Is your fellowship process drawing in great candidates or putting them off? Follow these steps to create an accessible, engaging applicant experience that will set your program apart.
“If you build it, they will come.”
This famous line from the movie Field of Dreams might apply to a baseball field, but unfortunately, it doesn’t always hold true for your fellowship program.
So, how do you encourage the best and brightest to apply to your fellowship?
It’s simple -- put yourself in their shoes.
Think about the applicant’s needs, questions, and worries. Then, build elements into your process that address each one. We’ll show you how. Let’s walk through eight steps to building an engaging fellowship application process.
Step 1 - Help applicants imagine themselves in your fellowship program
Your first step is to paint a picture of what candidates can expect when they’re accepted into your program. Go beyond a simple description of what they’ll do. Create a multi-dimensional experience, so they can decide if it’s a good fit.
- Talk about the larger vision of your program, including your values and culture
- Explain what makes a fellow successful, both in terms of skills and personality
- Publish informal interviews with your fellowship staff and alumni
- Create a short video that captures the spirit of your fellowship
- Share photos and quotes of current fellows “in action” on social media
- Profile the accomplishments of fellowship alumni
The Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation is an excellent model for this approach. They’ve created a website that gives prospective fellows a sense of what they can do and the organization they’d represent.
Step 2 - Leverage your fellowship alumni network
Your fellowship alumni are critical to engaging potential candidates. There’s nothing more powerful than a one-to-one conversation with someone who’s “been there.” Look for ways to involve your alumni throughout the application cycle. You might ask them to:
- Record a video about what they learned and accomplished
- Serve on a panel during an information session about the fellowship
- Join a webinar Q&A for potential applicants
- Share your fellowship opportunity with their work, school, or industry networks
A great example is the “Ask a Brookie” section of the Brooke Owens Fellowship, where potential applicants can ask anything of a former fellow.
Step 3 - Create blog posts that answer common applicant questions
Another way to guide candidates through the decision-making process is a series of blog posts that focus on common questions, obstacles, or concerns. For example, you might have posts like:
- Am I a Competitive Applicant?
- 3 Examples of Winning Fellowship Applicant’s Opening Statements
- 10 Top FAQs About the Fellowship Application Process
- How to Obtain Outstanding Letters of Recommendation
- A Day in the Life of Our Fellows
- The Fellowship Stipend - What Does it Include?
You could also have your current fellows write blog posts about their experiences like The Professional Fellows Program (PFP).
Step 4 - Be accessible to candidates during the application process
The more channels you have for applicants to reach you, the better. This will remove obstacles to applying, especially for those with busy or irregular schedules. It also sends a clear message that you welcome their application and will continue to support them if they’re selected as a fellow.
- Identify a primary email address for questions and respond with 24 business hours
- Publish your standard office hours for applicants to call or come in
- Schedule several webinar Q&A sessions
- Offer one-on-one appointments for applicants
- Respond to questions via social media (make sure someone is monitoring the accounts)
Step 5 - Give your candidates an opportunity to shine
By limiting your candidates to standard written responses, you could be missing out on a chance to see their full potential. Think about how you can incorporate new technologies or formats that provide more ways for applicants to showcase their skills.
- Video - Individuals with superior writing skills often get more attention, leaving other potential candidates behind who might have a greater impact. If you have applicants who speak English as a second language, this is even more important.
- Visuals - Provide an opportunity to include charts, timelines, maps, photos, or other visuals to help explain concepts that are tough to understand through words alone.
- Storytelling - By asking for examples and personal experiences, applicants must turn hard data into a story. This can give you a better sense of their motivations and inspiration.
Step 6 - Make it easy to apply and track the application’s status
Once you’ve convinced someone to apply, get them to the finish line with a clear, easy-to-use, online application. You don’t want to put up any unnecessary obstacles with confusing forms. By using a fellowship application system, your candidates will be guided through the application process in stages, with customizable instructions all along the way. They can also:
- Save drafts of their application as they go
- Communicate with the fellowship staff right from their account
- Request letters of recommendation without leaving the system
- Receive confirmation of their application immediately
- See the status of their application at any time
Step 7 - Keep communications open between applicants and reviewers
Once they apply, your candidates will be anxiously awaiting more information. In your confirmation email, be sure to provide a clear timeline for decisions and notify them of any delays. With fellowship application software, you can send these updates with a single template and a click.
It’s also possible to have reviewers contact applicants directly if they have follow-up questions, which helps your selection team choose the best candidates. This all occurs inside the system, so all communications are recorded alongside the application, making it quick and efficient.
Step 8 - Stay in touch with former applicants and fellowship alumni
For applicants who weren’t selected or those who had to postpone their application, it’s critical to stay connected. There’s a good chance they’ll apply again, especially if you stay top of mind. A fellowship application system acts as a CRM for all the stakeholders in your program. And it’s easy to integrate with popular email marketing apps. Consider sending send monthly newsletters, deadline reminders, or opportunities to network with fellowship alumni. All these individual touches will add up, and they’ll be more likely to apply in the future.
Applying for a fellowship requires a significant time investment. But when you give applicants a vision of the amazing experiences in store for them, remove concerns about whether they’re qualified, and make the process easy and seamless, you’ll have candidates eager to apply!