Applying for fellowships is similar to applying for public interest jobs. It is absolutely essential to demonstrate a commitment to public interest work in every phase of the application process by:
- Highlighting your public service experience
- Describing your passion for the work
- Discussing your knowledge of the issues
Keep in mind key missions and/or goals of the fellowship(s) and make sure your application addresses how you are uniquely able to fulfill and address these challenges.
Just as it is critical to demonstrate your commitment to public interest work in your application materials, it is also imperative that you get other people to read your narrative and cover letter and give you feedback. Critiques and feedback from other members of the public interest community can give you valuable insight into what a fellowship committee is seeking. Professors, fellow students, and CPD can also work with you in identifying and highlighting strengths and brainstorm about ways to address application weaknesses.
Common Components of Fellowship Applications
- Personal narrative. By definition, every applicant’s personal narrative will be different. The best personal narratives give the reader insight into the applicant’s passion for the work to be done and a sense of their commitment to the cause.
- Resume & cover letter. As with any job search effort, your resume and cover letter will be tailored to the opportunity for which you are applying.
- Writing sample. It is particularly important that your writing sample for competitive fellowships be on a topic that is similar to the one on which you will be working via the fellowship. If you have produced written product at your public interest jobs that you would like to use for application, ask permission from a supervisor before submitting.
- Transcripts - law school and occasionally undergraduate. If undergraduate transcripts are requested, request from the Registrar early in your application process.
- Recommendations. Professors and professional supervisors can both be excellent references. When choosing who you will ask to be your references, consider the depth of your professional relationship with the person, as well as what they can say about you. Ideally, a reference (or combination of references) can speak in depth about your intellectual capability, initiative, dedication to a cause, and your willingness to work hard. If you will be providing direct client services in the fellowship, it is also ideal if one of your references can speak about your skills in working with clients.
- Project description for project-based fellowships. When developing your project, don't go overboard – make sure to keep your project focused enough that it has achievable goals. At the outset of your project proposal development process, research project submissions that have been funded or considered in the past. Learn about emerging issues in your area of interest, via online and print resources and conversations with professors and local practitioners. As Equal Justice Works puts it, “(p)reference will be given to projects that are designed to impact a large number of people, create programs that can be replicated in other communities, and create lasting institutions or programs.”
Remember that fellowships can be the gateway to public interest jobs later. It is imperative that you give your search sufficient time and energy so you can submit the strongest application possible to the grantors most likely to see a commitment in you they’ll want to foster. Fellowship timeline information can be found online. Keep the following questions in mind when researching fellowship opportunities:
- Am I qualified?
- Am I committed to the work the organization does?
- Am I knowledgeable about issues important to the organization?
Think about the geographic location that you would like to be in. You may have a better chance of obtaining a fellowship if you are willing to go to a geographic area that has difficulty attracting attorneys.
For project based fellowships, you should first identify an organization that you would like to work with if you are granted a fellowship. Many organizations invite potential applicants to submit letters of interest for fellowships. They will then select applicants with whom they would like to work in developing a fellowship proposal and application packet. A good place to start in identifying organizations is through contacts already made in internships or summer positions. Be aware that funders will be considering the agency hosting you as well, and whether it is effective in the community. The more that you can tie your project to the overall mission and effectiveness of an organization, the stronger your proposal will be. In developing your project, consider:
- Is the project consistent with the funder’s purposes and priorities?
- Is there a significant need for the project?
- Does the project offer a feasible way to meet need?
- Will the project have support within the community you seek to serve?
- Is the project discrete and not duplicative?
- Are you and the organization capable of pulling this off?