University Fellowships Mark



What is the difference between a scholarship, a fellowship, a grant, and a loan?

Scholarship and fellowship are interchangeable terms. These awards are given by an organization or institution to fund the education and/or training of a selected student, and they do not have to be paid back. Different awards can be used for tuition, books, room and board, research, travel, or other education related expenses. Each award specifies the purpose for which the funds can be used and they are generally not regular vehicles to pay tuition/fees at Penn State or for study abroad. Some fellowships also require you to work for the federal government after completion of the fellowship.

A grant funds a student’s education and does not have to be paid back.

A loan must be repaid. Some college loans do not collect interest until the student graduates.

Please keep in mind that there are always exceptions to these definitions. Should you have any questions, please contact us in the University Fellowships Office.

Do I need to be a full-time student when I apply for fellowships?

While eligibility requirements for individual fellowships vary, most of the fellowships listed in the Fellowships Search require that candidates be full-time students. There are also fellowships (e.g., Fulbright) that are open to alumni. Some opportunities require the recipients to have one or more years of undergraduate education ahead of them, so read the application criteria carefully.  

Do I need U.S. citizenship to apply for fellowships?

Many of the fellowships in the Fellowships Search do require U.S. citizenship in order to be eligible, but our list also contains several research, study, and teaching opportunities that are open to international students.

Are there academic criteria for fellowships?

Some fellowships have specific GPA requirements. Most fellowships prefer students who are in good academic standing at the time of application, but be aware that individual opportunities have different perspectives on what qualifies as "good standing."

Is financial need a criterion for fellowships?

While most fellowships do not take financial need into consideration, we do promote several opportunities that are interested in funding students on significant financial aid. Please visit the Fellowships Search on the Opportunities page to find out more.

Can I apply for fellowships when I have already finished my undergraduate career?

Many fellowships do allow applicants to hold undergraduate degrees, although there may be specific age or year-of-graduation limits. Always visit the fellowships’ websites to determine if applicants may apply after they have finished their undergraduate career.

Does it matter what field I want to study?

Yes. You want your fellowship to complement and extend your developing areas of interest and expertise. While many fellowships appeal to specific disciplines or majors, a conversation with the office can help identify how a variety of fellowships may relate to your interests.

What is the typical duration of a fellowship?

Although some awards are for tuition only, the majority of the fellowships that we promote range from six weeks to one year or more.

Should I apply for more than one fellowship?

Absolutely, if they match your goals and interests. Some fellowships may be compatible with others and, should you win multiple awards that cannot be held simultaneously, you always have the option to decline. However, be sure to consider the time it takes to complete a given application, whether or not you are a competitive candidate, and how much work you want to put into the application process. You want to direct your effort toward producing the strongest possible application rather than applying to as many fellowships as you can.

Where can I look for fellowships?

You are in the right place! If you are not sure what fellowship is a good match for your academic and life goals, we encourage you to search our database. The University Fellowships Office also offers workshops and information sessions for specific programs every month. Your faculty advisers, mentors, and peers may be familiar with relevant fellowships as well. 

To make an appointment, use our online scheduling system. Alternatively, if you have a quick question or aren’t sure whether you need a full appointment, you can always contact the office at or call (814) 863-8199.

What does “university nomination” mean?

Some fellowships require that a student receive university nomination before he or she can apply to compete. These fellowships either limit the number of students a school can nominate or they require the school to carefully select the students best suited to the given award. Please note that if a fellowship requires university nomination, students must meet the internal deadlines established by the office in order to be considered for the fellowship. Internal deadlines are generally set well in advance of the national deadlines.

When should I begin the process of applying?

You should begin the application process several months in advance of official deadlines, so that you have enough time for introspection and revision, as well as time to plan out and contact your letter writers.  

How should I begin the process of applying?

Once you know the fellowship for which you want to apply, you should read the eligibility criteria and the aims of the program very carefully. Make sure that your interests align with the program goals. If you are not sure which fellowship would be the most appropriate to pursue, it is a good idea to visit the University Fellowships Office. 

To make an appointment, use our online scheduling system. Alternatively, if you have a quick question or aren’t sure whether you need a full appointment, you can always contact the office at or call (814) 863-8199.

Do I have to do more than fill out an application form?

In most cases, an application form is not enough. Fellowship applications often require a personal statement. Almost all applications require a minimum of two recommendation letters. Recommendation letters can be crucial in the application process, so choose your recommenders wisely. Try to approach senior professors with whom you have established good working relationships. Some applications also require a research proposal. For more tips on getting started, please visit our pages on Personal Statements and Essays, Research Proposals, and Seeking Letter Writers.

Where do I obtain an official copy of my transcript?

Pay attention to whether a fellowship application requires an official transcript. An official transcript is different than an unofficial or advising transcript, and must be requested from the Office of the University Registrar. It may take several days for the transcript to be mailed, so plan ahead and make your request on time.

Is there an interview required as part of the application process?

Some fellowship programs involve interviews by phone or in person as part of the application process. In these meetings, the selection committee wants to see the person behind the project and probe the depth of an applicant’s knowledge and commitment. If you receive the opportunity to interview for a major fellowship, let us know. We will be happy to help you prepare.

What are the odds of winning a fellowship?

Prestigious fellowships are often very competitive and the statistics can be discouraging. However, meeting with the University Fellowships Office can help maximize your potential, as well as identify fellowships that will match your ambitions. The more closely your goals are aligned with those of the funding agency and the specific opportunity and criteria, the more likely you are to be successful.

How can I be notified for upcoming fellowship deadlines?

The University Fellowships Office has a calendar of all deadlines published on the website, and we send timely announcements and reminders of these deadlines to students who express interest in learning about individual programs. Some fellowships also have their own e-newsletters and Facebook or Twitter accounts to which you can subscribe to get the information directly.

Boucke Building
University Fellowships Office
321 Boucke Building
University Park, PA 16802

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