Advice for Sophomores
What is a national scholarship?
National scholarships are competitive awards that provide opportunities and support for many different experiences, including study abroad, research, graduate study (and sometimes undergraduate study also), federal employment, teaching, and public service. You may have heard of some national scholarships – the Rhodes and Fulbright awards are among the best known – but most college students aren’t aware that there are many prestigious national scholarship programs for freshmen, sophomores, juniors and seniors.
What kind of student should learn about national scholarships?
National scholarships are looking for students (with or without financial need) who are developing strong interests and goals – academic and extracurricular – and who want to take advantage of every constructive opportunity that will help them go farther. Just as each national scholarship offers a different kind of opportunity each is also looking for a different range of strengths and interests in its applicants. If you develop a strong academic record (3.2 or higher is preferred), are thoughtful about your choices and devote yourself to activities you care about, you may well find one or more scholarships opportunities of interest to you. The National Scholarships Office can help you look for awards that are a good fit for you.
What national scholarships can I apply for as a sophomore?
Sophomores are eligible to apply for a wide range of scholarships. Among the best-known are the Boren, Gilman and Freeman-ASIA awards (all for study abroad), the Goldwater (science and engineering majors) and Udall (environmental issues and studies) scholarships, and the Pickering and Rangel (U.S. Foreign Service, international affairs) awards. There are many others. Be sure to visit our website at www.scholarships.umd.edu and look under “Scholarships for Sophomores” to see the full list of sophomore-eligible programs supported by the National Scholarships Office. In addition, sophomore year is a great time to learn about junior and senior-year national scholarship opportunities you may want to aim at, since you still have a great deal of time to take steps to become highly competitive.
How can the National Scholarships Office help me?
The University of Maryland created the National Scholarships Office to provide undergraduates with the best possible information, guidance and support as they learn about and apply for national scholarships. Applying for a national scholarship is a challenging experience. It tests and stretches your ideas about who you are, what matters to you, and where you want to go in life. It requires you to engage in honest and serious reflection about your personal and intellectual aims, interests and ambitions, and to invest a good deal of your talent and energy. Applying for, or simply learning about national scholarships during your sophomore year can help you examine and refine your goals. We hope you will take some time to explore the many opportunities available through the National Scholarships Office.
What can I do to become a strong candidate for scholarships this year or in the future?
Now that your studies and extracurricular activities at Maryland are moving along, you should consider the many ways you can deepen your engagement with your educational experiences and opportunities, both in and beyond the classroom. Remember that nationally competitive scholarships always seek to reward students who genuinely pursue their own passions and interests, and not those who seek simply to accumulate “credentials.” Here are some important areas of your experience to think about:
As you begin to pursue your studies in your major field, seek ways to acquire meaningful breadth as well. Look for courses or minors in other departments that complement your major, and seek out opportunities for interdisciplinary studies. Continue to get to know your teachers as well as possible, and let them get to know you. This is especially important for faculty in your major field, as these will often be your future research or honors thesis advisors. Go out of your way to meet teachers during office hours and to seek their advice. It is also important to stay in touch with instructors and other mentors who have made a difference in your education. One or two years from now, when you decide to apply to graduate school or for a national scholarship, you will need letters of recommendation from people who know you reasonably well. Staying in touch with your favorite teachers is a good way of making sure they’ll be able to write effective letters of recommendation.
Sophomore year is the ideal time to start thinking seriously about study abroad. Investigate countries and programs that will strongly complement and enhance your academic interests. Consider non-traditional destinations (those outside Western Europe or Australia) that might make sense for you. Choose a rigorous program, one that involves opportunities for research projects or internships-for-credit, or that emphasizes intensive language learning and home-stays. In addition to expanding your horizons and perspectives, your time abroad can greatly improve your language skills and propel you toward more advanced studies or internships in your fields of interest when you return to Maryland. Use your study abroad time wisely, and avoid the temptation to become an academic tourist! Visit the National Scholarships Office website to learn about the variety of awards that provide support for study abroad.
Get serious about language study! If learning a new language, or deepening your knowledge of an old one makes sense for your academic or professional goals, do it now – and don’t settle for meeting your Major or College language requirement. Many scholarships reward students who have attained language proficiency (e.g., Fulbright), while others can assist students who wish to pursue language study abroad (e.g. Boren, Freeman-Asia, Gilman).
National scholarships are often won by students who have conducted focused research, independent study or creative projects in their academic areas. Discuss your research interests with your teachers and with your major department’s undergraduate advisor. Ask them about possibilities for conducting research or independent study through honors or thesis options in your major. You can also talk with your teachers about THEIR research projects, and ask if there may be ways you can become involved in those. Consider looking for internships that include research experiences or duties. The National Scholarships Office website has an extensive list of research-oriented internships in Washington DC.
Internships can be a great way to explore possible career paths, to deepen your involvement in causes you care about, and learn more about issues related to your academic studies. When you apply for internships, be careful to choose ones that will complement your academic and other interests.
You are probably already involved in extracurricular activities that are important to you - these can be on or off-campus, they can be service-oriented, internship-based, athletic or related to your academic studies (e.g. the Society of Physics Students). Now is the time to begin taking on additional responsibilities and leadership roles - don't just be a good member, help to build, improve or expand your organization's activities. Nationally competitive scholarships are looking for promising leaders, for students who show they are willing and able to take the initiative and make a difference in their communities. They are also looking for students who show long-term commitment to the organizations or causes they care about.
Become a Citizen of the World!
Read the Washington Post, the Economist, or the New York Times, online or on paper! Follow the issues you care about domestically or internationally, and attend lectures, programs and other events on campus or in Washington DC that will help you gain a deeper understanding of our world.