Peer Scholarship Advice

The official blog of the Charles Center Peer Scholarship Advisors

Category: Post-Graduate

Fulbright Awardee Profile: Elizabeth Ransone

Congratulations to Elizabeth Ransone (one of our very own PSAs) on her Fulbright Academic Grant to Germany! Here are some of her thoughts on the Fulbright program and its application process:


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

I hope that Fulbright introduces me to a lot of interesting people and perspectives. The ability to further my research and learn new techniques from a leader in my field should help me a lot downstream in my career. I’ve also never lived in a non-English speaking nation for longer than a week, so I’m both terrified and excited for that challenge.

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

I’ve worked in the research laboratories of all of my 3 recommenders. One of my recommenders, Heidi Goodrich-Blair, was my principal investigator (PI) from my time at the Microbial Community Functions and Interactions Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville. This recommendation was particularly important, as I wrote my Fulbright application as a continuation of the project I began with her. My other two recommenders were John Swaddle and Dan Cristol. I joined their lab as a freshman with the HHMI freshman research program. They’ve essentially taught me everything I know about research and are my biggest supporters.

What motivated you to apply for a Fulbright?

I’ve been a Peer Scholarship Advisor since 2014, and our largest scholarship is consistently Fulbright. I met some incredible W&M student through their applications. I really like the flexibility that a Fulbright research grant gives to explore and grow with prominent PIs. Grant funding is incredibly difficult to cobble together while still a student, and the money behind a Fulbright makes it much more likely that a professor will be willing to accept you as a trainee for a year.

How did you choose your country?

After I decided on the general topic I wanted to study overseas, I reached out to my professors. Over the summer, I asked Dr. Goodrich-Blair about her collaboration network. She mentioned a handful of PIs, and the language requirements for each country did a good job of narrowing the list down further. Then I reached out to my PI in Germany, who was kind enough to email and Skype with me during the application process.

What did you realize about yourself throughout this process?

I realized that I am an incredible procrastinator. Try to get as much of the application done during the summer, as the school year is always more hectic than you remember it being.

What are you most proud of in your application?

I’m most proud of the relationships that I formed with my laboratory PIs. I’ve never read their letters of recommendations and have no wish to, but I think that rec letters often set great applications apart. I’ve never considered myself the best writer, but the good and honest word of 3 separate PIs is often enough to convince people to take a chance with you.

If you could do it all again, what would you change about the process?

If I had to apply to Fulbright again, I would write a few more drafts of my personal statement. I recently reread it and cringed.

What is the most important piece of advice you would give to future Fulbright applicants?

START EARLY! And talk to the PSAs!

Advice from a PSA: Applying to Graduate School

About a year ago, I decided that I want to be a Religious Studies professor when I “grow up,” so I started planning on attending graduate school. I scoured the internet looking for advice, because nobody in my family has attended grad school, and I felt that guidance at W&M was lacking. Now, as a second-semester senior, all (nine!) of my applications are submitted, for a variety of programs, and I’m waiting for decisions to roll in, so it seems like a good time to reflect on my experience and give tips to anyone out there who is also considering graduate school in the Humanities.

