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Fellowships "Endorsement" Question... (confused/mildly frustrated)


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Hello! This is my first post on GradCafe, although I've been lurking about for a long time.



My question is as much a request for advice as anything else. I am writing to ask what to do if the Fellowships Adviser at one's UG institution will not approve or endorse applications to programs that he does not feel will be successful.


The story: I graduated in 2011 from a small liberal arts school that is ranked in the top 20 according to US News. The person in the post of Fellowships Adviser at my school is very successful in his job and boasts his high success rate (somewhere in the 90s) with obtaining the fellowships for which his students apply.


The difficulty is that he only allows applications that he feels certain will succeed, and refuses to approve any others. Our college is adept at getting Fulbrights, but we have never had a Rhodes, Marshall, and so on.


I am an ambitious student and graduated with a 3.9, in the top 5% of my class, magna, PBK, high departmental honors, literary prize/national conference presentation under my belt and so on. Throughout my UG career I was planning to apply for fellowships to study in the UK (want to study early modern English history in graduate school). During my junior year I had a meeting with this Fellowships Adviser wherein he told me that Rhodes and Marshalls were not on the table for me because he did not allow students to take on those applications any longer as he has "had no success with them in the past." He put forth the idea of a Fulbright but said I could only apply to the Germany program, which was one of the handful for which he still endorses applications. Although surprised, I sort of had to accept this because he flat out told me that my application to any other programs would not be approved. I was not interested in studying in Germany and left it at that. The following year, he wrote to me and said that one of my professors had approached him to press me about applying for "fellowships" and requested that we have a conversation about it. I agreed, but the conversation was the same: Fulbright in Germany or bust. He insisted that "The Fulbright people will snap you up" but I still just wasn't interested in that option, and it didn't make sense to me to go through all that for something about which I am not really passionate.


Fast forward to post-graduation; I decided to take some time off and work to determine whether graduate school is what I want, and it is. In the interim, my academic interests have narrowed and focused and I am intensely interested in the evolving influence and inter-politics of the Catholic church, especially with regard to English history in this period. That in mind, I approached him and laid out a different course of action: an application to the Fulbright program in Italy, to study this issue from the other side. I had a short proposal and even had my professors on board (one of whom just won the Rome Prize and is all about this idea). His response, verbatim, was "I don't think we're going to be endorsing any applications to Italy, as they haven't been approving my applications over the past few years. I think we're just done sending applications there." And the conversation went right back to Germany.


I understand that the Fulbright program in Germany is just as prestigious as others, and according to this adviser, it is larger and therefore easier to gain admittance. However, if I want to submit applications that might not be successful, shouldn't that be my choice as long as I am an exemplary student? I just cannot understand this attitude that no application that isn't a "layup," if you will, will be considered. The chances of my getting a Rhodes are obviously very slim; but to apply to any program other than the one where there is a 90-something percent success rate with students from my school is apparently forbidden.


At this point, I really want to apply for a Marshall Scholarship for the coming application season. My professors, who know my academic record thoroughly, think it is a wonderful idea and I will have excellent LORs. I also have strong (and unusual, and public) community service and leadership experience and think I am at least a viable candidate, in addition to strong academic credentials specific to a program of study in the UK. My fear is that I would get through the application process independently only to have this man, effectively representing my institution, refuse to endorse me as an applicant, and for everything to have been for nothing. 


Apologies for the long post - and gratitude if anyone reads the whole thing! - but is there anything that I can do about this? Honestly, I hardly know what I'm asking. I don't want to be nasty or step on toes, but these circumstances do not seem fair at all. The man himself is abrasive and difficult, legendary for being tough to work with - as one graduate of my school put it, "the worst part of the fellowship application process is dealing with him." He isn't mean, though, and I have no desire to get him in trouble or anything. I can understand that he wants a high success rate as Fellowships Adviser, but why refuse to allow any applications that are not virtual guarantees? I thought of asking one of my professors who has been at the institution forever what he thinks, and someone else recommended I speak with the Marshall Foundation about the endorsement process, but none of those options seems right. Am I simply stuck with his diagnosis as he is the one "in charge"?


I would appreciate any advice or council greatly.

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It does sound like a rather difficult situation. I am in Canada, so not sure if this applies for your situation but students who are no longer attending an institution can apply as an independent candidate. Do you have to go through your undergrad school to apply for these scholarships? If you have to go through a university have you thought about taking some classes at another school who may support your application?


Sorry if this isn't any help.

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I've never heard of a "Fellowships Advisor" post that had the power to tell students where they could and couldn't apply. I've only seen these positions rarely, and even then they were there to help review applications, and help the students put their best foot forward. 


Maybe someone in your discipline can speak to it, but all of the fellowships I'm familiar with are independent, student driven applications, for which you need support from faculty, not an ephemeral staff position. 


If you want to apply for some of the others, I'd talk to your old faculty, get their support, and then apply directly. 


Edit: Some quick googling seems to imply that fellowships for study in the UK (Rhodes, Marshall & Reed) do indeed require a university endorsement. 


In that case, I'd stop worrying about "getting him in trouble", and tell your supportive professors that this guy, acting as the representative of the university, is refusing to endorse your fellowship applications that they think you have a decent shot at, and see what they say. 

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I know that, at least for Fulbright, you can apply independently rather than through your undergrad institution... As Eigen said, you should talk to faculty that support you about what he said and get their opinion about what you should do.

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Many thanks! That is indeed the trouble - the Marshall, which is my true desire, requires an institutional endorsement after the application is complete. The endorsement goes through this person specifically at my school. I don't think most colleges have a titled "Fellowships Adviser" but we do, and getting fellowships is his whole job and purpose. As I said, he is very successful and I understand that he wants to guide students to success, but I am frustrated at being told I'm only allowed to apply for a very narrow opportunity because he hasn't had success with other pursuits.


I had thought that the answer was to speak to other faculty members and see what they recommended. I don't think the Fellowships Adviser is even really allowed to do what this man is doing; it seems counter-intuitive.


Again, I appreciate the counsel!

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