Frequently Asked Questions

Thinking about applying to become an Undergraduate Research Fellow? Review our FAQ to learn more about the program and application process, then let us know if you have a question that we haven’t answered!

Information is up to date for the 2021 application cycle. Any questions can be emailed to the program coordinator, Athena Dupont, at athena.dupont@usu.edu.


Eligibility

I don't know what research would look like in my major. Should I apply?

Many people have an image of ‘research’ in mind that is limited to STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) and is simply not a complete picture. Research occurs in every academic discipline and impacts the world around us in ways we may not realize! Research projects with our URFs have included more traditional projects, like measuring light impact on plants in a greenhouse, testing propeller prototypes, or measuring rock composition to better understand faultlines. We also have URFs creating musical, art, or literary compositions as a way to add to their disciplines, conducting surveys to understand how people perceive ‘fake news’, developing and testing apps to increase kids’ interest in math or computer science, and more!

We think that the best way to learn about what research can look like for you is to help you find faculty mentors in your discipline that can share with you the work they do and the best practices for research in their disciplines. We don’t expect you to come into the program with a research plan, but rather with an open mind and excitement about your field—we will help you figure the rest out as you get started.

I don't have a declared major/my major might change over time. Can I apply? Will I lose my fellowship if I change majors?

We award fellowships to individual students, not to departments or programs on campus. This is because the traits that make you a good potential researcher are not attached to your specific major, and will help you be successful in any field that interests you!

Many of our freshmen start as ‘undeclared’ or ‘exploratory’ students. The URF program provides you a lot of opportunities to try out different fields by working on research in areas that interest you. Some students find their major because they get started in research and discover their passions; some students try numerous projects over the course of their degree.

If you are awarded the fellowship, it will go with you as long as you continue to be involved. URFs change their majors often! We keep tabs on your declared major to make sure that we send opportunities that are discipline-specific your way, but you’re welcome to change research projects as often as you like or even to stay in a research project in one discipline even as you change your major to another field.

My GPA is not a 3.5 or higher. Is it worth applying?

Research is a phenomenal supplement to your classroom learning. We give preference to students with a GPA of 3.5 or higher, but accept applications from all!

Students at USU are here to learn, and we want to ensure that research doesn’t take away from your coursework, so we require that URFs maintain a 3.5+ GPA over the course of their fellowship. A strong academic record can show your ability to meet this standard, but researchers are identified by traits that may not be represented through GPA alone.

If you feel that you can maintain focus on your coursework as well as complete the requirements of the URF program, you are encouraged to apply regardless of your previous academic record. Your academic record will be considered, but students with lower GPAs are often quite competitive based on other parts of their applications.

I am not a legal resident or US citizen. Can I apply?

Yes! Many scholarships at USU are available only to US Citizens, permanent residents, or those with valid student visas. However, private donor money can be used to sponsor non-legal residents.

If you are not eligible for the URF scholarship because you are not a resident or citizen, we would work with other offices holding private donor funding to try and find an alternate way to support you. While this is not guaranteed, we have been able to do so in the past and would make every effort to ensure that talented potential researchers were chosen regardless of citizenship status.

If I am planning on deferring my enrollment at USU until a later time, should I apply now or when I expect to return?

Apply now! Students will not be penalized for deferring (not starting in the fall semester of the application year), provided they complete all paperwork to defer their enrollment at USU. If you intend to take a Leave of Absence before you begin your undergraduate degree or at any time during your fellowship, you can put your award on hold. Students will receive the same number of semesters in funding as they are awarded, regardless of the semesters they apply them to, provided they are approved through USU to take a leave. If you are awarded the fellowship, simply communicate your plans to the program coordinator when you accept.

Can I apply if I haven't decided that USU is the right school for me? Can I apply if I haven't been accepted to USU yet?

We accept applications at all stages of your transition from high school to college. Applications can be submitted before, alongside, or after your application to Utah State University.

When we make our award offers to the potential URFs we have identified, we will include information on how to accept your position in the fellowship. Students who are not sure about their final college choices, and students who are awaiting acceptance to USU, have time the acceptance deadline to determine their course of action.

Only students who are accepted at USU and enrolled in courses as an undergraduate student can actually receive URF scholarship payments.

Can I apply if I am a transfer student with some college credit from another institution, such as a community college or other university?

Yes! Provided that you have at least six semesters remaining in your undergraduate degree when you enroll at USU, you are eligible to join us with a six-semester award if accepted as a URF.

I will graduate within six semesters. Why can't I apply?

The nature of this fellowship is to help students start early in their undergraduate careers and develop advanced research experience that they might not get if they waited until they were juniors or seniors. For students who are further along in their studies, starting at the beginning won’t give them that opportunity.