  1. Do well in school. This one seems self-explanatory, but the most competitive graduate programs will definitely take your GPA into consideration, especially in your area of interest. Although I’m a Biology and Religious Studies double-major applying only to Religious Studies programs, and my grade in General Chemistry I doesn’t particularly matter, it did contribute to my overall GPA, so be conscious of that. On the other hand, know that grades aren’t the end-all-be-all of your graduate school application. If you have a sub-par grade in a class outside your field, or even within it, don’t worry. Do your best, and consider using the “Additional Information” section to explain your grade in that class. (Did you skip a prerequisite and have to catch up? Were you frequently ill that semester? Were you taking a course overload? An explanation may help your application.)
  2. Take the GRE early, and put significant effort into it. Like your GPA, your Graduate Readiness Examination (GRE) score is one of the obvious factors that may be used to compare you to other candidates. Study for it as much as you can, and set your test date far in advance of when applications are due. This also allows you to consider taking it again, although test-retest reliability on the GRE is pretty high, and paying $205 and five hours of your life is undesirable once, let alone twice. Also, it’s helpful to know that with your GRE test, you receive four free score reports (each additional report is $27). I took my test in August, and sent the score to two programs I didn’t end up applying to. Don’t do that! Consider where you want to go ahead of time to maximize what you get out of what you’re paying Educational Testing Service (ETS).
  3. Try to publish your papers or present at conferences. Doing these during your undergraduate career will set you apart from many of your peers. As a student in the Humanities, you write papers all the time. Submit them anywhere and everywhere! You may be surprised where they get accepted, and having your name in print is definitely impressive to graduate schools. Also, this will be a huge part of your job in academia, so making sure you actually enjoy it can be an important aspect of your career discernment process. I love writing and presenting, and I think conferences are a ton of fun because everyone is so interesting, so I figure I’m probably on the right career path.
  4. Narrow your research interest. If you’re anything like me, or most students at William & Mary, you love learning, and your interests span a variety of fields. However, graduate schools want to see that you know what you want to study and have a plan for tackling it. Try to narrow it down to one sentence, and then relate it to broader themes. Few people will be enthused that you hope to study the portrayal of women in Dickens novels, but if you can relate your topic more broadly to Victorian themes, the transition from the Romantic period, and its influence on modern literature or feminism, your application will be much stronger.
  5. Choose an advisor carefully. Once you’ve narrowed your research interest, do your research on who can help you along your graduate school process. College ranking is important, especially if you hope to obtain a tenure-track professorship after you get your PhD, but what’s more important is who you work with. For example, if you wanted to study Native American religions, it would not make any sense for you to apply to the University of Virginia, although they rank among the top 15 programs for Religious Studies in the country.
  6. When choosing a school, consider more than just the program. If you’re working towards a PhD, you’ll be spending 4-6+ years in the city where your chosen program is. Make sure that’s a place you can live, because that is a significant chunk of your young life! Thinking about the kind of scene you are comfortable in (urban or rural?), and the cost of living matters. You want to make sure you can live on your stipend without too much debt, unless you’re independently wealthy, I suppose.
  7. Write your personal statement. Rewrite it. Rewrite it again. If you’ve applied for scholarships in the past, or remember your college application essay fondly, know that your graduate school personal statement or statement of purpose is nothing like that. This space is to specify your qualifications for graduate school, why you chose that particular program, your research interests, and who you want to work with. I originally had a flowery piece on what drives me to study religion, but luckily my major advisor gave me some much-needed constructive criticism. Although my final product was less reflective of who I am as a person, it represented me well as who I am as a burgeoning academic. Mention your publications, presentations, Honors thesis, etc., if you have done any of those. Showing experience with independent research is especially valuable for more prestigious programs that are less likely to hold your hand along the PhD process. Have as many eyes on your essay as possible (the PSAs are a great resource for this!!). Be honest and explicit about your research interests. Also, include several specific professors you hope to work with at the university, both within and outside your intended department. You need to be clear about why this particular program is right for you, and what you can in turn contribute to the program. Don’t be shy–you’re awesome, and the best way for them to know that is by telling them!
  8. Don’t be afraid to press that “submit” button early. Often, it will take the program a little extra time to put all your pieces together, like your recommendation letters and GRE scores. Most of my applications were due on December 15th, but I submitted on the 13th to give myself a little more time to breathe and wait for all the pieces to officially come together. Also, for most applications, you don’t need to wait for your recommenders to send their letters in order for you to submit, and you can still send reminders in the application management feature. If it’s getting close to the deadline, send them a gentle reminder two days in advance, and everything should be fine.
  9. Relax! Applying to graduate school is a time-consuming, expensive, and arduous process. There’s a long wait to hear about interviews and decisions, but know that you’ve done everything you can. Like for college, applying to a breadth of programs, some reach and some safety, is a good idea if you know this is what you want to do. Also, use this time in between submission and decision to consider a back-up plan (not in a fatalistic way). Having an alternative path to take, whether it’s working for a couple years and re-applying, or taking a new path entirely, can calm your nerves in that stressful interlude.

