Katie McGarry, ’21, Ada Comstock Scholar
As a Smith College nominee, Katie McGarry, ’21, was recognized with two prestigious awards this spring. She was one of 62 college juniors across the United States awarded the Truman Scholarship and one of 290 community-minded students awarded a Newman Civic Fellowship. The Truman Scholarship provides up to $30,000 in funding for graduate studies. Katie plans to use her scholarship for law school. As a Newman Civic Fellow, Katie will be an active participant in a learning and professional development network next academic year. Read more about Katie and her plans here.
We asked Katie a few questions about her fellowships application process.
What motivated you to apply for this/these awards?
My decision to come to Smith was in no small part due to its long and storied commitment to public service and social justice. Smith has afforded me many opportunities to pursue these passions, both of which fit well with the Truman and Newman fellowships.
What did you learn from the application process?
I felt I was a good fit for the Truman because I had come to Smith with fairly fleshed out answers to their application questions. From a personal development perspective, it was really helpful to know that even if what I do isn’t *perfect* (I found a typo in my final application after it was submitted!), I am still capable of accomplishing a lot and worthy of an award. To paraphrase Voltaire: perfection is the enemy of the good!
What did your applications help you achieve? Or, how did it better prepare you to realize more fundamental life/career goals?
Winning the Truman will open many doors for me–most importantly, it will connect me with a community of fellow do-gooders committed to public service and the common good. Tapping into that will be incredibly important and necessary for any kind of paradigm-shifting work!
What advice do you have for future applicants?
Devotion to a career in public service is paramount. As long as you know in your heart that you want to improve others’ lives, you don’t need to sweat the particulars! (Also, I would love to talk to anyone interested in applying!)
Who supported you in the application process either through writing recommendations, advising you, or evaluating your work?
I want to single out three of my professors who have been incredibly supportive and influential: Alice Hearst, my major adviser and mentor; Loretta Ross, my teacher for a course that was transformative for me; and Erin Pineda, another teacher of a course that has shaped my thinking about public service. President McCartney has informally been a mentor and created opportunities, like the Innovation Challenge, that have helped me to try to help others. Marge Litchford, Assistant Dean of Students, has advised me on projects since I first started at Smith and has always pushed me to dream bigger and work harder. This list would not be complete without mentioning the Fellowships Program. Margaret Lamb really went above and beyond in advising and mentoring me throughout this process. Stacie Hagenbaugh was such a joy to work with and I am so grateful for the confidence she gave me from start to finish during the interview prep she coordinated.
Dear faculty advisers and mentors,
Please encourage your advisees who are juniors and very strong candidates for competitive graduate fellowships to indicate their interest in Smith College nomination, endorsement, or support in March. (Seniors and recent alumnae are welcome to do so, too.) You can share a tip of strong candidates here.
The particular fellowships are:
- Churchill Scholarship (one year of master’s level study in STEM field at Cambridge) – Smith is limited to 2 nominees
- Gates Cambridge Scholarship (up to four years of graduate study in most fields)
- Marshall Scholarship (one or two years of master’s level study in any field in the UK; sometimes, three years towards a doctorate supported)
- Mitchell Scholarship (one year of master’s level study across a broad range of fields in Ireland)
- Rhodes Scholarship (usually, one or two years of master’s level study across a broad range of fields at Oxford)
- Knight-Hennessy Scholarship (up to three years of funding for graduate study in any Stanford University graduate program, including professional schools)
Citizenship eligibility: All competitions are open to US citizens. There is now a Rhodes competition for qualifying candidates of any citizenship, with the same expectations of competitiveness applicable. Gates Cambridge is open to all citizenships except UK. Knight-Hennessy is open to all citizenships.
Very competitive candidates for these fellowships will share a few important characteristics:
- Academic strength. They will have demonstrated high academic achievement, meaning high GPA (likely ~3.8 with 3.7 as a lower limit, explicit in some cases, effective in others), taking challenging course options, and engaging with their academic subjects at the highest levels offered at Smith. These students will be curious, intellectually engaged, and demonstrate well their readiness for graduate level study. These students will be among the best students in their discipline, most likely in the top 15% of their class.
- Well-articulated personal values, engagement in the world around them, and a track record as an effective performer. Academic strength alone will not secure one of these competitive awards. All competitions seek change-makers and individuals who are engaged in something beyond themselves and their studies. For Churchill, it is definitely the exceptional research track record. For the others, it may be research, too, but also leadership accomplishments, service to others, creativity, and determination in pursuit of personal interests and commitments.
- A clear vision for their future and a compelling rationale for graduate study plans. Strong candidates know why the particular programs for which they plan to apply are right for them and how they fit into their bigger graduate school and career plans. They are excited by the graduate programs they propose and can explain why both why they are abundantly qualified for their program and their program is the most suitable one for them. Candidates for UK fellowships will have strong reasons to study in the UK rather than the US or elsewhere for this next stage of their educations.
Application for a competitive graduate fellowship is an opportunity for personal and professional development. Faculty members who know the candidates best should be confident that the application process will bring out the requisite characteristics in those students that Smith College nominates, endorses, and supports for these highly competitive graduate fellowships. Good candidates can explain what they want to do. Great candidates will explain why they want to do what they want to do and will describe how they imagine their graduate education will shape their lives and benefit those they choose to serve.
Number to be supported: Only Churchill imposes a firm limit on the number of candidates Smith College may endorse. Therefore, what is important is that we establish well before external applications are due which individuals are our strongest candidates for the fellowships and how we will support them. Our spring nomination round serves these purposes.
Getting started: We start by asking interested students to talk with their mentors about their prospects and then demonstrate their readiness to apply and competitiveness in a short written application. Ad hoc review committees consisting of faculty members and staff members who are familiar with the fellowships will review the applications for support and provide a first evaluation of candidates. In consultation with the applicants’ advisers and potential letter writers, applicants will either be encouraged to prepare their applications for fall submission or to redirect their efforts to other opportunities where they are more likely to find success.
Please encourage the students whom you consider to be strong prospects to contact me (email@example.com) to express their interest and discuss the application for nomination.
With many thanks for your suggestions,
Margaret Lamb, Ph.D.
Smith College Fellowships Program
Lazarus Center for Career Development