Grad Tips: Fellowships

March 18, 2024

By Katya Hrichak

As a graduate student, you have a lot to learn. Scholarship and research aside, there are many facets of the graduate school experience that are important to your success but might not be obvious or easy to figure out. Between achieving a sense of well-being, attending to basic needs, maintaining relationships or caring for others, etc., there’s a lot to keep track of.

The Graduate School is here to help. With the Grad Tips series, we’ll be providing insight into different aspects of the graduate student experience, sharing tips and advice on how to get the most out of your time at Cornell. To vote on the next topic in the series, check for a poll in upcoming issues of the Graduate School newsletter, News and Events.

This week’s topic: fellowships

Each year, around 350 graduate students at Cornell receive funding from external fellowships, which provide, on average, $34,000 stipend support per student for the academic year. In addition to the prestige that accompanies securing financial support from outside agencies, fellowships offer students the opportunity to pursue their graduate studies without associated teaching responsibilities and greater freedom in selecting research topics.

Where do I look for a fellowship?

Many competitive fellowship opportunities exist, and students are encouraged to talk with their director of graduate studies, advisor, and other students in their field to figure out which might be right for them. Additional starting points for a search include the online fellowship databases, GRAPES, hosted by UCLA, and Unigo. The Graduate School also maintains a listserv that shares fellowship and other funding opportunities.

At Cornell, the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship Program (NSF GRFP) is the fellowship that is most often won by graduate students. A record-breaking 84 students received NSF GRFP fellowships in the 2023-24 cycle, and over 200 students are currently fellows on this federal grant.

Students have also successfully secured fellowships from several other federal agencies, including the Department of Energy, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, the National Defense, the National Institute of Health, and the United States Department of Agriculture, and Fulbright Program.

Top federal fellowships won by graduate students at Cornell—2023-2024:

Another common source of fellowship funding is the Fulbright program. Cornell has over two dozen Fulbright Fellows, including participants in the Fulbright Foreign Student Program and the Fulbright U.S. Student Program. Fulbright fellowships support students who wish to do research in a country other than their own, and many countries participate in the program.

While it is easy to quantify the most won fellowships, it’s important to note that many students win fellowships that are specialized to their individual area of research. To find these opportunities that best fit you, spend time learning about the fellowship landscape for your subject area.

What if I’m an international student?

International graduate students at Cornell have found many opportunities to apply for fellowships to support their research and have had success in securing fellowships from agencies within their home countries, private industries, and foundations. Many fellowships are limited to students with citizenship from one particular country, while others are open to students of multiple citizenships, including:

How do I prepare a successful fellowship application?

Graduate School Associate Dean for Academics Josephine Martell hosts information sessions in early September that provide an overview of how to craft competitive proposals and offer tips from panels of students who have successfully applied in previous cycles. Funding agencies, including the NSF, occasionally offer their own information sessions tailored to their specific fellowship offerings.

In addition, Martell facilitates late-September peer review sessions in advance of application deadlines so that students may have their materials reviewed. Additional fellowship application tips are available on the Graduate School website.

“Winning a prestigious fellowship is an excellent professional and research development opportunity for a graduate student, as it teaches them how to craft a compelling proposal and assemble a successful grant application, while also securing critical funding support that allows them to focus on their own primary research and advance their career,” Martell said.

Upcoming workshops and opportunities will be included in the Graduate School’s News and Events newsletter and listed in the online events calendar.

I’ve won a fellowship! Now what?

After winning a fellowship, research degree students should notify their field so that payments can be directed promptly and in accordance with relevant policies.

If a student receives a fellowship but it offers less than the minimum academic year stipend, they may be eligible for the Graduate School’s top-off program. If eligibility criteria are met, the Graduate School works with the student’s graduate field administrator to coordinate supplementation of the stipend to the academic year teaching assistantship rate, individual health insurance and fee, and tuition.

For additional information on finances and funding opportunities, visit the Financial Support section of the Graduate School website.