The Boren Awards are two U.S. government-sponsored programs funding U.S. students’ study of less-commonly studied languages in regions of the world critical for U.S. national security. Moreover, they are both designed for students planning to work in the national security arena, and they include a one-year government service requirement. The Boren Scholarship gives up to $20,000 to fund semester- and year-long programs for undergraduates, while the Boren Fellowship provides up to $24,000 for graduate students.

The Boren essays require applicants to discuss the significance of their proposed country to U.S. national security, explain how the Boren scholarship fits into their long-term career goals, and describe in detail their proposed program of study.

The following tips are geared towards Boren Scholarship applicants, but as both applications are similar all of them should apply easily to the Boren Fellowship:

1.  Start Early
I can’t stress the importance of this enough. The national deadlines for Boren Scholarships and Fellowships are in early February and late January respectively, but this is not the sort of application you can start over winter break. To begin with, most universities have a campus deadline that is a few weeks before the national deadline; the W&M deadline is usually in mid January. The W&M Boren page is updated every year with the specific dates and other information you’ll need.

Moreover, the Boren application requires significant planning and forethought. Not only do you have to decide what country to go to and what language to study, you also have to pick a specific program that fits your needs. Applicants must discuss this program in their essays and submit a budget for their proposed program as part of their applicants. Figuring out what program to choose, who to ask for recommendations, and how to go about writing your essays can be daunting, and that’s why it can’t be rushed.

2.  Find the Right Program
As mentioned above, the Boren Awards are designed to fund study in regions of the world critical to U.S. national security and gives preference to applicants studying languages that are less commonly studied. In other words, you can’t apply for Boren with a program to study French in France, or German in Austria. They also give preference to students applying for longer-term study, so consider going abroad for two semesters or a semester and a summer.

Moreover, Boren doesn’t send you on its own sponsored program to China, or Turkey, or Mozambique, or any other country; instead, they provide the funding for you to do a program of your choice. If William & Mary has a program for the language you intend to study, that’s great, but don’t stop your search there! You can use Boren to fund a program from another university, a third-party program, or even direct enrollment at a foreign university. This may sound daunting since there are so many different study abroad options out there, but the requirements of the Boren Awards will help you narrow down your search.

Regardless, you need to make sure that the program you select has an intensive language curriculum, and you need to be able to describe the course of study in detail for you essays.

3.  Self-Reflection
Why do you want to apply for the Boren Scholarship or Fellowship? Where do you see yourself in 5 or 10 years? How does learning the language you want to study in the country where you want to go fit into your future goals?

These are questions that you need to ask yourself before you even start applying, and then again as you begin to draft your essays. The Boren application is all about planning:  your plan for the program, your plan to fulfill the service requirement, and finally your general life and career plans. Although you don’t have to have every detail of the rest of your life painstakingly mapped out, you need to start doing some self-reflection to figure out how the Boren Scholarship fits into your life goals. And even if your plans change, that’s okay! Nobody from Boren will check up on you in ten years and take the money back if your life didn’t follow the trajectory laid out in your essays to the last detail.

Having said that, you do need to connect the your Boren plan as well as your career goals to national security, which brings us to the next point…

4.  Connect to National Security
National security is the focus of the Boren Awards, and one of the application essays is built around it. If you’re thinking of applying for Boren, you need to think about your future goals and how they relate to U.S. national security.

Although this might seem difficult if you’re not a student of government or international relations, the Boren Scholarships and Fellowships take a broad view of what national security means. The most important thing is that you can make a convincing argument for how your field of study and the region/country in which you plan to study relate to national security. An environmental science and policy major might make the argument that working across national boundaries to fight climate change is critical to national security because a world with a less habitable climate and diminishing resources is a less stable world. A student of computer science might stress the importance of cyber security in an increasing connected globe. These are only a few examples; there are numerous different ways that you could connect your field and your plans to U.S. national security.

5.  Do Some Research about the Service Requirement
One important component of the Boren Awards that sets them apart from other scholarships is their service requirement. Boren recipients must work for the federal government for one year in a national security related field. Priority agencies are the Departments of Defense, Homeland Security, and State, or any element of the Intelligence Community, but many Boren scholars take national-security related jobs outside of these offices. It’s up to each applicant to do their research and come up with a few possible jobs that they would be qualified for to fulfill the service requirement. Discussing specific jobs that you think you may use to fulfill the service requirement in your essays can help you stand out as an applicant who has put a lot of forethought into the purpose of the Boren Awards.

You can find many of these jobs on the federal government jobs website, but many agencies post job listings on their own websites. There are tons of options, and every applicant should be able to find some that interest them.

6.  Get Your Essays Checked Over
Writing multiple drafts of your essays and having them looked over by another person is absolutely vital to your application. Proof-reading on your own can be helpful, but you need to have another person’s perspective to make your essays the best they can possibly be.

The Peer Scholarship Advisors are here for you throughout the process of applying for Boren, and we are always happy to read through your essays and give our feedback! We’re trained to know what each scholarship is looking for, and we can help you refine all aspects of your application.

7.  Be Confident
Throughout the application, and especially in your essays, it’s important that you’re sure of yourself and your qualities as an applicant. When describing your future plans, don’t say “I think I will…”; say “I will…” or at least “I intend to…”. Convey a feeling to whoever reads your essays and your application that you are focused and determined to do everything that you say you will. This is especially important for Boren, because service in the federal government is a condition of accepting the award. If you convey confidence in your future plans, this will convince your readers that you are committed to fulfilling the service requirement and using the skills that you gain from the Boren Scholarship to further U.S. national security.


As always, for more info about all kinds of scholarships and fellowships, check out Scholarship Search, keep following the scholarship blog, or bring your questions to the PSAs directly in the Charles Center Mondays through Fridays from 9am to 5pm. Good luck on all your apps!