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Truman Scholarship

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I'm considering applying for the Truman Scholarship next year. How does getting the Truman effect one's competitiveness for top IR programs (MSFS, SAIS, SIPA, WWS, HKS)? How competitive is the Truman itself? Any insights would be VERY much appreciated!

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Hey - I'm a Truman Scholar and a student at WWS.

As for how competitive the Truman is, it depends in part on what state you're from. They try to select at least one from each state (though if no one's up to a certain standard they'll skip a state for a year) so being from / applying from a small state can help. (In my year they picked one from my (small) state - me - and 3 or 4 from California, which has 14x as many people!) Truman is very competitive, but they're looking for a certain mix of attributes: fairly strong academics, leadership, and a clearly demonstrated interest in public service. So some people who can get into top grad programs won't get to the finalist stage for Truman because they aren't that right mix (and vice versa). Even in the smallest state, you have to be one of the very best people who applies, and the numbers of applicants they list on the Truman site are deceptively low because the top schools have on-campus competitions to choose which students get to apply since each school can only have four applicants.

It's hard to separate out just how much Truman helps you getting into top schools, as you have to be pretty competitive for grad school admissions to get the Truman in the first place. I know folks in my Truman class who are in top law schools, med schools, and IR programs like SAIS and HKS -- but I think most of them would have been competitive for those programs without the Truman too.

For some programs it likely helps, especially if a lot of Trumans have gone to your target school (as with WWS), whereas in some fields folks don't know what it is. But even if it doesn't help you get in, the funding is very helpful. (And the network of fellow scholars is even more valuable.) You can't win if you don't apply, so apply apply apply! It's an awesome program. Also, I found the process of applying for the Truman Scholarship really helped when I applied to grad school. The WWS application even features a policy memo that is similar to the policy proposal required when you apply for the Truman. Good luck!

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