Advice by Year
Advice for First Year Students
Now is the time to start. It may seem that fellowships lie too far in your future. Yet it is precisely in your first year that you have the most flexibility to shape your years Gustavus in ways that will bring you the most benefit – and set you on the path to the best fellowships.
Make a chart for all your semesters and summer breaks while at Gustavus, and sketch out a tentative schedule of when you will do what in the coming years: Is there a required course sequence for your major? Can you fit in an interdisciplinary minor? Will you do a year of foreign study, a semester, or a summer program? Where will an internship fit in? Make an appointment with your faculty advisor, well before registration, and discuss this tentative schedule.
Even if you have "placed out" of the Gustavus foreign language requirement, don't squander what you have accomplished. Foreign language skills are important for many fellowships. Extend your competence with advanced language courses, augment it with courses on the history or politics or art of countries with that language, and consider a community service, internship, or foreign study experience that will help you gain fluency.
Get involved in co-curricular activities, including on-campus and community service and varsity or intra-mural athletics. Soon you should be taking leadership positions in these activities, but first, join up and become involved.
Talk with a faculty member about undergraduate research in the fields you find most interesting.
Above all, at every branch in your path – at course registration, at semester and summer breaks, or even when you have a choice of term paper topics – ask yourself (and your faculty mentors) which choice will build on your current strengths and draw together the different parts of your life into a cohesive structure. Just before they graduate, students often remark that their senior year was their best year, because so many aspects of their lives finally came together in a satisfying way. Aim for this cohesiveness right from the start, and you can enjoy this satisfaction all the way through.
You are eligible for some fellowships this year, and you need to start preparation of applications for other fellowships in your junior year. Review the opportunities listed on the list of fellowships for undergraduates. Talk with a faculty member about undergraduate research and internship opportunities.
As you are planning for study abroad in your junior year, investigate the Gilman, NSEP/Boren, Freeman-ASIA, and Rotary Scholarships to provide financial assistance.
This is the year you should assume more leadership roles in co-curricular activities. Give thought to new ventures that the organizations you belong to could be doing, and be the person to get them started.
Resist the temptation to double-major just for the sake of saying you’ve done so. There are some exceptions, but in general, meeting the requirements of two majors in addition to the general education requirements leaves little room for the imaginative projects and depth of academic preparation that lead to the best fellowships. If there is a field outside your major that intrigues you, by all means, take the few courses that mesh with your major. Or explore the variety of inter-disciplinary minors which can also augment your major. But a double major? Do it only after you have consulted with your faculty mentors and fully grasp the consequences.
Gather information and decide on a foreign study experience for next year. If you cannot do a whole year or regular semester, consider a summer program. Get faculty advice on which foreign study locations are strongest in your major and might provide a foundation for an unusual senior thesis or internship.
Build relationships with faculty, supervisors, and employers so that they are able to speak to the full range of your abilities and achievments.
This is an important year. You are eligible for some fellowships this year, and you need to start preparation of applications for other fellowships in your senior year. For opportunities you may be eligible for now, review the list of fellowships for undergraduates. For opportunities open to you next year, review the list of fellowships for graduate study.
If you are studying abroad this year, consult with the Fellowships Coordinator and your faculty advisor before you go, and maintain contact while you are away.
If there is an Honors Program or a National Honors Society in your major, you should join if you qualify.
You should develop a topic for your senior thesis and discuss ideas with several faculty, to see who might be the best faculty advisor.
In the fall, begin planning your summer to further your academic or professional goals, perhaps with an internship, or preliminary research on your senior thesis, or leadership in a community organization.
Some fellowships require the Graduate Record Exam, so get information on the GRE and consider how to prepare for it.
You will need many letters of recommendation soon. As you discuss your fellowship opportunities with faculty, supervisors, and employers, consider who is well-positioned to write for you and begin to broach this subject with them.
Most important, if you are considering any of the fellowships for graduate study, you must meet with the Fellowships Coordinator during the spring semester (or the fall, if you’re going to be abroad in the spring), to get started on your application materials. Even though the formal deadlines are not until your senior year, you cannot postpone getting guidance and getting started.
If you have done the things advised for first years, sophomores, and juniors, this will be a busy year but you already have the important parts of your future well in hand. Fellowship application deadlines begin in September and continue through the year, so consult regularly and work closely with the Fellowships Coordinator and your faculty mentors on the application materials you started assembling last spring and summer.
Is it too late if you have not already gotten started? Probably – especially if the fellowship deadline is only four weeks away. But if you are a person of fierce ambition and are prepared to devote your full energies to your applications, there may still be opportunities or fellowships for which you can apply. Move swiftly!
The Graduate Record Exam (GRE) is required for some fellowships (and almost all graduate programs), so sign up to take it no later than December.
A senior thesis or other substantial research or creative project will be important evidence of your talents and ambitions as well as a good topic of conversation in interviews. Get a draft of the first chapter completed as soon as possible, and get detailed comments on it from your faculty advisor, so you'll be prepared for lively questions and challenges.