General Tips for Strengthening Award Applications


1. Plan ahead.   Most competitive award applications require weeks, if not months, of preparation.  The Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship and the Freeman-ASIA Scholarship are the only awards supported by the Frederik Meijer Office of Fellowships that don't require letters of recommendation. Most applicants report completing 5 or more rounds of essay drafting, so avoid procrastinating.  It takes time to draft a Personal Statement, Statement of Interest, Statement of Grant Purpose or other essays. Your responses will not be as compelling or competitive as they could be if you start early.

2. Carefully review eligibility criteria and make a check-list of application components .  Most awards first screen applications by eligibility requirements. Focus your attention on awards for which you meet all eligibility criteria. In case of any doubt the Office of Fellowships for guidance. 

3. Fully answer all essay prompts.  Most funders offer prompts that you should fully address.  In order to maintain reviewers' interest, be sure to answer all the questions posed with conviction and supporting evidence.  Demonstrate your passion for research, study, teaching, service-learning, etc.-- but do not use the word "passion" in your essay (this is a serious pet peeve for most reviewers). 

4. Outline.  Outlines, bullet points, mind maps and other organizational strategies can provide focus and structure. This allows you to present your ideas (supported by evidence) in a manner that supports your conclusions, yielding a more powerful essay.

5. Find a Hook.  The lead or opening paragraph is generally the most important.  This valuable real estate allows you to grab the reader’s attention or lose it.  This paragraph becomes the framework for the rest of the statement. 

6. Show-- don't tell-- readers. Offer concrete examples to support any assertions.  Instead of telling readers "I am noted for my leadership ability," incorporate an example of a setting in which you have demonstrated leadership.

7. Avoid clichés and vague language.  Stay away from common language and trite statements "I have always dreamed of traveling to Europe," "Since childhood I have known that I wanted to become a physician." Instead, focus on including content that is so specifically written that it is only true of you.  If you can swap out another country or city in a sentence and it still makes sense, your essay is too vague. Likewise, an applicant who writes that she wants to "learn about a new culture" or "have a once in a lifetime experience" is not adequately setting herself apart from other applicants.

9. If you have questions about your essay(s), or would just like someone else to read them over, you should visit the Writing Center. The Fred Meijer Writing Center has on-site consultants in Allendale and Grand Rapids and is also available for virtual consultations.  Ask for a consultant trained by the Fellowships Office when you schedule your appointment.

10. Proofread your application. Carefully review your entire application. Do not misspell the name of the funding agency.  Autocorrect likes to make "Fulbright" "Fullbright" and Gilman "Gillman." You are extremely unlikely to receive an award if you misspell its name in your essays. Check for spelling errors, grammar errors, etc. Ask at least two other individuals to provide feedback on your application. 

11. Be sure to read your essays aloud to identify any awkward sounding passages.  

12. Always have Plans B, C, D, ... Once you’ve done the legwork for your first competitive application, don’t hesitate to repackage it and apply for others. Just make to edit essays to ensure that they fulfill all prompts for other funding agencies/ your new target audience.  Likewise, many applicants report having used Personal Statements and other essays in their graduate school application dossiers, in drafting cover letters, writing samples and other job search materials, etc.