Nationally recognized scholarships like the Truman and Rhodes programs not only connote prestige but also provide students unparalleled opportunities to seek academic and professional pursuits. However, with highly competitive applicant pools and time-consuming essays, maintaining a positive perspective and preparing thoroughly ensure the process is a worthwhile experience regardless of whether or not the student wins the grant.
Andrus Ashoo, associate director of the Center of Undergraduate Excellence, encourages students to consider applying to fellowships for the benefits of the application process alone.
“Students don’t think about the classes they picked and why. These awards force you to think of this,” Ashoo said. “We are taught no one likes someone that talks about themselves, so we are bad at it, but in reality for these awards you are only able to stand out by writing something only you can write, and I’m here to help students communicate this.”
The multi-faceted processes of applying to nationally competitive scholarships require students to communicate how an award will function in their career plan. However, students can only answer this question by reflecting on their involvements, goals and values.
Fourth-year College student Russell Bogue — who was recently awarded the Rhodes Scholarship, which includes a fully-financed degree at Oxford University — underscored the importance of preparing through self-reflection to create a narrative depicting who an applicant is and what he or she hopes to pursue.
He said the hardest part of the process is the amount of introspection needed to begin the application.
However, Bogue stressed that authenticity throughout the rigorous application process helps ensure students align correctly with the objectives of the scholarships and alleviate the the stress of putting so much emphasis on winning.
Ashoo advised students to seek out diverse perspectives in order to prepare in the most effective way when pursuing a scholarship.
“I would advise students to seek out people with expertise before they count themselves out. People who have gone through the process are good, but they can only speak from their experience,” Ashoo said. “I can glean from the experiences of both students, but also professionally because I interact with the foundations.”
Bogue worked closely with Ashoo before applying for the Rhodes Scholarship and described the moment of winning as a mixture of intense emotions. He said he was initially shocked because he thought his interview did not go well, but was overwhelmed when he saw him name.
Third-year Engineering student Jill Ferguson, who is a finalist for the Truman Scholarship, said the award will provide her with an opportunity to find and participate in the interdisciplinary community she has been looking for.
Ferguson transferred from the College to the Engineering School, but said she found herself as an outlier in each school due to her interest in both hard science and policy.
“The Truman Scholarship has a cool sense of community that I have not yet found,” Ferguson said. “The Truman community intrinsically values hard sciences and policy, and I want to build that community.”
The application itself is both difficult and rewarding, Ferguson said.
“The most difficult part is that once you’ve gotten each idea for the essays, it’s about making … the specific word choice and making sure you’re intellectually passionate. But it’s also the most rewarding part because you learn what’s really good about you,” Ferguson said. “It’s interesting because what you think about yourself as ordinary they find extraordinary.”
Ferguson said she believes the University can encourage the diversification of applicants to institutionally support students pursuing nationally competitive scholarships.
“What needs to be improved on is in outreach,” Ferguson said. “My first round interview [for the Truman scholarship] here at U.Va. [was] with mostly scholars like Jefferson and Echols, and maybe that identifies them as those students [who] should naturally apply. Others are not told about it as much and then they don’t see themselves or realize it.”
Correction: Russell Bogue was previously misquoted in this article when speaking about the process of applying for fellowships and how he felt when he received his.