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Fellowship vs Scholarship: What Is the Difference and How to Apply? 

Updated: June 19, 2024 | Published: June 10, 2024

Updated: June 19, 2024

Published: June 10, 2024

a male college student excited at having received a scholarship

Are you considering ways to fund your education or support your research? Understanding the differences between fellowships and scholarships can be crucial in deciding which path might be right for you. Each type of financial support has its distinct features, purposes, and benefits, influencing how you might pay for your education and how you can advance your academic and professional career.  

This article explores these differences and provides insights into the application process, helping you navigate your options and make informed decisions that align with your future aspirations. But what exactly sets fellowships apart from scholarships, and how can you maximize your chances of securing either? 

a female college student happy to have received a scholarship

What is a Scholarship? 

Scholarships are forms of financial aid awarded to students to help cover their education costs. These funds are typically granted based on academic merit, financial need, athletic ability, or other characteristics like belonging to a minority group or excelling in a particular field. Scholarships are pivotal in making education accessible and affordable, reducing financial barriers for students from diverse backgrounds. 

Types of Scholarships 

There are several categories of scholarships available to students: 

  • Academic Scholarships: Awarded based on academic performance and scholarly achievements. 
  • Need-based Scholarships: Aimed at students who require financial assistance to continue their education. 
  • Athletic Scholarships: Offered to students excelling in sports, often by colleges with competitive athletic programs. 
  • Minority-specific Scholarships: Designed to support students from underrepresented groups. 
  • International Scholarships: Available for students studying abroad or in specific countries other than their own. 

What is a Fellowship? 

Fellowships are prestigious awards granted to individuals, typically for advanced study, research, or professional development within specialized fields. These grants are instrumental in promoting innovation and deep expertise by supporting scholars, researchers, and professionals in pursuing significant projects or studies that contribute to their fields. 

Types of Fellowships 

Fellowships vary widely depending on the field and the specific goals of the funding organization: 

  • Research Fellowships: Support individuals conducting specific research projects. 
  • Postdoctoral Fellowships: Aimed at those continuing research after completing their doctoral studies. 
  • Academic Fellowships: Offered within universities to support scholarly activities. 
  • Industry-specific Fellowships: Tailored to advance knowledge and skills in particular professional sectors. 

Key Differences Between a Scholarship and a Fellowship 

Scholarships and fellowships differ primarily in purpose, eligibility, financial support, duration, and career impact: 

  • Purpose: Scholarships generally support students with financial aid for education costs, while fellowships focus on advancing knowledge and professional development through research and specialized projects. 
  • Eligibility Criteria: Scholarships may be awarded based on merit, need, or specific traits, whereas fellowships often require advanced degrees or significant experience in a field. 
  • Financial Support: Scholarships typically cover tuition and basic living expenses; fellowships offer stipends, research funding, and sometimes additional benefits like travel grants or health insurance. 
  • Duration: Scholarships are usually for an academic year or semester; fellowships can range from a few months to several years. 
  • Career Impact: Scholarships help alleviate the financial burden of education, while fellowships provide opportunities for professional advancement, networking, and practical experience in specialized areas. 

How to Apply for a Scholarship and a Fellowship 

Applying for scholarships and fellowships involves different processes, each tailored to the nature of the funding and the objectives of the awarding body. 

Applying for a Scholarship 

The process of applying for scholarships typically involves several key steps: 

  • Research: Identify scholarships that match your academic record, financial need, or special interests. 
  • Eligibility: Ensure you meet the criteria for each scholarship, such as GPA requirements, extracurricular involvement, or specific talents. 
  • Documentation: Gather necessary documents, including academic transcripts, personal statements, essays, and letters of recommendation. 
  • Application: Complete the application forms meticulously, following all instructions and deadlines. It’s crucial to clearly and compellingly showcase your qualifications and aspirations to stand out among applicants. 

