Cornell University

Understanding Fellowships

Trying to decide if you should apply for one or more of the prestigious fellowships that will take you to the UK, such as the Churchill, Fulbright, Keasbey, Marshall, or Rhodes? Before you worry about your chances or ask for an application, take stock of your academic and professional goals and look at the degree programs available to you in the UK.

For the Churchill, you are restricted to programs at Cambridge University; for the Rhodes, programs at Oxford. The Keasbey offers a small range of universities to choose from, which varies by year. The Fulbright and Marshall give you the full range of the UK.

Even if you are currently considering applying only for the Churchill or only for the Rhodes, look at your options beyond Oxbridge. It may turn out that another university offers the best option in your field.

A well-researched plan and a clear understanding of the degree program you have chosen will not only ensure that you are applying for an appropriate fellowship; your efforts will strengthen your application. The selection committees for these prestigious fellowships weigh the thoughtfulness of your choice when considering your candidacy. The time you take now to research and consider your degree options may make the difference between winning an award and being passed over.

So, how to begin?

Step One: Survey the Big Picture

The Marshall Scholarship site offers a good introduction to post-graduate education in the UK. You may use this regardless of whether you apply for a Marshall Scholarship.

The British Council introduces you to the British system of higher education and its institutions and includes a search feature for scholarships.

For an ongoing review of all UK institutions of higher education, check the official Research Assessment Exercise, which ranks departments on a 1 to 4 scale. The top mark is 4, which signifies an international reputation; 3 means work of both national and international significance is conducted there. See which programs on the Commonwealth Universities Yearbook list (Olin Library) are ranked 3 or 4. These are probably the ones you should consider.

Step Two: Narrow Down Your Options

One way to focus your options is to consult the appropriate Peterson's volume (Humanities, Arts & Social Sciences, Physical Sciences, and Biological Sciences at Olin and Uris libraries and at Cornell Career Services, 103 Barnes), which lists current faculty for all schools and departments, with a short notation on their individual research interests. Look carefully at the interests of the faculty in the programs you are researching—how many are doing work that appeals to you in each program? Do you recognize any names?

Look at their recent publications. Share their names with one or more of the faculty in your field here at Cornell. Chances are good they will know (or at least know of) one or more of the scholars on your lists and can advise you on the opportunities best suited to you.

Step Three: Determine Your Top Choice(s)

Now it's time to take a look at actual programs and universities. Postgraduate programs offer two types of degrees: taught degrees and degrees by research. Which do you prefer?

If you want a taught course, look for a current prospectus or for general course information on the university's website (UK University). Other resources include CU Abroad (325 Caldwell Hall) or Uris (on microfiche). Does the program give you the kind of flexibility you want? Would you be required to take courses that don't interest you? Do you meet all the admissions requirements?

If you want a degree by research, what sort of facilities and special collections would you have access to? You may find this information on the university's Web site, or you may need to locate a print prospectus. Be sure to contact the person(s) you would like to be your advisor directly and speak with him or her about your work and interests. (The university's Web site will often offer contact information; if not, check the prospectus.) What sort of support will your supervisor provide in the early stages of your work? How successful has that supervisor been in getting students through their research? Keep in mind that, even compared with graduate work in the U.S., graduate study in the UK is often done with little supervisory support or contact.

Last, but not least, consider the location and history of the university. Do you want a city campus, or the rolling hills of rural England? An old university or a new one? Talk to someone on the UK faculty network who studied at the place that interests you, or a British student here at Cornell, for a "real life" version of university life at the places you're considering. You may want to check out the university's student union, clubs, and organizations. If you still have lingering questions, contact the university's international liaison officer (If you don't find his or her name online, check with the Fellowship Coordinator).

Now, with a clear sense of which degree programs interest you most and why, choose which fellowship competition makes sense for you. As far as pulling your application together—you're more than half way there!