Now that these tips are about as long as an actual application, I hope you’ve learned something! I’m fresh from the process, and already have one acceptance and an interview scheduled, so if you have any questions, please reach out to me at Good luck!!

Scholarships for Funding Graduate School

 1. Fulbright U.S. Student Program
The Fulbright U.S. Student Program gives U.S. students funding to research, study, and teach English abroad. It has two different components: English Teaching Assistantships and Academic Grants, and in many countries the Academic Grants can be used to fund a year-long master’s degree program. Every year, numerous William & Mary students apply for and are awarded Fulbright Grants of both types. For more information on Fulbright, check out their website, the W&M specific website, and our other blog posts on the program.

2. Churchill Scholarship
The Churchill Scholarship provides funding for Master’s degrees in STEM fields at the University of Cambridge. Applying students must be undergraduate seniors or have graduated within the past 12 months. Applicants should have outstanding academic records and demonstrate strong research ability. To learn more about the Churchill Scholarship, visit their website.

3. Beinecke Scholarship
The Beinecke Scholarship provides funding for exceptional students with financial need to pursue graduate study in the arts, humanities, and social sciences. Students apply as juniors, and receive $4,000 for the rest of their undergraduate degree along with $30,000 to fund their graduate program. For more information on Beinecke, visit their website or the W&M specific website.

4. Knight-Hennessy Scholarship
The Knight-Hennessy Scholarship provides full funding for any graduate degree at Stanford University. Applicants must be current seniors or have graduated from their undergraduate program within the past four years and must apply separately to the specific degree program that they intend to pursue. Knight-Hennessy is especially looking for students who have independence of thought, purposeful leadership, and a civic mindset. To learn more about Knight-Hennessy, visit their website.

5. Truman Scholarship
The Truman Scholarship provides $30,000 to fund a graduate degree in a public service field, although public service is defined broadly and can include graduate degrees such as law or medicine. Applicants apply as juniors and should demonstrate a history of service, leadership, and individual initiative. For more information on Truman, visit their website or the W&M specific site.

6. Schwarzman Scholarship
The Schwarzman Scholarship provides a fully funded one-year Master’s Degree in Global Affairs from Tsinghua University, one of the most prestigious universities in China. Applicants should be current seniors or graduates between the ages of 18 and 29, and they should demonstrate strong leadership potential and knowledge of current affairs. To find out more about this program, visit their website.

7. Marshall Scholarship
Marshall Scholarships fund one- or two-year Master’s Degrees in the United Kingdom. Applicants must be current seniors or recent graduates from their undergraduate program, and they must have a GPA of 3.7 or higher. Selection committees are seeking students who have potential to excel as scholars as well as to contribute to greater understanding between the U.S. and U.K. To learn more about Marshall, visit their website or the W&M specific site.

8. Mitchell Scholarship
The Mitchell Scholarship program is designed to introduce and connect generations of future American leaders to Ireland, while recognizing and fostering intellectual achievement, leadership, and a commitment to community and public service. Scholars study for one year in any discipline offered by the graduate institution of their choosing in either Ireland or Northern Ireland. The Mitchell Scholarship provides full funding for scholars’ tuition and living expenses. Seniors and recent graduates under the age of 30 with strong academic records and U.S. citizenship are eligible to apply. To learn more about Mitchell, visit their website.

9. Gates Cambridge Scholarship
The Gates Cambridge Scholarship fully funds graduate study in any field at the University of Cambridge, including all university fees, a maintenance allowance, airfare, and inbound visa costs. Scholars are expected to maintain academic excellence, demonstrate exceptional leadership potential, and have committed themselves to improving the lives of others. Applicants must be enrolled, degree-seeking seniors with a strong academic record applying to pursue a full-time residential course of study in a graduate program. Applicants may be from any country outside the United Kingdom. To learn more about Gates, visit their website.

