Resources for Setting Up a Fellowships Office

A fellowships office will always have a goal to bring highly qualified students into an award competition with the hopes that your institution will have more students recognized; but it is important to remember that national award competitions are about more than winning.

The competitions are about enabling high-achieving students to develop a sense of how they want to have an impact on the world, what their postgraduate goals are, and how to articulate those goals. These goals are facilitated through an intense, rigorous, and individually tailored writing, reflection, and research process.

When establishing an office, it is important to communicate to your leadership that the sole purpose of this office is not just to win ”X” number of awards. It is to help applicants develop their grant writing skills, articulate their goals, and foster relationships with their mentors.

In recent years, fellowships offices have used various methods to measure their impact, beyond calculating the number of scholarships won. This has ranged from evaluating improvement in writing skills to addressing how applicants have used their national awards application process to launch into other academic or professional opportunities. Having your fellowships advisor join NAFA will enable them to keep up with the professional trends of defining success within a national competition.

The following resources may offer important guidance as your institution establishes a national awards office:

  • Warren F. Ilchman, Alice S. Ilchman and Mary H. Tolar. The Lucky Few and the Worthy Many: Scholarship Competitions and the World’s Future Leaders. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2004.
  • Suzanne McCray. Beyond Winning: National Scholarship Competitions and the Student Experience: The National Association of Fellowships Advisors 2003 Conference Proceedings. Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 2005
  • Suzanne McCray. All In: Expanding Access Through Nationally Competitive Awards: The National Association of Fellowships Advisors. Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 2013

There are no established norms for where a fellowships office should be placed within an institution’s administrative structure; that location can depend on a college’s size, the target student population, or even the administrative hierarchy. According to the 2019 NAFA Survey of the Profession, fellowships offices could be organizationally located in many different places:

  • Office of Provost/VP for Academic Affairs (35%)
  • Honors Program (24%)
  • Other (22%)
  • Office of Dean/Associate Dean (14%)
  • Career/Professional Services (5%)

Other considerations should be your administrative structure, the mission of your fellowships office, and even where this office may be located on campus.

In addition, a fellowships office tends to be a resource for all students on campus, regardless of their discipline, year in school, future goals, or even if they are an undergraduate or graduate student. Ensuring that the office is geographically located in a place where students feel like they have access to the office resources takes thoughtful consideration.

As fellowships advising sits at the nexus of academic advising, graduate school advising, and career advising, placing the office near some of the following student-oriented offices may help to establish the office as part of the broader campus culture:

  • Within an Honors College/program
  • Close to university-wide academic advising offices
  • Close to any offices that work with students on undergraduate research, leadership, civic engagement, service learning, or study abroad
  • Near a career advising center

Many fellowships offices are small; in 2013, 69% of fellowships offices were run by fewer than two people. Having the office located in a place where the advisor can work with other faculty and staff to identify and support outstanding students in (and beyond) the fellowships process is important. It may be helpful to consult with peer institutions that have established offices on how they chose to set up their office; such insight may be helpful as you set up your own office.

As the role and impact of fellowships advising has grown in higher education, so has the need for dedicated fellowships advising officials on campus. There are a variety of ways that institutions have chosen to staff their fellowships office.

Some institutions appoint a faculty member to run the national scholarships process and chair the nominating committees. In 2013, approximately 26% of fellowships advisors also had a faculty appointment. These faculty advisors reported that, while their fellowships advising duties were a big responsibility, their institutions worked with them to secure release time from teaching, university committee work, a salary supplement, or some other way of acknowledging the responsibility and role of overseeing the institution’s national awards process.

Other institutions have hired a dedicated staff member to oversee the national scholarships processes. In 2013, 74% of fellowships advisors were non-faculty members who were either solely dedicated to fellowships advising or who balanced fellowships advising with other student advising (including work such as being a pre-health advisor, a career advisor, study abroad advisor, honors program administrator, undergraduate research advisor, etc.).

Still others have gone with a hybrid system, where a staff member may be in charge of running the recruiting, advising, and application processes while a faculty member or higher-level administrator may be in charge of the office as a whole and chair the nominating committees.

