Scholarship FAQs

Following are frequently asked questions related to our scholarships. If you don't find the answer to your question, contact us!




Are the scholarships more need-based or merit-based?

The scholarships we administer are overwhelmingly merit-based, although a few – notably the Gilman Scholarship for study abroad and the Beinecke Scholarship for arts, humanities, and social science students—also include financial need among their eligibility criteria.

What is the number of awards given out per number of applicants?

This varies dramatically from scholarship to scholarship. For example, the Boren Scholarship for study abroad may have a success rate of 20-25% (1 in 5 or 1 in 4), depending on the applicant pool, while the Marshall Scholarship typically has a success rate of around 3% (or about 30 awardees out of roughly 1000 applicants). With the Fulbright grant, it varies by country (some countries are more competitive than others). For several of the scholarships, such as the Goldwater and Udall, the University of Illinois can only nominate a limited number of candidates to go forward to the national competition.

How likely is it that Illinois students will win nationally competitive scholarships?

Don’t let the discussion of odds (above) scare you! University of Illinois students do incredibly well in many of these scholarship competitions. We are a top Fulbright producer and have had the most Churchill Scholars of any public institution. Our Goldwater nominees have a success rate of ~70% at the national level, compared with a national average of 25%.  We were sixth in the nation for 2015 Gilman Scholars.  Our institution has also done very well in the Gates Cambridge and Marshall competitions (second in the US among all public institutions).

What is the application process like? How can I get help in applying?

The process can be quite demanding, but it is an opportunity for incredible personal growth!  It often begins when an interested student attends one of our workshops for a scholarship they are considering applying for.  We then have a one-on-one meeting to help the student strategize their application, followed by several additional meetings to go over feedback and revisions. Once the application is submitted for the campus deadline, it typically undergoes review by a campus nomination committee.  Several scholarships involve a campus interview to help the committee decide who will be formally endorsed for the scholarship by our university. The feedback comes from both our advisors and the campus review/nomination committees. You can read more about the application process here.

How much time do students typically put into these scholarship applications?

Many students put tens of hours into these applications.  They often estimate at the end of the process that their essays and other materials have gone through a good 7 to 12 iterations on their way to their final versions.  There are also often several hours of interview prep as students get ready for campus and national interviews.

Am I at a disadvantage if I’m starting out as an undeclared student or unsure whether I’m in the right major? How can I find scholarships that are in the right field?

No, you’re not at a disadvantage! In fact, since you are exploring majors, you may have the advantage of exposure to faculty, staff, and students in multiple departments on campus.  Scholarships prefer candidates with a breadth of interests. You also have the benefit of all the great advising, mentoring, and resources you get from the Division of General Studies experience.  We have had DGS students win highly selective awards such as the UK Fulbright Summer Institutes (see Jennifer Speaker in this article), and the Fulbright grant for after graduation (40% of our awardees for 2016-17!).  Even though you are not yet in a major, this does not mean that you can’t get started now nurturing and pursuing your interests.  For example, you may still be deciding between Urban and Regional Planning and Architectural Studies, but perhaps you already know that you’re interested in those fields because you like cities and buildings. Competitive scholarships aren’t so concerned with what exactly your major is; they are concerned with what makes you tick, and the kinds of issues and ideas that shape your time. Most of all, they are seeking strong, intellectually engaged students who like to get involved!

How do you position yourself as a good scholarship applicant? What can I start doing as a freshman to start preparing to apply?

The two most important things you can do are: 1. perform well academically and 2. get involved in groups, causes, and activities that you care deeply aboutFrom there, you can start to think about what performing well means for a student in your particular field, with your particular career goals.  Many scholarships are not looking strictly for straight-A students, but rather for students with interesting transcripts that demonstrate a willingness to be challenged.  However, the selection committee does need to be persuaded that your future plans are realistic (for example, if you have a 2.7 GPA but say in your personal statement that you want to go to medical school, a selection committee may not be convinced that your goals are viable).

When it comes to co- and extra-curricular involvement, different activities will matter to different scholarship foundations. The Beinecke and Goldwater are seeking future PhDs in the arts, humanities, and social sciences, or in the STEM fields, respectively. The best way to demonstrate your potential for a PhD is to engage in research in your field. If this is your goal, start exploring research opportunities now! Talk to professors whose classes have been especially interesting to you, and peruse the resources and support offered by the Office of Undergraduate Research.  If you hope to study abroad on the Boren Scholarship, you will need to develop a sense of what your career goals are, and how your course of study at U of I and abroad will support those goals. Further, how do your goals and studies relate to U.S. security or foreign policy interests (think broadly: military issues, environmental security, economic security, human rights, and so on)? If you want to use the Boren in China, for example, have you already taken some Mandarin courses at U of I or otherwise developed your knowledge of the country, language, and culture?  Finally, if you’re interested in a career in public service (and therefore may want to apply to the Truman Scholarship when you are a junior), what can you do to start to work on the public policy issues that matter most to you? Is there a local, state, or national politician whose platform you admire, and whose campaign or office offers internships? Is there a local nonprofit that serves populations you hope to one day work with, such as the homeless, the elderly, or refugees? And are there registered student organizations you can join who serve these interests? If not, consider starting one!