10. Rhodes Scholarship
The Rhodes Scholarship provides full financial support for young Americans for graduate study at the University of Oxford. Rhodes Scholars are chosen not only for their outstanding scholarly achievements, but for their character, commitment to others and to the common good, and for their potential for leadership in whatever domains their careers may lead. Seniors and recent graduates under the age of 24 with strong academic records and either U.S. citizenship or at least five years of permanent residency are eligible to apply. To learn more about Rhodes, visit their website or the W&M specific website.

11. Pickering Fellowship
The Pickering Fellowship is intended for students preparing to enter the Foreign Service. It provides students with up to $37,500 annually for a two-year master’s degree in fields related to the foreign service including but not limited to business administration, economics, public policy, and international affairs. In addition, the Fellowship provides an overseas summer internship, a domestic internship, and mentoring from a current Foreign Service officer. Each successful candidate is obligated to work for five years as a Foreign Service officer. For more information on Pickering, visit their website.


Keep in mind that these are only a few of the many opportunities for current or soon-to-be graduates to continue their studies. 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!

Fulbright Awardee Profile: Aaron Bayles

Congratulations to Aaron Bayles for winning a Fulbright Academic grant to Spain! Here are some of his thoughts on the Fulbright program and application process:


What do you hope to get out of the opportunity that Fulbright affords you?
My primary goal is to become a better scientist, by working on a new project which has the potential to be highly impactful in the field of renewable energy and by gaining experience collaborating with others who have had a very different academic formation than what I’ve experienced. My secondary goal is to reach full fluency in Spanish. Years of study and a semester abroad have really helped my Spanish language skills, but I believe this extended immersion experience will help me take that last step to being truly fluent.
What motivated you to apply for a Fulbright?
At first, I was looking for any opportunity to go to a Spanish speaking country for a year before I started graduate school to work on my Spanish. When I heard about the Fulbright scholarship, it seemed like the PERFECT opportunity to combine my love of language learning while also engaging in interesting research that could form the base of my future graduate studies.
How did you choose your country?
I was initially torn between applying to go to a South American country, like Colombia, Peru, or Argentina, or going back to Spain, where I studied abroad. After contacting a range of professors who were working on projects that interested me, and having the opportunity to meet some of them in person, I ended up choosing to return to Spain. The project, which is working on increasing the efficiency of a new type of solar panel, fit so well with my research interests that I couldn’t possibly say no. The professor was incredibly enthusiastic at the idea of me coming to work with him, and he introduced me to many of the current researchers in the lab. I’d also be going back to Sevilla, the city where I studied abroad and my favorite place in the entire world. It was a no-brainer.
How do you plan to engage with the community while abroad?
I have so many opportunities that I’m really not sure what’s going to ultimately happen. As a photographer, my top goal is to create and exhibit a photography project that highlights the juxtaposition of new and old, touristy and authentic, in Sevilla, an ancient and modernizing city. Still figuring out the details on that, though (finding exhibition space is hard). While I was abroad, I also started learning a type of flamenco and volunteered at an elementary school for an under-served community. These are both activities I’d like to continue during my grant period.
What did you realize about yourself throughout this process?
I realized that I can be a very focused and single-minded person at times, which has its pros and cons. While I was working on my grant proposal and personal statement, I’d stay up late at night over the summer writing and editing and rewriting and editing some more even though I had plenty of time until the deadline. It was the first time the idea of procrastinating never crossed my mind. I had a goal, I had a path to that goal, and I did everything physically possible to get there, sometimes to the detriment of my sleep schedule and other work. But ultimately, it was so worth it.
What are you most proud of in your application?
Looking back on my grant proposal, it’s probably one of the best works I’ve ever written. I don’t consider myself a great writer, but even as I look at it now, I can’t think of anything I’m unhappy about or wish I’d written differently. I had to write it in both Spanish and English, and it was my first time writing something scientific in Spanish.
If you could do it all again, what would you change about the process?
I wish that the whole application process itself was a little faster, and that I’d finished everything a bit more quickly, but honestly beyond that I’m very pleased with how the whole thing went.
What is the most important piece of advice you would give to future Fulbright applicants?
Two things: Take full advantage of the resources at the Charles Center, especially the Peer Scholarship Advisors. I had two PSAs that helped me with my essays (AND THEY WERE AMAZING!!), but I was also in contact with a bunch of them regarding various aspects of the application and they were the first people I went to whenever I had any questions about the sometimes vague application. I definitely went in to the Charles Center an annoying amount, but they never got impatient with me. Next, START EARLY. I started contacting professors during winter break of my junior year, and finished the biggest parts of my application during the summer before my senior year. The earlier you start planning, the higher quality your application will be.
Congratulations again to Aaron, and all of W&M’s Fulbright awardees! As always, if you have any questions about Fulbright or other scholarships, don’t hesitate to visit Scholarship Search or email the PSAs at Thanks for reading and good luck on your applications!

