Fellowships provide economic support for students whose intellectual development and plans include study at a particular school or program (the Rhodes at Oxford, for example) or in a particular country (the Mitchell in Ireland, for instance) or in a particular field or discipline (the Goldwater for mathematics, science, or engineering). Fellowships are sponsored by trusts (Rhodes, for example), foundations (the Gates-Cambridge, for instance), or government organizations (the NESP Boren, for example). Each fellowship has a unique set of criteria for application - the Jackson-Davies, for example, requires applicants to be the first in the family to attend college or university. Some fellowships require University nomination. Many fellowships also have specific expectations about post-fellowship work or study. The Madison, for instance, expects recipients to pursue a teaching career in History at the secondary school level. Fellowships seek the best-trained and most highly motivated candidates in the hope that furthering the intellectual development of such candidates will contribute substantially to the common good. [gratefully adapted from Santa Clara University].
There is no clear distinction between these two terms, and you will see that they are sometimes used in tandem or even interchangeably on this website. In general, fellowships are targeted more at graduate students or post-docs or faculty; fellowships often include a residential component; fellowships are often more prestigious and more lucrative. In contrast, scholarships are usually associated with undergraduates, and the amount of money can range from very little to quite a bit. The Boren Foundation, for example, offers the Boren Scholarship to undergraduates, and the Boren Fellowship to graduate students. On the other hand, the Rhodes Scholarship defies most of the definitions above.
The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) defines the difference in this manner: "A scholarship is generally an amount paid or allowed to a student at an educational institution for the purpose of study. A fellowship is generally an amount paid to an individual for the purpose of research": http://www.irs.gov/taxtopics/tc421.html.
The National Association of Fellowship Advisors (NAFA) uses the terms “Fellowships” to refer broadly to the competitive, national, external awards that are the focus of this UMass Lowell office; their custom is generally followed here.
This depends entirely upon the particular Fellowship to which you are applying. For example, the Gilman Scholarship offers $5000 for one semester’s study abroad experience; the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation offers up to $150,000 for three years of graduate school. Some Fellowships offer a combination of tuition waivers, internships, travel vouchers, and so forth which make it difficult to calculate exactly how much it is worth.
Each fellowship has a unique set of criteria, usually fully articulated in the fellowship materials or on the fellowship web page. Most fellowships require U.S. citizenship and high academic achievement. You should also be able to demonstrate a commitment to volunteer service linked in some way to your intellectual interests, ideally in a leadership capacity. You should be an engaged and mindful citizen, aware of current events and issues both in the U.S. and, should it be the case, in the host country.
It is never too early to be thinking about what you want to do in the future. Many fellowship applications require three months or more to prepare. A few fellowships are targeted at sophomores; some are intended for juniors; many apply to seniors; and some are available to recent graduates or graduate students.
There is no standard minimum G.P.A.; each fellowship sets its own requirements. Some do require a minimum G.P.A., while others look only for academic “excellence" or “distinction”. Still others deliberately target students whose achievements or interests lie outside the purely academic.
The OSF assists students in identifying and applying for appropriate national/international fellowships. In addition to practical advice, workshops, and review of your application, the OSF also makes institutional nominations and endorsements as required by individual foundations.
Each fellowship has its own particular identity, just as each student has his/her own personality and history. The trick is to think carefully about what you want to accomplish, and then to identify the appropriate fellowships to help you get there. The materials on this website, and in the Office of Student Fellowships, can help you start that process.
In addition to providing financial assistance for graduate school, study abroad, or an internship, the process of applying for a fellowship offers several other benefits, including the opportunity to think more carefully and systematically about your future; the chance to meet more professors and professionals in your desired field; and the possibility of enhancing your chances of admission to graduate school.