Salaries for fellowships advisors can vary depending on whether the advisor is a faculty or staff member, whether the advisor has additional responsibilities beyond fellowships advising, and the size of the institution. In 2013, the average salary for a faculty fellowships advisor was $73,882; for a staff faculty advisor, it was $58,099.

NAFA publishes a biennial Survey of the Profession (only available to members) with the most up-to-date salary information.

A broad audience reads a fellowships office mission statement, and ultimately the office mission statement needs to resonate with students, faculty, staff, administrators, alumni, national foundations, and other constituencies.

It is a balance of communicating:

  1. The role the office plays in facilitating national scholarship competitions
  2. The impact it has on a student’s intellectual and personal growth experience in national scholarship competitions
  3. The role the office plays in the university community. Many offices have used the NAFA Mission Statement as a foundation for their own mission statement, and then adapted it to meet the mission and vision for their institution.

Sample Mission Statements

Loyola University Chicago Mission Statement:
Established in 2008, the Fellowship Office of Loyola University Chicago assists primarily undergraduate students to apply successfully for major fellowships, including awards for undergraduate study, study abroad, graduate study, and research internships. 

We provide outreach to all students and campus partners on available awards.  In cooperation with Loyola faculty and staff, we work with qualified students to identify awards best suited to their goals, and to navigate the application process in order to produce the most competitive proposals possible. 

 We use the core values of professional fellowship advising of integrity, collaboration, respect and fairness (as identified by the National Association of Fellowship Advisors), and view the entire fellowship application process as an integral part of transformative education for Loyola’s high-achieving students.

 University of Vermont Office of Fellowships Advising Mission Statement:
To foster a rigorous and engaging intellectual and personal growth experience for outstanding students applying for nationally competitive awards; providing an open and transparent recruiting, application, and endorsement process that engages the university in promoting, participating in, and celebrating excellence in its student body; enabling students to develop strong writing and interviewing skills through the awards application process; mentoring students as they connect their intellectual passions and college experience with their future goals, and then chart their postgraduate path forward.

University of Puget Sound Mission Statement:
We serve students by providing information and support to help them develop outstanding applications to be competitive for local and national scholarships.

The philosophy and mission of the office focus on encouraging independence while assisting students in realizing their academic potential, facilitating the application process in their desired areas, and supporting the overall academic mission of the university.

Minnesota State University, Mankato Mission Statement:
The Office of University Fellowships actively engages and advises students in the pursuit of funding to achieve their academic, professional, and personal goals. The office encourages students to pursue and compete for prestigious national and international scholarships and fellowships. The office advocates for an academic and scholarly community devoted to the rigorous pursuit of knowledge. The office seeks and facilitates collaboration with key offices and university stakeholders to promote a campus-wide culture of awareness and expectation regarding national and international award opportunities available to students.

Many national scholarships (including the Rhodes, Marshall, Mitchell, Fulbright, Truman, Goldwater, Boren, Udall, and others) require that students be nominated or endorsed by a university committee before they can submit their application materials to a national organization. National award organizations tend to offer little guidance on who needs to be on this committee, but typically this committee is made up of faculty members and higher-level administrators.

As for appointing the committee, some fellowships offices simply ask for faculty volunteers, while other institutions have a president or provost appoint a standing committee. According to a 2006 NAFA listserv survey on fellowships committees, most institutions have multiple committees; one committee may work on a single award (e.g., the Goldwater Scholarship Nominating Committee), or may have a few awards that they work with (e.g., one central committee for graduate fellowships to the United Kingdom). Committee work for a nationally competitive award tends to be quite rewarding, as it is a chance for faculty to come together and see how the educational experiences the institution is fostering are putting outstanding students on a path to do incredible things.

Some awards have guidelines on who needs to complete the nomination/endorsement materials once a committee has nominated a student. For example, the Rhodes and Marshall Scholarship competitions prefer that a president or provost sign a student’s endorsement letter, while the Truman competition prefers that a student’s nomination letter be signed by the institution’s faculty representative. Consult each competition’s rules to get more information on any requirements for nomination committees, nomination letters, or endorsement.