First, these awards can appear attractive due to the significant financial grants associated with them. This is NOT the reason to apply for such programs, but it is a consideration, especially for students serious about pursuing post-graduate opportunities.
These awards provide recognition to young scholars and leaders who are passionate about their fields. They signify one way in which new generations of leaders are acknowledged and encouraged by the wider public. For example, the Fulbright program encourages and supports future scholars and international leaders while the Udall program nurtures those committed to environmental science and policy. Each program is unique in the skills and attributes they seek and foster, but all share that fundamental mission in some way.
National fellowships also provide opportunities for professional networking. By participating in programs such as Pickering, Udall, or Fulbright, you will meet other people who share your passions and interests. These bonds can span a career and create new opportunities in ways that can hardly be envisioned now.
This is a question advisers are often asked. To answer it, consider these questions:
Some, although not all, programs have minimum GPA requirements. All of these programs are scholastic in nature and a prerequisite is demonstrated ability for high-level work. To be fair, committees will consider circumstances that may be unique or focus on the GPA in your major rather than your overall GPA.
Each of these scholarship programs seek different attributes and interests. It doesn't help anyone if you just apply for a program for the sake of applying. If there is something you are serious about, problems that keep you up at night or you are possessed by a deep-felt desire to accomplish more, than these programs are for you. Be careful though as award committees can detect phony sincerity or a half-hearted commitment to a particular field.
Your interests and career aspirations will evolve in college and beyond. These fellowships can provide opportunities to explore new areas or to confirm your desire in a particular field. In all cases, award committees seek a match between the applicant, the award, and their future ambitions. The award should be a logical next step towards developing a career or academic pursuit.
In all cases, be honest with yourself. The application process itself for these programs can be a very valuable process and offer an opportunity to reflect on your strengths, your goals and your education so far.
If you have ANY question about these or other programs, contact the Competitive Fellowships office or ask your adviser.