Applying for Fellowships

WHY HARVARD IS...

Fellowship (n): 1) Companionship. A union of friends or equals; fraternity.

2) A graduate stipend or a foundation awarding such grants.

Irony, thy name is Webster.

Nearly everyone I know is applying for some sort of fellowship, including--unfortunately--myself. There is little fraternity involved.

Most Harvard students applying for these cursed creations begin with the reckless euphoria induced by re-reading admissions brochures. I, they say to themselves, am a Harvard student. I matriculate at U.S. News and World Report's number one institution of higher learning. I am part of the academic elite; grants administrators will be filling up my voice-mail with impassioned requests that I ennoble their money by my intellectual stature.

Then they look to the left, look to the right, and realize that maybe half the people competing for those same grants go to Harvard, too.

Attending this school doesn't help one get grants; in fact, the laws of supply and demand would suggest that a Harvard transcript is enough to torpedo almost any application. The surfeit of overeager contenders from Cambridge should lead wilier aspirants to delete the alma mater from their records altogether, or at least blur it a little.

But the laws of supply and demand fail with heartening regularity once outside the walls of Littauer. Mother Harvard sends a steady flow of fellowship winners to Great Britain and other exotic destinations, there to mingle with, fellowship winners from Princeton and Yale.

Each fall, visions of the vast troves to be won glimmering in their fevered brains, students set aside such cavalier questions as whether or not they really want to spend another two years getting rained upon in the company of Ivy Leaguers, and begin underlining their Guide to Grants.

Thus the question becomes not whether to apply, but when and for what. All fellowships are not created equal. A Rockefeller can beat a Rotary but not a Fulbright, while a Truman trumps a Stride-Rite with ease.

Unlike the Marshall, which requires a minimum GPA of 3.7 simply to face the nominating committee, the Rhodes demands only personal leadership and a six-figure Vend-a-Card allowance. This laxity leads true fellowship connoisseurs to consider the Rhodes more suitable for glad-handing pseudointellectuals such as our nation's president.

So the Rhodes is clearly impossible for anyone with a shred of self-esteem. Some seniors may despair, since it seems impossible to land an administration job without one. But there is life beyond Oxford. Along with big-name, big money grants are offerings that are not as well-known but lucrative nonetheless. Indeed, students can find hundreds of other programs, each of which requires no more than flawless essays, stellar recs and, in a few cases, stigmata.

Therein lies the chief difficulty of competing for awards; they require spending a great deal of time poring over one's academic record and other depressing documents. An hour spent filling out preliminary applications can lead to a good half day in idle regrets over that tutorial paper written hung-over.

Incidentally, the Marshall counts only grades earned after your first year; banding together to plant explosives in the records file at the Expos office will not help anyone's case, although it will probably make the whole gang feel considerably better.

And isn't that what fellow ships are all about?