail your resume to
  4. Schedule an appointment with a DSAO adviser.

Securing Strong Letters of Reference 

Securing Strong Letters of Reference

If you wish to apply to one of the awards listed on this website, please fill out an Intent to Apply Form.  For more information, please consult the Scholarships and Fellowships FAQ.

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