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Top 10 Things to Know Before You Apply

1. Fit

Does this opportunity fit you -- your interests, your timeline, your goals?  This is the single most important factor in determining whether you should apply for a competitive grant, scholarship, or fellowship.  How do you determine fit?  Take time to reflect on what it is you want; then talk to the award's advisor, previous applicants, your mentors, etc., to see if your desires match what the award is looking for.

2. Characteristics of awardees

Every award articulates its ideal candidate.  Pay special attention to the values indicated by these descriptions.  If you fit, great!  If not, then this is probably not the right opportunity for you.

3. Eligibility

Similarly, eligibility requirements will be clearly spelled out.  These are firm -- non-negotiable.  If you have clarification questions, ask the award's CC advisor or contact the award's funder/foundation directly.

4. Award benefits

What does the award provide to you, exactly?  Does this match your wants and desires?  Perhaps the award covers tuition but not living expenses.  Or perhaps it covers living expenses but not travel.  Consider whether these benefits are adequate for your needs.

5. Post-award requirements

Does the award require you to do anything in return?  Usually the answer is yes.  Sometimes this is as simple as completing a program in a set amount of time, or maintaining good academic standing.  Sometimes there is more of a commitment, from making a comprehensive report on your project to agreeing to work in a particular job for a specified amount of time.  Be aware of these requirements, and consider whether they match your goals.

6. Acceptance rates

If everything sounds good so far -- you're a fit for the award's ideal candidate, and you're on board with the award's benefits and requirements -- then consider your chances.  How many people receive the award in a given cycle?  Know the odds before you decide to devote the time to apply -- because applying for nationally competitive opportunities is rewarding but also very time-consuming.

7. Application components

Ready to take the plunge?  Carefully note the components of the application.  Many apps have similar components, but each one is unique.  How many letters of recommendation do they require?  Who should write your letters of recommendation?  Does the transcript need to be official?  How many essays are there?  Once you know the components, check out tips to Make Your Application Stand Out.

8. "Institutional nomination"

Does this award require an "institutional nomination"?  If so, this means that someone at Colorado College -- likely the award's campus advisor, but possibly the President -- will need to write you a letter of recommendation and/or forward your application to the competition.  If the latter is required, you will likely compete with other CC students to earn the right to be forwarded to the national competition for consideration.  Talk to the award's campus advisor for more details.

9. Deadlines

Similar to the eligibility requirements, deadlines for nationally competitive opportunities are firm and non-negotiable.  Note the final deadlines for components of the application, and plan to turn in your items well ahead of those deadlines.  (Check out deadlines for undergraduate opportunities, short-term post-graduate fellowships, and graduate school scholarships.)  Plan, also, to set your own deadlines for drafts of your application materials, especially the essays.  Never turn in a first draft; the most competitive applicants spend months crafting their application documents, and then submit them before the final deadlines.

10. Application process

What is the process for this award?  Do you submit directly to the national competition, and then they notify winners?  Are there interviews?  (And if so, will you be required to fund your own travel to the interviews?)  Is there a campus interview/consideration process before the national one?  And when will the process be complete, and awardees notified?  Sometimes these processes are fairly quick, but some can take several months.  Consider whether the process timeline fits with your timeline and plans.