Top tips for applying to the Paul and Daisy Soros Fellowship

fellowships graduate admissions
By Ashvin

The Paul and Daisy Soros Fellowship supports immigrants and children of immigrants who seek funding to pursue graduate studies in the United States. As it is a niche fellowship, applicants often have difficulty obtaining guidance on how to navigate the application and interview process.

In this post, I share the top lessons I learned from my experience as a candidate and eventual fellow. 

In your personal statement, remember to mention the American values that speak to you.

Paul and Daisy Soros created the fellowship because they were grateful for the American freedoms that permitted them to pursue their dreams and be successful. If you can’t think of the American values that inspire you off the top of your head, refer to our founding documents (the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution), or even American literary classics (the essays of Emerson and Thoreau). Understand and explain how those values helped you grow as a person and as a scholar. 

In your research statement, don’t be afraid to be ambitious (within reason).

It’s okay not to know precisely what you want to work on in graduate school (especially if you are an undergraduate applicant). The fellowship wants to fund applicants with bold ideas, so make your statement about an exciting and challenging problem in your field of interest. But don’t go overboard — the panelists who review your applications and conduct your interviews can be experts in your field and will know if you’re bluffing. One good way to identify challenging but reasonable research questions is to consult with the relevant faculty at your university; they usually have a sense of what research problems are interesting and/or tractable. 

If you work in a niche field, think about how to explain you work to a layperson.

Truth be told, the fellowship caters largely to students pursuing medical and legal degrees. The interview process for such candidates tends to be very rigorous and subject-specific, as many of the panelists are doctors or lawyers themselves. If your field of study is more abstract (like pure mathematics or philosophy), then the interview process is really quite different. The panelists will ask you to explain your research in such a way that they can understand — so take each of the projects you're working on or have completed and memorize a brief, cogent, easily understandable summary that you can use in the interviews. Also, more of your interview time will be spent discussing other non-technical aspects of your application, so be ready to discuss each of your extracurricular activities or application exhibits in detail and with visible passion and excitement. 

Understand the broader impacts of your work.

This is a no-brainer if you work in medicine, law, politics, engineering, and the hard sciences. But if you work in a more abstract field, you will need to articulate how your work impacts society at large in your essays and in your interviews. In the interview process, I was faced with difficult questions about how academics who work in abstract disciplines are nothing more than a bunch of self-interested success-seekers who have little interest in effecting positive social change. Although it is important to emphasize your passion for your discipline as a beautiful subject in its own right, it may be a good idea to think about attractive applications (with the aim of somehow benefiting society) of your discipline and in particular of your work, and if you're interested in staying in academia after graduate school, you might even consider giving back to the community through teaching. Think about these things, as they are likely to ask you about them, and you shouldn't hesitate in answering. 

Check out the profiles of past fellows on the website for inspiration.

When drafting your essays, it can be very difficult to know where to start. For this reason, it’s good to keep some examples in mind as you write. Navigate to https://www.pdsoros.org/meet-the-fellows, where you will find all the profiles of past fellows. Identify those fellows whose research and/or cultural background matches yours, and study their profiles closely. Most fellows are personable and willing to help, so feel free to reach out to them to ask for advice. 

Don’t hesitate to discuss the challenges of being a new American.

Yes, the fellowship is intended to celebrate how America helps immigrants achieve their dreams, but in your essays and interviews, you can and should discuss the specific challenges you face as a new American and how you overcame them. The panelists questioned me about the challenges of integrating my cultural background with American norms and conventions about academics, music, and social life. This is a problem all immigrants share, and I'm sure you will have some good stories to tell in that regard. Figure out how to make these stories funny, catchy, concise, and otherwise entertaining. It's definitely good to try to demonstrate to the panelists that you are not only a rising young immigrant scholar, but also a diversely skilled, widely knowledgeable, culturally aware, liberal-minded, well-educated intellectual. 

Make the best of the dinner opportunity on the night preceding the interviews.

This dinner involves you, the other candidates, and the panelists, and it usually takes place at a very fancy (think black tie) restaurant. The panelists will be present and will be making a preliminary assessment of you, based on how you interact with the other candidates over dinner. Use this time to demonstrate that you are a supreme socialite who can schmooze with applicants from different fields and can out-converse even the law students, even if you are not social and don’t enjoy doing such things, and even if you find it awkward to talk to people who are competing with you for the same fellowship. Try to create a very good first impression of yourself to the panelists at this dinner event. 

In your interviews, be prepared to elaborate on/discuss/explain/argue any significant themes or topics mentioned in your essays.

Google each of your interview panelists beforehand to see what they're like. I made sure to memorize things of interest to each panelist and bring them up in the interview. 

Be concise.

There's a page limit on the essays, and each of the two interviews is ~27 minutes long, and you need to convey as much juicy information about yourself as possible without wasting space/time. 

For more details about how to apply for the fellowship and who is eligible, refer to their website: https://www.pdsoros.org/. 

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