EACH year I see scores of Harvard students put a great deal of time and energy into applying for fellowships. And each year, invariably, I see every last one of them fail.
What breaks my heart the most is that there's absolutely no reason why it should happen. Let's face it--the kids from big state schools that clean up in the fellowship competitions every year aren't one iota smarter or better qualified than the applicants from Harvard.
The difference, I figure, all comes down to this: while the state schools groom and coach their fellowship candidates shamelessly, Harvard's candidates are completely on their own.
That is why I have taken the trouble to write this short guide to the fellowships. I hope this article is a step towards a day, if not in our own lifetime, then perhaps in our childrens', when it will be as commonplace for a major fellowship winner to attend not just a University of Nebraska or Ole Miss, but to hail from our own Harvard College.
I. "Is a fellowship right for me?"
You would be surprised how many people put themselves through the whole harrowing application process without once sitting down and seriously asking themselves, "Am I sure that spending the next one or two years under a fellowship is really what my parents want me to do?"
In fact, each year several Harvard students become finalists only to withdraw at the last minute, when they realize how hard it would be to study abroad while simultaneously attending a prestigious American law school.
The point is that there is no really good reason to pursue a fellowship. Sure, a lot of powerful, famous people were fellows when they were younger, but a lot of powerful, famous people also caught venereal diseases when they were younger, and that doesn't mean you should spend your college years trying desperately to get the clap.
And though there's something to be said about learning about other cultures--on what days students at foreign colleges get served chickwiches, and so forth--being away from the good `ol U.S. of A. for any period of time longer than two weeks gets very tiresome very quickly.
After all, why do you think these fellowship people pay you to leave our country? Consider this: in some places outside America, it's actually possible to walk into an arcade and still see Space Invaders and Pac Man. Space Invaders and Pac Man!
Finally, applying for a fellowship is a bad idea because, should you win one and then not go on to become a senator, you will feel guilty for the rest of your life.
And nobody else will let you forget about your failure either. Whenever you visit your hometown, an old woman will point you out in the street and whisper to whomever walks by, "See that one? Went to the big city, up North, and won a big, fancy fellowship. And you know what? Durn fool never amounted to nuthin!"
But what can you do? She's your mom and you love her.
II. Choosing a Fellowship
Of course, not even a lousy fellowship is ever as bad as an actual job, which is why I recommend you ignore all the above drawbacks and start filling out applications like crazy. First, however, you'll have to decide which fellowships are worth trying for. Some general guidelines: