David L. Boren Awards for International Study

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Boren Fellowship - What Makes a Competitive Application

  • Consider the preferred countries, languages, and fields of study.  Generally, Boren Awards are made to students who will study less commonly taught languages in countries that are critical to national security. We also give preference to students focusing on certain fields of study.  However, as we cannot list all countries, languages, and fields that are critical to U.S. national security, we are interested in applications for non-preferred areas where the candidate can make a compelling case that such study can contribute significantly to U.S. national security and the goals of the program.
  • Propose an overseas program of a full academic year. To encourage greater language and cultural immersion, preference is given to applicants proposing a full academic year, or at least two consecutive semesters, of overseas study. Applicants planning to go abroad for only one semester are encouraged to lengthen the time abroad by adding a summer before the fall semester.
  • Consider government service. Preference is given to students who are committed to a career in the federal government.  Investigate different areas of federal service that you believe will best meet your own goals, based on your academic studies and the region of the world in which you plan to study.  
  • Review the list of current Boren Fellows. Reviewing the list of current Boren Fellows will give you an idea of the many countries and types of programs that you may want to consider.
  • Develop a strong and unique overseas study plan.  Boren Fellowships can be awarded for language study, overseas academic study, research (either Master’s or Ph.D. level), an academic internship, or any combination of the above.  You should design a study plan based on your own academic interests. The length of the fellowship will generally be guided by the plan itself and the amount of time that will be needed to complete it. It is important to have a feasible plan. Most successful applications include a combination of language study and research or academic internships, as well as significant time overseas.  
  • Include serious language study.  Regardless of the type of plan developed, all Boren Fellows must include a serious language component.  For beginning to intermediate language learners, this should include some form of classroom-based study.  It should not be limited to the classroom, however, and opportunities for not classroom language learning should be explored. Be sure to include a plan for continuing to study the language once you return from your study abroad program.  Since the Boren Fellowships focus on less commonly studied languages, it is o.k. if you have never studied the language before. But you should do all that you can do now to at least familiarize yourself with the language. If you are asking the Boren Awards to make a commitment to your studies, then you should make a similar commitment.
  • Make a compelling case for national security. The first application essay asks students to explain the significace of the proposed country, region, and language to U.S. national security. While the Boren Awards recognizes a broad definition of national security, the applicant should make a specific, detailed, and focused argument. Strong applicants will generally make arguments that relate to both their academic background and their future career plans. For more information about this broad definition of national security, click here
  • Whatever the applicant's interests, the Boren Fellowship essay gives each student the opportunity to make his or her own case based on his or her own perspectives and goals.  It is important that each applicant make a compelling case in his or her essay.  We apply a broad definition of national security, so applicants should not feel compelled to limit their focus or concentrate their essays in an area in which they are not truly interested. 
  • Tie your current academic plan, your fellowship proposal, and your future career goals into one strong narrative that makes the case for your Boren Fellowship. The application includes three essays, each of which includes several questions. Do not answer these questions one by one. Instead, you should write three integrated and comprehensive essays that clearly answer all of the questions asked.
  • Get strong letters of reference.  The strongest letters of recommendation come from faculty members who know you well and can comment on your proposed overseas study plan.  Share your plans and your essays with your referees.  A better letter is one that talks about how you have studied certain subjects and how that has prepared you to complete your proposed program successfully than one that simply says that you received an A or were in the top X percentage of your class.  For more information about how to have strong letters of reference, click here.  
  • Work with faculty advisers and campus representatives best positioned to advise you on the Boren Fellowship and overseas study. There are no formal Boren Fellowship campus representatives.  Many universities, however, have designated such representatives or employ fellowship advisers whose job it is to assist students applying for nationally competitive awards.  Explore your university administration to determine whether or not anyone serves this role on your campus. But remember that your best source of advice on overseas study and research is most often your faculty adviser.  All proposed plans should be reviewed carefully with your faculty adviser to determine whether or not they are feasible and how the plan might be strengthened.
  • Contact our staff.  Feel free to contact our staff with any questions at 1-800-618-NSEP (6737) or boren@iie.org.