7 steps for submitting an outstanding fellowship application

This blog is part of PCDNetwork’s career in series. This month’s career series is sponsored by Rotary’s Peace Fellowship program

7 steps for submitting an outstanding fellowship application

Although the application window for fellowship programs is generally short, applying for a fellowship is a long-term process requiring research, planning, outreach, and perseverance. A hastily prepared application is often all too obvious to selection committees and therefore quickly dismissed. It’s never too soon to start preparing a well-constructed, thoroughly researched, and relevant application for your dream fellowship! We’d like to share critical application steps we’ve learned from 15 years reviewing and selecting finalists for the Rotary Peace Fellowship.

1. Verify eligibility before embarking on the application process. This might seem obvious, but every year we receive a large number of submissions from applicants who invested valuable time in completing an application, but who do not meet the minimum eligibility requirements. The Rotary Peace Fellowship application includes an eligibility quiz to simplify this step. Like many fellowship programs, we look for candidates that have strong leadership skills, a compelling personal narrative, and a commitment to the mission of our program. In addition, applicants must also be proficient in English and have the required minimum full-time relevant work experience. If you determine you don’t meet the fellowship criteria, think about whether there are professional, academic, or volunteer opportunities you can participate in to make you eligible for the next application cycle.

2. Develop a plan. For any fellowship it’s critical to develop a plan before you start. Be sure to read application guidelines thoroughly to understand the scope of the process and to determine the steps you’ll need to complete by the application deadline. Many fellowships include a checklist – use it! Additionally, many programs offer webinars with tips for how to make your application stand out, so be sure to follow them on social media and check for upcoming events on their website so you don’t miss these valuable opportunities.

3. Research and outreach. Some fellowships offer one program option while others offer a menu of options. The Rotary Peace Fellowship, for example, offers six Master’s programs and a certificate program. Research fellowship options fully and identify the program that best fits your qualifications and career goals. After you’ve done ample research, reach out to current or former fellows and ask thoughtful questions that cannot be found online. You may want to inquire about specific curriculum or professors, professional development opportunities, field study, the cohort experience, or extracurricular activities on or off campus. The information you obtain can be useful in writing insightful essays that demonstrate your interest in, and knowledge of, the program.

4. Gather all required documents. Many fellowships require university transcripts, a tailored resume/CV, test scores, and recommendation letters. Gathering these documents takes time. We never enjoy turning away otherwise qualified candidates because of missing documents, but a deadline is a deadline. For the Rotary Peace Fellowships, you’ll need to:

  • Request university transcripts from all institutions for MA programs and have them translated by a professional translator.
  • Prepare a tailored resume/CV: Tailor your resume/CV to feature your best qualities as they relate directly to the fellowship. Your resume serves as a selection committee’s first impression of you and is used to determine whether you have the required experience.
  • Register for any exams and prepare for them. For the Rotary Peace Fellowship, if English is not your native language you will likely need to take a language exam for MA study (IELTS, TOEFL). If you’d like to apply for Duke-UNC you’ll need to take the GRE exam.
  • Request great recommendation letters: Make sure your recommenders can speak to your leadership skills, your past achievements, and your future goals. Give your recommenders as much notice as possible so that they are able to write and submit your letters before the application deadline!

5. Prepare for the interview. Some fellowships require interviews. The Rotary Peace Fellowship requires applicants to interview with a Rotary district for endorsement. Be sure to research the organization and individuals you will be interviewing with and arrive prepared with a copy of your application and supplemental materials. Prior to your interview do something you enjoy, like taking a walk in nature, singing to warm up your vocal chords, or practicing power poses. This will help you be relaxed, authentic, and allow your true personality to shine. Brush up on your interview skills by practicing with a friend or colleague. We often direct candidates to the PCDN website for interview tips.

6. Prepare powerful essays or a personal statement. This is the most critical part of most fellowship applications. The best essays are intriguing, honest, specific, well organized, not repetitive, grammatically correct, and clearly answer the questions being asked. Be sure to include an intriguing opening and end with a strong closing statement. Demonstrate why have you have chosen your particular career path and how the fellowship will help you achieve your future goals. Demonstrate that you’ve done your research on the program and that you are a perfect fit!

7. Edit, Edit, Edit! Spend ample time reviewing your application to ensure it is free of careless mistakes. Review your essays to ensure they are consistent with information on your resume/CV. Have friends or colleagues review your application. Revisit and revise your essays several times before submitting your application. While it can be challenging to work through another round of edits when you’ve spent so much time crafting your application, it pays off in the long-term in having a better quality submission.

Lastly, be persistent! Persistence is often a key to securing the fellowship you truly desire. In the case of the Rotary Peace Fellowship program, 30% of our 2018 selected fellows applied the previous year. Don’t assume that if you are not selected one year, that you will not be selected the following year. However, do make improvements to your application by acquiring new leadership experiences before the next application cycle. It may seem like a long process, but the payoff can be well worth the investment!

Rotary Peace Fellowships provide fully-funded opportunities for peacebuilders globally to earn a MA degree or certificate in peace studies, or related disciplines. Fellows study at one of our six Rotary Peace Centers that are hosted at seven universities globally. If you are interested in learning more about the Rotary Peace Fellowship programs visit our website. Rotary Peace Centers is a sponsor of this month’s PCDN career series.

Written by Sarah Cunningham, Marketing and Recruitment Specialist at The Rotary Foundation

Rotary Peace Centers


The fully funded Rotary Peace Fellowship increases the capacity of current and emerging peace leaders through academic training, field experience, and professional networking. Up to 100 leaders are selected globally every year to earn either a master’s degree or a professional development certificate in peace and conflict studies at one of six Rotary Peace Centers at leading universities around the world. Applications go live in early February and the application deadline is 31 May. Learn more today by visiting www.rotary.org/peace-fellowships


Craig Zelizer

Craig Zelizer

Dr. Craig Zelizer is the Founder of PCDN.global, which connects a global community of changemakers to the tools, community and opportunities to build careers of impact and scale change. He has strong experience in the development sector, academia and social entrepreneurship. From 2005 to 2016 he served as a professor in the Conflict Resolution program at Georgetown University (where he still teaches). He has led trainings, workshops and consultancies in over 20 countries organizations including with USIP, USAID, CRS, Rotary International and others. Craig is a recognized leader in the social sector field. He has received several awards including George Mason’s School of Conflict Analysis and Resolution’s alumni of the year award and an alumni career achievement award from Central European University. Dr. Zelizer spent two years in Hungary as Fulbright Scholar and was a Boren Fellow in Bosnia. He has published widely on peacebuilding, entrepreneurship, and innovation in higher education.
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