Strategies for Becoming a More Competitive Applicant

[Narrator: Lisa Gagnon] Hello and welcome to the University at Buffalo Fellowships and Scholarships 101 series. The topic of this video is strategies for becoming a more competitive applicant.

The first thing to consider is your academic credentials. While having a high GPA and challenging course selection will always help you, it is more important for some awards than others. Take honors classes or pursue an honors track in your major to gain more expertise in your field of study. If you are not already in the Honors College, you can still join the Advanced Honors Program. Conduct independent work, an honors thesis or other intellectual investigation and finally, look for opportunities to give presentations or publish.

Another way to set yourself apart from other applicants is international experiences. Studying, conducting research, or interning abroad shows graduate schools or employers that you are culturally competent, willing to take risks, have foreign language exposure or expertise, and have a global perspective on issues and research. International experiences can be done over a semester, year, or during winter or summer sessions. Watch our video on major external fellowships to learn more about international awards.

In many fields, there is a strong emphasis on—and funding for—conducting research. Research always happens under the guidance of a faculty member. To scholarship committees, graduate school admissions, and employers, you demonstrate intellectual curiosity beyond attending your classes. Every discipline has a research methodology, so your research will look different depending on whether you are in a STEM field or in the humanities. Not all research happens in a laboratory. For on-campus research opportunities, you can look through the Experiential Learning Network (ELN) project portal or departmental faculty webpages. For off-campus summer research opportunities, check out National Science Foundation (NSF)-funded Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REUs).

Community Engagement is another way to deepen your resume and application. But rather than a one-day event, it’s important to volunteer for a sustained period of time in an area related to your goals. There are opportunities on campus as well as volunteer opportunities for every field of study in the city of Buffalo and Western New York. Use the ELN Portal to look for project opportunities on and off campus. UB offers courses where you can volunteer for credit. ASI 400 involves service hours in the Buffalo public schools and LIN 496 is an English language teaching experience. In this picture, ReTree the District volunteers plant a tree in the University Heights neighborhood.

Now, let’s talk about leadership. Demonstrating leadership is important for most fellowships and scholarships, however leadership looks different in STEM and in public policy. Think about how you would answer the question, “What was a time that you demonstrated leadership?” Little “L” leadership could mean being the officer of a club, member of a team, or joining an established program. Big “L” leadership, on the other hand, could mean starting a program or organization, demonstrating originality, creativity, or innovation, or being a change agent.

Faculty mentors are an important piece of a competitive scholarship profile. Faculty mentors provide valuable letters of recommendation. Letters of recommendation from advisors, RAs, or job supervisors, are not considered as strong as letters from faculty in some competitive fellowship applications. Develop a sustained relationship with professors by taking multiple classes with them, conducting research, independent study and visiting office hours. Students who complete summer REUs can use non-UB faculty members as references for future applications. In this picture, UB English professor Walt Hakala stands with scholarship recipients at the 2017 Celebration of Academic Excellence.

Finally, becoming a more competitive applicant means matching the mission of the fellowship. Search the website to understand the mission and goals of the fellowship. Before applying, consider [if you] are eligible and qualified for this award. Next, connect the dots of your story. Why you? Why now? How does this fellowship or scholarship fit with your academic and professional goals? You can also think about yourself in a 360 degree way, including your major, academic community, gender, race or ethnicity, and professional goals. Think about your goals both now and in the future. How can a scholarship help you achieve your goals beyond next semester’s expenses?

Now that we have talked a little bit about funding for graduate school, here is how you can connect with the Office of Fellowships and Scholarships for more information and support during your scholarship journey. Connect with us via phone at 716-645-9100 or via email at Our on-campus office is located in 24 Capen Hall. Let’s get social! Follow us on Facebook, Twitter @UBFellowships, LinkedIn or YouTube. Or, find us on the web. You can also make an appointment with one of our advisors on our website. On the bottom of this slide, you can see Office of Fellowships and Scholarships Director Elizabeth Colucci, who works with students on general graduate awards and STEM awards. Assistant Director Megan Stewart works with students on general undergraduate awards and international study awards.

Thank you for watching this video. Check out the other Fellowships and Scholarships 101 videos on searching for awards, major external awards, and becoming a more competitive applicant.