It's Not Too Late! Young Alumni's Success in Fellowships

Author: Kathleen Schuler

Emily Mediate
2016 Rhodes Scholar

After you have graduated from Notre Dame, you may think that you are no longer eligible to apply for any number of prestigious awards, such as a Rhodes or a Fulbright. You may also think that you no longer have access to the centers and institutes that helped you as an undergraduate.

Emily Mediate (Class of 2015, 2016 Rhodes Scholar), Melissa Guinan (Class of 2012, 2015 Fulbright Recipient), Alex Coccia (Class of 2014, 2015 Rhodes Scholar), and many others prove that this is not the case.

“Some people might actually have stronger fellowships applications as alumni,” says Jeffrey Thibert, Associate Director of CUSE. “The additional experience that alumni bring to an application can help them to make a stronger case than they would have been able to make as an undergraduate. In fact, there have been multiple instances where someone did not receive a fellowship when they applied as an undergraduate but were then selected when they re-applied as alumni.”

The Flatley Center for Undergraduate Scholarly Engagement (CUSE) connects Notre Dame students to opportunities to pursue scholarly engagement both within and beyond the University. One way that CUSE does this is by working with Notre Dame undergraduates and alumni to apply for national fellowships.

National fellowships are funded opportunities that are nationally competitive, rather than being internally funded through a university. National fellowships fund a wide range of activities, including graduate study, international research, and English teaching abroad. Two especially big names in the fellowships world are the Rhodes Scholarship, which funds study at the University of Oxford, and the Fulbright U.S. Student Program, which enables students to conduct individual research projects or teach English internationally while serving as cultural ambassadors of the United States.

CUSE can help current undergraduates and young alumni with every stage of the fellowships process, from identifying relevant opportunities to drafting and revising application material, from offering advice to recommendation writers to helping fellowships finalists with their interview skills. Being off campus doesn’t pose a problem: CUSE advises students and alumni who are off campus via phone and videoconferencing, and the application processes are entirely online.

Adam Cowden (Class of 2012, political science) worked with CUSE to apply for the Gates Cambridge Scholarship as an alumnus.

Adam Cowden
Adam Cowden
2014 Gates Scholar

“The help I received from CUSE in applying for the Gates was invaluable. There is no question in my mind that I would not have made it through the application process successfully if not for the application feedback, mock interviews, and connections to current and former Gates Scholars that CUSE provided,” Adam said.

Adam received the scholarship in 2014, which he used to attend the University of Cambridge and earn an MPhil in Planning, Growth, and Regeneration. He now works as a social studies curriculum designer at IXL Learning, an educational software company in San Francisco.

Another opportunity for which young alumni frequently apply is the Fulbright U.S. Student Program, which aims to increase mutual understanding between the people of the U.S. and other countries through exchange of persons, knowledge, and skills. Students pursuing a Fulbright generally apply for either an English Teaching Assistantship (ETA) or a Study/Research grant. They start the process by submitting a brief pre-application and meeting one-on-one with a CUSE fellowships advisor. There, they get a chance to discuss their interest in the fellowship, learn more about the application process, and get advice on which country and grant type would be the best fit. Over the course of the summer, they work one-on-one with this advisor, who offers feedback on multiple drafts of their essays. When their applications are nearing completion, alumni participate in interviews during which they receive valuable feedback on their applications from Notre Dame faculty and staff.

“Both as a current advisor and as someone who went through the process when I applied for a Fulbright a few years back, I think the whole process is a really outstanding opportunity for personal development and self-reflection,” says Zoë Gioja, CUSE’s National Fellowships Coordinator. Gioja was a Fulbright ETA to South Korea back in 2014, and now advises Notre Dame undergraduates and alumni applying to the ETA. “The feedback you get from your advisor — it’s like a one-on-one crash course in how to write a cover letter, or how to write a personal statement for graduate school. These are transferrable skills you’ll take with you wherever you go,” she says of her own experience. “Let alone the discernment you get out of the process. It’s really fantastic to have someone pushing you to answer the tough questions, and to reflect on your own motivations.”

Bianca Fernandez de la Torre
2017 Fulbright Semi-Finalist

Bianca Fernandez de la Torre (Class of 2011, anthropology) worked with CUSE to apply for a Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship to Argentina for 2017-18.

“It was exceptionally useful to have CUSE support as I worked through the application,” said Bianca. “I know my application would not be as concise and effective had I applied on my own. Zoë worked through countless drafts, holding me accountable to making changes, re-editing, and scrapping large chunks of the essay to try a different approach that answered the question but also was from the heart.”

Bianca has some advice for alumni considering applying for national fellowships through CUSE.

“I would encourage anyone who is toying with the idea of applying to simply reach out to CUSE and learn more about what they can offer,” Bianca said. “I have found them to be extremely supportive. They won't hold your hand, but they also make the application process flow so much smoother. It is just really nice to have a real person to talk to about the steps and the requirements, and to have someone to give useful feedback on essays. You honestly don't lose much in deciding to apply, regardless of the end result. I was able to discern some of my passions and reasons for having done the work I do and why I was interested in this opportunity. Check out CUSE. I promise you will not be disappointed.”

Alumni interested in working with CUSE on a national fellowship application should start by visiting our alumni fellowships page or contacting the national fellowships team at CUSE at

The Flatley Center for Undergraduate Scholarly Engagement (CUSE) at the University of Notre Dame promotes the intellectual development of Notre Dame undergraduates through scholarly engagement, research, creative endeavors, and the pursuit of fellowships. If you would like to support undergraduate research or fellowships at ND, if you're a current ND undergraduate or alum interested in learning more about research or fellowships, or if you'd like to learn how you can help students and alumni like the ones mentioned above, visit our website.