Peer Scholarship Advice

The official blog of the Charles Center Peer Scholarship Advisors

Category: Study Abroad

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!

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!

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!

Gilman Scholarship Awardee Profile: Brianna Meeks

Congratulations to Gilman Scholar Brianna Meeks! Here are some of her thoughts on the Gilman Scholarship and its application process:

What motivated you to apply for this scholarship?

I never thought that studying abroad could be a feasible option for me simply because of the expenses. When I discovered the Gilman, my whole perspective on studying abroad changed, and I started to realistically consider it. As I did this, I discovered how much I really value deep, authentic glimpses into other cultures, and I became very motivated to at least try to make that happen. It felt like the Gilman was made for me, so I put in a serious amount of effort into my application.

What do you hope to get out of the opportunity this scholarship/fellowship affords you?

I hope to listen to the people around me, letting that grow my empathy and give me a more global understanding of life. I hope that I will be able to share what I learn in South Africa with people here in the States, that I will be able to be a bridge between the two places. I also hope that I will take every opportunity to go outside of my comfort zone and that I come back braver and more confident.

How did you choose your study abroad program?

I really wanted to shy away from “voluntourism,” so I was seeking a program that emphasized the intentional experience I would get of a new country. I found that with the School for International Training, a third-party study abroad program, and from there I chose the summer program. I decided to do Education and Social Change in South Africa because I had been considering education as a career at the time. I am no longer interested in education specifically, but I am still very passionate about both education and social change. Plus, I was (and am) very excited to travel to South Africa, which has a unique history of traumatic racial tensions and attempts to find reconciliation through that. All of these together made the program a great fit for me.

What are you most proud of in your application?

I am proud that I was able to finish the application only a few weeks after finding out about it and putting in the effort to make it a good application. I am proud that I let myself dream beyond what I used to think was feasible, that I did not limit myself based on financial choices.

What did you realize about yourself throughout this process?

I have alluded to this already, but I was surprised to see how deep-seated my aversion to anything resembling shallow tourism is. Not that tourism in itself is bad, but I think travel should be about creating meaningful connections around the world. This is opposed to just delighting in the exciting & attractive or raising oneself or one’s country on a pedestal. I knew that I felt this way, but I did not realize until looking for study abroad programs exactly what I did and did not want from overseas travel.

What advice do you have for future Gilman applicants?

Get all the help that you can. The PSAs, the Reves Center, your friends and family: they’re all extremely helpful and can give you great advice on everything from deciding on your program to making your application as solid as it can possibly be. They want to see you succeed, so take advantage of that! And let yourself dream. Forget money and logistic details and find a program or a country that you’re really passionate about. That will provide you with motivation for the application, and your enthusiasm will be evident in your application.

Congratulations again to Brianna, and all of W&M’s other Gilman Scholars! As always, if you have any questions about Fulbright 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!

Critical Language Scholarship Application Tips

Are you interested in studying a language critical to U.S. national security interests? Want to study abroad, but don’t have time to do so during the semester? Then the Critical Language Scholarship may be right for you.

Critical Language Scholarships provide two months of fully funded language study 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.

1. Get an Early Start
Not procrastinating is an important skill in just about all aspects of life, and it’s especially important for the Critical Language Scholarship application. With three 350 word essays, one 100 word essay, and a 500 word statement of purpose, you’ll be doing well over 1500 words of writing for this application, and you don’t want to leave yourself struggling to answer the prompts last minute. Starting early will also help ensure that you are able to write multiple drafts of all of your essays which is critical (pun intended) to your success as an applicant.

Moreover, you need to give your recommenders as much time as you can to ensure that they can write the best possible recommendation. They will not be happy if you come to them asking for a recommendation only a few days or a week before the deadline, and they are much less likely to agree to write it.

2. Pick the Language/Culture that Most Interests You
This may sound like a no-brainer to applicants who immediately know what language they want to apply for, but for less unsure applicants, deciding on the language can be a challenge. If none of them jump out as the right language to study for you, think long and hard about your interests and your post-graduate plans. Pick the language whose culture interests you the most, or that you could most easily see yourself immersing yourself in again through future study. It’s also important that you are able to connect the language that you pick to your goals for the future, which I’ll touch on again later.

However, what you should NOT base your language choice on is the relative competitiveness of some languages over others. Some languages receive much more applicants than others, but those languages also tend to have more teaching sites and are thus able to accept more applicants. Your application will be best if you pick the language that most interest you and fits best with your future goals, regardless of how many other applicants that language receives.

3. Show a Commitment to Language Learning
Once you’ve decided on the language, make it clear throughout the application, and especially in the statement of purpose, why this language fits best for you. By the time the reader finishes your application, there should be no doubt in their mind that you are completely committed to learning that language to the best of your ability.

4. Distinguish your Essays from one another
With 4 short essays and the statement of purpose, the CLS application will require you to do quite a bit of writing. Especially in the first two essays, which ask similar questions, many applicants find it difficult to keep their essays distinct and avoid repetition. But keep in mind that the readers of your essays are going to be reading dozens or even hundreds of other essays, and it’s important that you keep them interested and not repeat yourself. Read your essays over multiple times and make sure that you’re answering the right questions and not using the same idea over and over again.

5. Connect to your Future
Getting the Critical Language Scholarship should not be your ultimate goal in life. CLS should be the means to some other end, like working in international business or the Foreign Service. Throughout your essays, and especially in your statement of purpose, create a narrative that explains how your past has led to you applying to CLS, and how CLS will lead to you achieving your future goals. If you can express how CLS, and specifically your CLS language, is connected to your life plans, you will do a much better job of showing them why it’s important that they award you with this scholarship over someone else.

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 CLS, 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 Sure of Yourself
If you’re not sure of yourself and your future, how will your essay-readers ever be? It’s not enough just to be well-qualified for CLS, you also have to be able to sell yourself. So instead of saying “I think that I’d like to…” or “I might…” try saying “I will…” or “I intend to…” to convey more confidence. This will show your readers that you are certain of what you want to do and how CLS will help you get there.

Many college students find it challenging to convey confidence in their life plans, and you are probably not 100% sure what you want to do after you graduate. That’s okay! Even if you do have a plan, plans often change, and your essay readers understand that. However, it is important that you do some self-reflection to make some sort of plan that you can convey genuine confidence in.

If you have any more questions about this 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. As always, thanks for reading and good luck on your applications!

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!