If you don’t ask, you won’t be considered
The honor of receiving a competitive fellowship is great, but what will really matter to you is what the award helps you to achieve. A fellowship is never the goal in itself; it is the opportunity it funds and facilitates – graduate school or living and studying abroad or the experience of a lifetime – that should really make your heart race! Fellowships are coveted for what they represent; therefore, they are very competitive. A little competition never hurts – provided you are well suited and prepared for the competition.
The process matters
Even when you don’t get the award, there is much for you to gain from the process. You clarify your graduate school plans, career path, life goals, and more in the process. You collaborate closely with advisers and mentors and almost always get to meet really interesting and helpful people along the way. You practice presenting yourself to new and demanding audiences, on paper and in person. You get to test yourself among other really talented individuals. And you are well prepared to go after that next competitive opportunity. More often than not, individuals who are unsuccessful in their first attempt are successful in a later competition.