The Fellowship Search: The Rule of Two

I remember in college I was always told that for every hour spent in class, I should expect to spend two hours outside of class studying.  I believe that a similar maxim applies to the search for funding to help pay for graduate school.  My belief is that for every hour you spend working on an admission application for graduate school, you should spend at least 2 times the amount of time looking for fellowships.

At first this might seem like a very strange thing for me to say so let me provide some background.  First off, most professional schools like SIPA do provide fellowship funding, but nowhere near the amount that would cover all educationally related costs.  Our program is full-time and you need to pay for tuition, books, rent, food, travel, etc.

I believe that some people apply for graduate school and count on fellowship aid from the school being available.  While it is true that approximately 70% of eligible second year students at SIPA receive fellowship funding, only approximately 10-15 % of first year students receive SIPA fellowship funding.

For many who are admitted without SIPA fellowship funding, the confounding question of how to pay for everything comes up almost immediately.  The good news is that there is evidence that many SIPA applicants are looking for external fellowship funding.  This is evidenced by the fact that each year for the past few years students have brought in close to $5 million total in outside scholarships, fellowships, and grants.  This does not come without a price – and that price is time and effort looking for funding.

So let’s break down an estimate of how many hours go into the application process.  Part 1 of the application process is pretty simple, fill out the online application and submit it, about 30-45 minutes, but let’s round up to 1 hour.  You also have to contact those that will be writing letters of recommendation for you, let’s say 20 minutes per for a total of 1 hour.  So 2 hours on Part 1.

Part 2 is a bit more complex and these are only estimates to get a ballpark figure.  The two required résumés will probably take around 3 hours.  The personal statement is hard to gauge but by the time you are done, three hours is probably a good minimum.  Let’s give getting your transcripts in order and uploaded 1 hour.  Finally there are test scores.  This is a toughie because the time spent studying for these exams can be excessive.  Everyone is different, but let’s give it a nice round figure of 10 hours for calculation purposes.  So what do we have . . .

  • 1 Hour on the Application
  • 1 Hour on contacting those who will write letters of recommendation
  • 3 Hours on résumé preparation
  • 3 Hours on your personal statement
  • 1 Hour ordering and scanning transcripts for upload
  • 10 Hours on test taking and preparation

That puts you at around 19 hours of preparation that go into the application process.  Let’s round up and call it 20 hours.

Thus my belief is that you should spend a minimum of 40 hours looking for and applying for fellowship opportunities.  How do you do this?  There is no one right answer, sometimes we find out about opportunities by happenstance.  However you can improve your chances by engaging in the following:

• Check out SIPA’s own fellowship database. We search for scholarships for you and post them to the database.  The database is not SIPA specific.  As we search for and hear about funding, we make the information available to you.

• Use RSS technology to deliver news to your email account or RSS Reader.  RSS allows for news to be delivered to you without having to go look for it every day.  As an example, Gmail accounts have something called the “Alert” tool and I am sure other providers have the same capability.  All you have to do is put in text for searches and a search engine will perform the searches daily and deliver news to your email account.  You can type in search terms like “Graduate School Scholarships” or “International Affairs Scholarships.”  You can also utilize an RSS reader.  They are free and if you do not know what an RSS reader is, click here for a YouTube tutorial.

• Talk to people you know who have gone to graduate school and find out if they were able to find scholarship opportunities.

• Contact people who are willing to write you a letter of recommendation and have them make multiple copies of the recommendation letter and give them to you in sealed envelops so you are ready if a scholarship opportunity arises and there is a tight deadline.

• Speak with people at your undergraduate university – alumni relations, career services, faculty members, etc.

• Talk to the organization you work for to find out if they sponsor students or have grants for furthering your education.

In summary, don’t let “the funding issue” sneak up on you.  Spend adequate time searching for funding sources and to help make your graduate dream a reality.