Internationally Oriented Post-Graduate Scholarships and Fellowships

Are you a rising senior looking to do research or find other professional or academic development after graduation? Are you interested in international affairs or doing research of any kind abroad? If so, check out some of these international-oriented scholarship and fellowship opportunities that you can apply for to help you develop academically and professionally as well as give you time after graduation to help decide your next step:

1. Fulbright
If you’re interested in going abroad after graduation, there are tons of opportunities for you! One of the most popular options for post-graduate research and study is the Fulbright Scholarship. It has two very different components:  the English Teaching Assistantship (ETA) and the Academic Grant. The Fulbright ETA program funds one year of English teaching and the Academic Grant one year of graduate study and/or research in countries across the globe. You can find more info about both on Fulbright’s website and on William & Mary’s Fulbright page.

2. Luce
If you have limited experience in Asia, but are interested in spending time there learning and gaining professional experience, then take a look at the Luce Scholarship! It provides one year of professional placement designed to enhance the understanding of Asia among potential leaders in American society who have limited experience with Asia. Students may be placed in Cambodia, China, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Japan, Laos, Malaysia, Mongolia, Myanmar, Nepal, the Philippines, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, or Vietnam. For more info, check out their website.

3. Blakemore Foundation Freeman Fellowship
Another opportunity for those interested in going to Asia, 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 preselected set of programs in Japan, China, Taiwan, Korea, Myanmar, Indonesia, Cambodia, Thailand, or Vietnam. Learn more about this program here.

4. James C. Gaither Junior Fellowship
Students interested in international affairs should check out the James C. Gaither Junior Fellowship. It is designed to provide a substantive work experience for students who have a serious career interest in the area of international affairs. Approximately 10-12 students will be hired to work at the Carnegie Endowment in Washington, DC on a full-time basis for a period of one year and earn $38,000 with benefits. Past projects include Democracy and the Rule of Law, Nuclear Policy, Energy and Climate, Middle East Studies, South Asian Studies, China Studies, Japan Studies, Southeast Asian Studies, Economics (Asia program), and Russian and Eurasian Studies. Find out more information here.

5. Princeton Fellowships
Princeton University offers three fellowship programs for students interested in different areas of the world:  Princeton in Africa, Princeton in Asia, and Princeton in Latin America. These programs are intended to foster mutual appreciation and cultural understanding by connecting service-minded graduates and partner organizations in Africa, Asia, and Latin America through immersive work experiences. Applicants are able to indicate preference for specific countries and issue areas. The program provides fellows with a local salary while in their host country, however, fellows are responsible for their own program fees and airfare. Princeton in Latin America requires proficiency in Spanish, French, or Portugese, but most placements with Princeton in Asia and Princeton in Africa do not require previous language study. Seniors and recent graduates are eligible to apply. You can find out more information on their websites for Princeton in Africa, Asia, and Latin America.

Keep in mind that these are only a few of the many opportunities for current or soon-to-be graduates to continue their studies or gain valuable work experience. 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!