Applying for Fellowships: 5 Secrets of Fellowship Winners

If you are applying for a fellowship and you want to learn how to win highly competitive fellowships, then these 5 secrets from fellowship winners will guarantee your success.

Winning a fellowship comes with a lot of amazing benefits for you and that’s why we want to set you up for success.

Just before we get to the details secrets for applying and winning fellowships, here are some things you need to know.

What is a fellowship?

In academic settings, when people say “fellowship,” they are generally referring to a monetary award given to a scholar to pay for his or her academic pursuits. 

A fellowship is typically a merit-based scholarship for advanced study of an academic subject.

What are the main benefits of international fellowships?

The following are some of the main benefits of participating in international fellowships;

  • Sharpen professional skills. 
  • Makes you stand out for jobs & promotions. 
  • Allows you to go when is best for you. 
  • Get hands-on experience. 
  • Develop cultural competency & awareness. 
  • Grow leadership skills. 
  • Gain international exposure. 
  • Get a career boost.

Why are fellowships very competitive?

At this point, I have some good news and some bad news to deliver.

First, let’s begin with the good news.

Currently, there are thousands of professional and academic fellowship opportunities available which you can start applying for immediately. 

These fellowship opportunities are open to people at all career levels and cuts across all disciplines.

So, no one is left out and anyone can apply as long as you’ve got what it takes.

Another good thing about these fellowships is that they provide funding to pursue research or a self-designed project.

In addition, they provide funding to gain professional experience, pay for graduate school, or work abroad, among many other opportunities.

The bad news is that a lot of people are applying to take advantage of these fellowship opportunities.

As a result, organizations that give fellowship funding receive many more qualified applicants than they have spots to fill. 

What this means is that choosing fellows has become very tough for fellowship selection committees.

Therefore, they have to review fellowship applications with apt attention to be able to select only the best of the best candidates.

So, considering the level of competition in applying for a fellowship, what can you do to make your fellowship application outstanding?

This is the essence of this article.

Continue reading to find out what you can do to make you fellowship applications stand out and how you can win fellowships.


What are the secrets of fellowship winners for winning competitive fellowships?

If you are applying for a fellowship, here are the top 5 secrets of fellowship winners for winning competitive fellowships.

#1 Give more focus to the fellowship organization’s goals

I know that you have your aspirations for applying for a fellowship, however, you have to set that aside. 

You will be making a very big mistake by focusing on all the things that you will personally gain and achieve through the fellowship.

One thing you need to know is that fellowships are investments in people.

Not just people, but those who will help advance the fellowship organization’s mission and goals. 

While fellowships provide opportunities for you to enhance your skills and expand your professional network, that’s not the sole purpose of the fellowship, and that should not be the sole focus of your application.

Generally, all fellowship organizations have a social impact mission. 

So, you have a duty to find out what those goals are.

When you get them, express in your fellowship application why those goals are also important to you.

Not just that, you have to also explain how you can help the organization achieve those goals.

To get these goals, start by reading the fellowship organization’s mission statement.

Also, you need to review their previously funded fellows and projects and identify the accomplishments they brag about. 

This way, you will understand what they hope to achieve through their investment in you, the fellow.

With this information, you can now craft a strong personal statement and project proposal.

#2 Speak to at least 3 former fellows

There is usually a leverage people get when they have mentors to guide them in a project.

In this case, your mentors would be past fellowship winners.

People who spoke to former fellows during the application process always tend to win the fellowship. 

Speaking with past fellows is one way to get an insight into what the fellowship committee is really looking for.

You will learn what the interview process is like and tips that will make your fellowship application to stand out.

But a question you may want to ask is…

How can I find a past fellowship winner?

Well, there are different ways you can achieve that.

  • A sure way is to get a personal introduction to a fellow through a mutual contact. 
  • If that route is difficult for you, you can contact the fellowship organization to ask if they have alumni contacts who are willing to speak to applicants. 
  • Another way is by using LinkedIn advanced search features to identify people in your network who know former fellows.
  • Finally, you can contact your alma mater’s fellowship or career office to ask if they know of alumni who have won the fellowship.

Once you speak to one former fellow, you can politely ask them to introduce you to two more.

#3 Craft your project proposal on a very specific and niche subject.

If you want to win a fellowship, then you must make your application memorable one. 

One way to achieve that is by going niche and specific to a subject.

So, if you are applying for a fellowship that will fund a self-designed project, then I recommend crafting a project proposal on a very specific and niche subject.

For example, rather than proposing a comparative study of how African countries will address the problem of hunger in the continent, propose to study how one country will specifically invest in large scale cassava farming and processing using modern technology. 

A very specific project makes for a tighter proposal. 

In addition, it’s much easier to write a project proposal for a very narrow subject than a proposal for a broad research question or idea with a wide scope.

For fellowships that are professional placements, you should express one highly specific career goal – one that aligns with the fellowship organization’s mission.

By expressing your specific career goal in this manner the fellowship selection committee may conclude that you know what you want and are determined to achieve your goal.

#4 Create a sense of urgency with your proposal

To add a sense of urgency to your proposal, propose to participate in something that is only taking place during the fellowship period in the fellowship location. 

Project timeliness is one strategy that can give your fellowship application an edge.

If a selection committee has to choose between two equally strong candidates, they will likely lean toward the candidate whose research proposal is more urgent.

For example, if you’re proposing a self-designed project, you can study something that is only happening during the fellowship period, such as the immediate impact of a recent election, or how a community is recovering from a recent disaster. 

You can also propose to participate in a project-relevant conference, exhibition or other one-time events that are taking place in the fellowship location during the fellowship period.

Another way of adding urgency to your application is by using your educational timeline. 

Here’s an example of how to use your educational timeline. 

Let’s say you plan to enter graduate school after your fellowship.

In this case, you can mention that the fellowship will help you to gain knowledge and expertise on a topic that will be the focus of your master’s or doctoral thesis. 

So you see that you are presenting your proposal as a prerequisite for a higher education program.

As a result, they may consider you since you intend to implement everything you learn from the fellowship immediately. 

#5 Sell with stories

One of the most incredible skills everyone should possess at this age is the ability to tell stories.

Stories have the ability to paint amazing pictures in the minds of the fellowship selection committee members.

Since their finalist decisions are based solely on the written applications they received, strong writers – particularly talented creative writers – have an edge in the application process.

By telling stories in your application, you will be expressing yourself more clearly in a way that touches the emotions of the reader.

Practice in storytelling can help you develop a strong personal statement.

A personal statement should begin with a powerful opening statement.

Then, express your personal experiences that shaped your worldview and illustrate your passion for your proposed project or career field. 


No matter how highly competitive a fellowship program is, there will always be winners.

But this time around, I want you to be one of them.

All you need to do is to go over these winning secrets of former fellows for applying for a fellowship. 

Digest the information in this article and practice every tip in it

I believe you will succeed.

Before you read another article here, make sure to share this one with someone. 

You may just be helping the person to win a fellowship.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

You May Also Like