Some scholarships have “priority deadlines.” What does that mean?

See our Deadline FAQs for the answer to this question and more!

What kinds of majors/degrees do I need to pursue if I want to study or intern abroad?

Anything at all! You can explore pretty much any interest abroad. And regardless of your academic and professional interests, gaining international experience helps you to develop key transferable skills and attributes that employers and graduate programs look for.  A lot of research has demonstrated that studying or working abroad makes us more flexible, creative, and complex thinkers. So, no matter what major you ultimately pursue, make study abroad a key goal!

At what point in my college career should I start looking into national & international scholarships?

Now! J  See the preceding responses for how you can start planning and preparing. College goes by extremely quickly, and you don’t want to miss the boat on scholarship opportunities that may be perfect for you and your goals!

Can I win these scholarships as a freshman if I am competing with more advanced undergraduates?

Yes, indeed!  Start by taking a look at the UK Fulbright Summer Institutes, which are only for freshmen and sophomores.  Additionally, you can apply for the Gilman and Boren Scholarships (for study abroad) from your freshman year onward (the study abroad must be completed before you graduate). Freshmen can also apply for the Critical Language Scholarship for summer language immersion programs. While it may be a bit tougher for freshmen to articulate their interests and goals, and to demonstrate things like leadership and service, they can and do compete successfully for certain national scholarships.  We are here to help you put your best foot forward!

Do you need to learn the language of your study abroad destination?

Not always. Many countries, such as Singapore, India, and South Africa count English among their official languages. In some cases (including many Spanish-speaking countries), you will be required to reach a certain level of a language before being accepted into a study abroad program.  Try doing a program search or make an appointment with an advisor at Illinois Abroad to start exploring your options. When it comes to nationally competitive scholarships to study abroad, such as the Fulbright (for post-grad studies), countries have varying expectations, but many do require a certain degree of host country language proficiency. Depending on the language you are pursuing, you may need some prior years of study to be eligible for the Critical Language Scholarship. Suffice it to say, regardless of what is formally required, it is always better to have some language proficiency going into your study abroad, if possible. We are lucky to be at a major university that offers instruction in a large number of languages!

How should I choose recommendation letter writers?

Some scholarships make this straightforward.  For example, the Truman Scholarship requires you to choose three letter writers who can speak to each of their key criteria: one letter describing your leadership capabilities and potential, one letter about your commitment to public service, and one letter addressing your academic strengths. The Goldwater Scholarship, which is all about your research and your plans for a Ph.D. in STEM, prefers to see only academic letters; if possible, all three should come from professors with whom you have done research. Other scholarships are more flexible, and you can think of professionals who know you in a variety of contexts: from class, research, student organizations, volunteer work, internships, study abroad, and so on. The key is to think carefully about the criteria for the scholarship and select letter writers who know you well enough to discuss how your talents, character, and goals fit with those criteria. See additional advice here.

For research-related scholarships, do you have to have well-developed research ideas? Do you need to know the specific field you are going into?

Usually, yes—which is why these scholarships are often ones you apply for as a junior or graduating senior.  However, learning the ropes of research and gaining meaningful experience in a particular field doesn’t happen overnight, and so it is never too early to get started exploring and approaching potential research mentors. Here is some great advice on getting started from the Office of Undergraduate Research. The bottom line is to be engaged. Don’t be shy about talking to your professors outside of class.  Read their faculty profiles to see what their research and publications have focused on, and ask questions about them (don’t worry about being new to the field – they understand you are at the beginning of your exploration!). Also, be persistent. Some of our most successful students have tried their hand at multiple research topics before finding one that was the best fit with their skills and interests!

If I am not eligible for the main scholarships listed on the website, are there other opportunities?

You may have noticed that many of our administered scholarships limit eligibility according to field, year in school, age, or citizenship. If you do not see relevant opportunities on that list, we link to additional scholarship searches with many options for alumni, ‘nontraditional’ students, international students, and other groups.

Some excellent opportunities for non-U.S. citizens include: Humanity in Action Fellowship, Scoville Peace Fellowship, Princeton in Africa/Asia/Latin America, DAAD Research Internships in Science & Engineering, and Amgen Scholars (Japan Program).

Are there scholarships for specific colleges and majors?

Yes. While we aren’t able to assist students with awards that are internal to the University of Illinois, we highly recommend that you apply for some on your way to nationally competitive scholarships!  Your specific college and major will no doubt offer competitive funding opportunities, and there are also university-wide competitions, such as that for the Foreign Languages and Area Studies (FLAS) Fellowship and study abroad funding such as the I4I Scholarship.