Emphasizing your academic achievements, leadership qualities, and community involvement can significantly enhance your scholarship candidacy. 

a visual including a tree growing inside a bulb, some coins,and a graduation cap atop

Applying for a Fellowship 

The fellowship application process is often more rigorous and focused on professional or academic expertise: 

  • Preparation: Understand the fellowship’s objectives and align your application to demonstrate how your project or research interests contribute to these goals. 
  • Proposal: Develop a detailed research proposal or project plan that outlines your methodology, expected outcomes, and the significance of your work. 
  • Recommendations: Secure strong letters of recommendation from academics or professionals who can attest to your expertise and potential in your field. 
  • Interviews: Prepare for interviews by being ready to discuss your research or project in-depth, articulate your long-term career goals, and explain how the fellowship will facilitate your professional growth. 

Effective applications will clearly articulate the relevance of your work to the fellowship’s objectives and your potential to make a significant impact in your field. 

Fellowship vs Scholarship: How Long Do They Last? 


Scholarships are usually awarded for a fixed period—typically an academic year or semester. This period can be extended or renewed based on the scholarship terms, such as maintaining a certain GPA or continuing involvement in specific activities.  

The time-limited nature of scholarships means recipients must often reapply or find additional funding sources for continued financial support throughout their education. 


Fellowships tend to have more varied durations, ranging from a few months for short-term research projects to several years for extensive studies or large-scale projects. The length is often determined by the scope of the project or research and the amount of funding available. Long-term fellowships provide a sustained investment in an individual’s professional development and research capabilities. 

The duration of each type of funding has significant implications for recipients’ educational paths and professional trajectories. While scholarships help alleviate the financial pressures of undergraduate or graduate studies, fellowships support deeper engagement with advanced research and professional development, often influencing career paths for years to come. 

college graduates holding their degrees in hands, celebrating their graduation day

Are You Ready to Apply for a Scholarship or a Fellowship? 

Are you prepared to take the next big step in your academic and professional journey? Applying for scholarships and fellowships can offer financial relief and open doors to new opportunities. While scholarships typically provide short-term financial support for your studies, easing the burden of tuition costs, fellowships offer more substantial backing. They focus on specialized research and professional development that could shape your career for years to come. 

Starting strong involves a deep dive into researching opportunities that align with your academic and career aspirations and match your unique qualifications. Are you meeting the eligibility criteria? How can you tailor your application to showcase your strengths and stand out? Consider these things as you gather the necessary documents and craft compelling proposals or essays. 

By preparing meticulously and aligning your applications with your long-term goals, you significantly enhance your chances of success. This sets the stage for achieving your educational objectives and lays a solid foundation for your future career. 

Are you ready to navigate this challenging yet rewarding path? Remember, how you prepare now can profoundly impact your educational and professional outcomes, paving your way toward a bright and prosperous future. 


What distinguishes fellowships from scholarships? 

Fellowships are intended for specialized research or professional development, offering broader support, including stipends and professional resources. Scholarships generally help with tuition and are awarded based on merit, financial need, or specific criteria like sports or arts talent. 

How do eligibility criteria differ between scholarships and fellowships? 

Scholarships cater to many applicants and might consider academic achievement, financial need, or unique talents. Fellowships typically require advanced degrees or significant expertise in a field, targeting more specialized applicants. 

How do scholarships and fellowships impact future career prospects? 

Scholarships primarily reduce financial barriers, allowing students to concentrate on their studies. Fellowships, however, offer advanced training and networking opportunities, significantly influencing career paths and professional growth in specialized fields. 

What are the common application requirements for scholarships and fellowships? 

Scholarship applications often require transcripts, essays, and recommendations that reflect an applicant’s merit. Fellowship applications usually demand detailed proposals, comprehensive CVs, and endorsements from experts in the field. 

Are there specific types of scholarships and fellowships available? 

Yes, both scholarships and fellowships are tailored to different fields, career goals, and personal backgrounds, from need-based scholarships to professional development fellowships. 

Can international students apply for scholarships or fellowships? 

Though eligibility may vary, many scholarships and fellowships are open to international students. Additional criteria include language proficiency and compliance with visa regulations. 

At UoPeople, our blog writers are thinkers, researchers, and experts dedicated to curating articles relevant to our mission: making higher education accessible to everyone.