Peer Scholarship Advice

The official blog of the Charles Center Peer Scholarship Advisors

Category: Boren

Boren Awardee Profile: Kyra Solomon

Congratulations to Boren Scholarship Awardee Kyra Solomon! Here are some of her thoughts about Boren and its application process:


What do you hope to get out of the opportunity that Boren affords you?

I am very excited to have received the Boren Scholarship to study Mandarin in Beijing, China. Studying abroad in Beijing will give me the unique opportunity to learn more directly about the relations between the U.S and China by significantly advancing my language skills and taking upper level courses on topics with implications for U.S. national security. I have reached the Advanced Chinese: Reading and Writing level of Mandarin at William & Mary so I believe that combining Peking University’s intensive summer program with the more advanced Inter-University Program for Chinese Language Studies at Tsinghua University in the fall semester will give me the best resources to become fluent and achieve my career goal of working as a foreign affairs policy analyst. I hope to use the programs I have chosen to develop my cultural knowledge and augment my Chinese proficiency so that I can excel independently in a professional career in the national security arena.

How and why did you choose your recommenders, and what is your relationship with them like?

My recommenders included Professor Chun-yu Lu, Professor Elizabeth Losh, and my supervisor at AidData, Mengfan Cheng. These women have all inspired the type of character, intelligence, and leadership I hope to have in my professional career. My sophomore year, I took a Chinese Popular Culture class with Professor Lu and she was my Advanced Chinese: Reading and Writing professor last semester. I loved learning about the vast range of Chinese cinema, music, and literature with Prof. Lu and got to do some pretty neat projects that really expanded my interest and knowledge of Chinese culture. I took my COLL 150 class “Media Seductions,” a Digital Journalism class, and a pre-class to the “News & New Media” W&M DC Summer Institute with Professor Losh. I loved taking these courses because I have always been interested in journalism and media and was able to advance this interest through Prof. Losh’s comprehensive and productive teaching style. Lastly, Mengfan Cheng was my supervisor when I worked as Senior Research Assistant for the Tracking Under-reported Financial Flows (TUFF) team at AidData, a research lab at W&M. When I started at AidData the summer before my junior year it was my first real experience doing international relations research, and Mengfan was the one who taught me many important skills through her leadership with our projects on data collection and investigation. I owe a lot to these mentors and am very grateful that they think highly enough of me to write my recommendations.

What motivated you to apply for a Boren? How did you choose your country?

I have taken Chinese every semester at W&M and it has consistently been one of my favorite classes. I have enjoyed learning the language itself, its cultural aspects, as well as connecting it to my studies in International Relations and Economics. The sheer scope of Chinese speakers around the world and the ties that the U.S. has to China makes Chinese extremely important to U.S. national security. Having knowledge of Chinese language is helpful for tasks like gathering data, reading Chinese sources, and engaging in diplomatic discussions to augment understanding of Chinese actions in security areas such as international development aid and geopolitics. After my experience interning at the White House last summer it solidified the idea that I want to work in a federal and public service capacity, and I knew Boren would allow me to focus on developing professional qualifications that I could apply to working in foreign affairs. My career goal has been to work in a national security capacity, so when I heard that Boren would allow me study abroad and improve my Chinese skills, with the stipulation of working for the U.S. government afterwards, this seemed like the perfect fit for me!

What did you realize about yourself throughout this process?

I think this process made me realize what it is that I really want to do. As a senior, I was of course applying to more than a few positions and future opportunities, but deep down I knew that I wanted Boren the most. I was confident in my abilities, but I also know how many talented students apply and how many talented students do not receive the scholarship as well. So when I heard that I got the award it made me realize how much I actually wanted it and in doing so, has made me much more sure of my future path, one that starts with walking with my fellow seniors in May, learning and having adventures in China, and returning home to have a successful career working in the field of peace and security. I’m excited!

What are you most proud of in your application? What is the most important piece of advice you would give to future Boren applicants?  

I am proud of the essay I had to write explaining the significance of my proposed country and language to U.S. national security. Through the work I have done with the Global Research Institute on campus, I was able to make my essay very personalized and detailed. I spoke about how bilateral relations between the U.S. and China have been strained recently due to a number of issues with important implications for U.S. national security interests. I referenced new data regarding China’s development finance, which I helped to code and analyze while working at AidData and how China’s ambitious Belt and Road Initiative has raised concerns from U.S. experts and politicians about China’s strategy and motivations. Such concerns are exacerbated by China’s secretive party structure, and because the threat to U.S. interests posed by the initiative is understudied and has potential misunderstandings such foreign policy issues would benefit from further study of the country and Mandarin language as China continues to rise as an economic and world power.

So some advice I would give is to definitely try and make a niche argument in your first essay for why your country is important for U.S. interests. If you can connect it to your own studies, experiences, or goals that is even better. And use the Charles Center to read over your essays too!


Congratulations again to Kyra, and all of W&M’s other Boren awardees! As always, if you have any questions about Boren or other scholarships, don’t hesitate to visit Scholarship Search or come to the Charles to ask a PSA Monday through Friday from 9am to 5pm. Thanks for reading and good luck on your applications!

Scholarships for Language Study

1. Critical Language Scholarships
Critical Language Scholarships are a U.S. State Department Sponsored program providing two months of fully funded language study abroad during the summer. CLS is specifically focused on languages that are important to U.S. national security interest, so it has programs in countries such as China, Morocco, Turkey, Russia, and others where critical languages are spoken. You can find more info about CLS on their website.

2. Boren Scholarships and Fellowships
The Boren Scholarship is a U.S. government-sponsored program funding U.S. students’ study of languages in regions of the world critical for U.S. national security. Its purpose is similar to that of CLS, but unlike CLS it provides funding for semester- and year-long study instead of just for the summer, and Boren funds study of a much wider range of languages than CLS does. Moreover, it is designed for students planning to work in the national security arena and includes a one-year government service requirement. The Boren Scholarship gives up to $20,000 to fund semester- and year-long programs for undergraduates, and up to $8,000 for summer programs for STEM students. The equivalent program for graduate students, the Boren Fellowship, provides up to $30,000 in funding. You can learn more about Boren here.

3. Blakemore Foundation Freeman Fellowship
Blakemore Foundation Freeman Fellowships provide a year of intensive language study of an East or Southeast Asian language. This fellowship is intended for recent graduates who are pursuing a career that involves the regular use of the language that they choose. Fellows must already have a high degree of proficiency in the language that they choose, and they can choose from a pre-selected set of programs in Japan, China, Taiwan, Korea, Myanmar, Indonesia, Cambodia, Thailand, or Vietnam. Learn more about this program here.

4. Gilman Scholarship
The Benjamin A. Gilman Scholarship Program is a State Department sponsored program designed to reduce barriers to study abroad through providing assistance to those undergraduate students who demonstrate financial need. To be eligible, applicants must be receiving a Federal Pell Grant or provide proof that they will be receiving a Pell Grant at the time of application or during the term of their study abroad. Gilman scholarship recipients are not required to complete language study, but the program does provide additional funding for students studying critical languages while abroad. To find out more about the Gilman Scholarship, check out their official website, the William & Mary specific website.


Keep in mind that these are only a few of the many opportunities for William & Mary students to find funding for language study. 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!

Boren Scholarship and Fellowship Application Tips

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!