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Advice for Freshmen


National scholarships are competitive awards that provide opportunities and support for many different experiences, including study abroad, graduate study (and sometimes undergraduate study also), federal employment, teaching, research, and public service. You may have heard of some national scholarships – the Rhodes and Fulbright awards are among the best known – but most college students aren’t aware that there are many prestigious national scholarship programs for freshmen, sophomores, juniors and seniors. There are scholarships for students interested in public service, international relations, language study, teaching, scientific research, engineering, journalism, and a host of other fields.

National scholarships are looking for students (with or without financial need) who are developing strong interests and goals – academic and extracurricular – and who want to take advantage of every constructive opportunity that will help them go farther. Just as each national scholarship offers a different kind of opportunity each is also looking for a different range of strengths and interests in its applicants. You do not need to have a 4.0 GPA or be president of Student Government to be a great scholarship candidate. If you develop a strong academic record (3.0 or higher is important), are thoughtful about your choices and devote yourself to activities you care about, you may well find one or more scholarships opportunities of interest to you. The National Scholarships Office can help you find awards that are a good fit for you.

As freshmen you have great flexibility to chart your paths for the coming years. The best applicants for national scholarships are those who took charge of their educational opportunities – both in the classroom and beyond – early in their college careers. Learning about the different opportunities national scholarships offer and about the kinds of students they are looking for can be a helpful way to begin identifying and developing your own longer-range plans and goals.

The University of Maryland created the National Scholarships Office to provide undergraduates with the best possible information, guidance and support as they learn about and apply for national scholarships. Applying for a national scholarship is a challenging experience. It tests and stretches your ideas about who you are, what matters to you, and where you want to go in life. It requires you to engage in honest and serious reflection about your personal and intellectual aims, interests and ambitions, and to invest a good deal of your talent and energy. Competition for national scholarships is demanding. For this reason, we strive to make the application experience valuable in itself for Maryland students. Working closely with our staff you will improve your self-knowledge as well as your self-presentation. You will develop and refine your writing, speaking and organizational skills. The experience of applying for a competitive scholarship should help you as you go on to make decisions about internships, service activities, work and graduate or professional study.

Here’s the good news – the best thing you can do now is simply to make the most of all your opportunities at Maryland, inside and outside the classroom. Try to view your choices at Maryland as part of a long-range process of intellectual exploration and fulfillment. When you consider what courses to take next semester, or what community or campus activities to join, or when you think about internships, or start exploring study abroad options – these are opportunities for you to identify your strongest interests and passions, build on your existing strengths, and develop new ones.

Students who have taken their choices seriously, used their time wisely and worked hard to develop their intellectual, public service and extracurricular passions make great scholarship candidates. On the following page we note some particularly important choices and steps you should consider carefully.

student looking in microscopeMaking the most of your time at the University of Maryland

1. Am I getting to know my professors and instructors well enough? Talk with them outside of class, learn about their work, ask them about research opportunities, internships or independent study projects that might deepen and enhance your knowledge of subject you care about. When you've had a particularly good experience working with one of your teachers, let them know it and talk with them about your own plans and interests. Your teachers appreciate and welcome this kind of engagement, and it will make it much easier for you to get good letters of recommendation later on.

2. Am I getting involved in on- or off-campus volunteer activities, service organizations or other programs that reflect my strongest values, interests and passions? Make this an important part of your educational experience at Maryland. You will learn a lot though these activities that you will not learn in the classroom, particularly as you begin to take on greater responsibilities and leadership roles. But don’t sign-up for every activity or spread your time and energies too thin. This isn’t about resume-building or networking, but about using your talents and energies for activities and causes that really matter to you, and to which you are willing to give sustained time and attention.

3. Am I choosing my internships thoughtfully? Maryland’s location in the Washington DC area opens up myriad outstanding internship opportunities. Think about how these can contribute to your long-term interests and aspirations. Look for opportunities that tie-in strongly with your academic and extra-curricular activities.

4. Am I serious about language study? If studying a new foreign language, or continuing to learn an old one makes sense for your academic and future professional or personal interests, don't delay – and don't settle for placing out of the requirement or stopping your studies after you meet it. There are several scholarships that help students study languages abroad and others that reward students who are seeking proficiency in another language.

globe5. Am I seriously considering study abroad? Spending a semester, a summer, or an academic year studying in another country can be an invaluable, unique way of expanding your horizons. The best study abroad experiences are often ones that strongly tie-in with your academic and professional goals and that challenge you to learn new languages and to experience different ways of living and of seeing the world. There are several scholarships aimed at students planning study abroad, including non-traditional destinations, and several that emphasize language learning.

6. Am I seeking out opportunities to deepen my knowledge and challenge my intellect? Am I embracing academic challenges, taking the more demanding options, exploring new areas of knowledge, acquiring new skills? As you carve out your academic path, try to focus on gaining knowledge and skills that will make a difference in your life and not on fulfilling requirements. Look for opportunities to pursue research projects, independent studies, internships-for-credit or other forms of intensive learning. National scholarships look for students who strive to go ‘above and beyond.’

While we certainly hope that many of you will learn about, apply for and win national scholarships, we want to emphasize that competing for these awards can be a highly rewarding experience in itself, whether you win or not. Taking part in national scholarship competitions will help you to:

    goal on paper
  • Clarify your academic, career and personal goals
  • Become more aware of your strengths, interests, and commitments
  • Improve your writing skills and enhance your self-presentation
  • Get a better sense of the most appropriate graduate or professional study paths for you
  • Gain an experience for learning and personal growth that is not normally possible in the classroom.

We hope this advice is a helpful introduction to the exciting but often confusing process of learning about and applying for national scholarships.

Please contact our staff for further suggestions on steps you can take throughout your college career that will help you become a strong scholarship candidate, or to talk about scholarships of interest to you.

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