If you have fewer than six semesters left, we encourage you to engage in research more intensely with the shorter amount of time you have. An URCO (Undergraduate Research & Creative Opportunities) grant or a summer research fellowship (like the Peak or Caine fellowship, or an external one) might be a better fit! Other colleges have beginner research grants like the EURP (Engineering Undergraduate Research Program) or College of Science Minigrant that can help you advance your research skills.

Can I reapply if I'm not selected?

Yes! We accept URF applications every spring. As long as you have six remaining semesters left at that time, you are eligible to apply. For students who take the traditional eight semesters, this means that they can apply during the spring of their senior year of high school and once more during the spring of their freshman year; for students who may take longer (because they changed their major, are in a five-year program, have second majors or minors, took time off, etc.), they could potentially apply a third time at the conclusion of their sophomore year as well.


Application Process

What is a CV? Is it better to submit a resume or a CV?

A Curriculum Vitae is a type of academic record that is different from a transcript or resume. It focuses on the sorts of experiences and skills that are specific to universities and research institutions. Learn more about CVs and resumes.

Many high school students and undergraduates have fairly limited formal academic experience that would be included in a CV (such as research publications or presentations, service on professional committees and organizations, teaching experience), and in that case it would be more useful for you to submit a resume. For some undergraduates that have already gained formal research experience, a CV will help you showcase this best.

We don’t rate either format more highly, as we are looking for traits over specific experiences and either document can help us see your potential.

These essay questions are different than most scholarship essays. Why?

Our application questions were selected by a group of current and former URFs that were or are exceptional researchers, then fine-tuned by our faculty reviewers. We asked them what qualities they think make students successful in the URF program and in research, and brainstormed the kinds of questions that might help us identify these qualities in our applicants.

We chose questions that you probably don’t have a canned response for, but kept the word count low so that you don’t have to write four full essays for this application. We hope that you’ll take the opportunity to show us your personality and character, as we aren’t looking for any ‘right’ answers. Research is not a ‘one size fits all’ enterprise and our URFs come in all kinds!

I made a mistake on my application. What can I do?

Email the program coordinator, Athena Dupont (athena.dupont@usu.edu), with the corrected information. Simple errors like typos in your email address or a mis-checked box will be accepted at any time; changes to your submitted documents are accepted until the deadline, after which we may or may not accept them based on the nature of the change. Out of fairness to other applicants, we would reject a rewritten essay question after the deadline, for example, as that would give you an unfair advantage of additional time.

How do you pick the Fellows? What do you look for in an application?

Our application questions were selected by a group of current and former URFs that were or are exceptional researchers, then fine-tuned by our faculty reviewers. We asked them what qualities they think make students successful in the URF program and in research, and brainstormed the kinds of questions that might help us identify these qualities in our applicants.

While things like a strong academic record or exemplary resume of service and engagement are indicators that a person will be a great student, it takes more than that to be a great researcher. We consider the full application, and great short answers to our questions can compensate for a sparse resume or a transcript that doesn’t show your best side.

Our reviewers look for four traits: Curiosity, Resilience, Engagement, and Self-Awareness. While the prompts are designed to showcase one trait each, the reviewers will look at ALL your materials. Engagement may be present in your CV or resume through your service and community activities, while resilience might be on your transcript where a C in 9th grade math was followed by an A- the following year. Be authentic in your responses and don’t worry about trying to guess what we want. 

We have a pool of faculty that review and rate applications on the research traits, and UR staff on other factors based on program needs and goals. With these numerical scores, the top tier of contenders are then considered by our URF Ambassadors—current students from all years of our programs representing all colleges, who are engaged not only in research but also in serving our program and outreach efforts. You may have met an ambassador at recruitment events throughout the state of Utah last fall! This group of students and the URF program staff review faculty ratings and the application materials of the highly-rated students and select as many students as we have fellowships to offer, as well as a wait-list of strong contenders.

Will my demographic information impact my application? Do you look for specific diversity markers or majors?

We believe that research is for everyone that has intellectual curiosity. We have the responsibility to ensure that any potential researchers have access to the URF opportunity, and want to minimize barriers to entry for them.

Applicants that have had less access to resources and experiences as high school students or freshmen may not have the same strength of resume or transcript as some of their peers, but they might thrive if given the fellowship! That’s why we spent so much time on our essay questions. These can help us identify potential, rather than focusing on what students have already done.

We also believe that increased diversity in our fellowship is a benefit to all our students. Bringing in applicants that have a different major, culture, history, or other perspective will expose our other fellows to new ideas and help them to grow. That’s one reason that we keep an interdisciplinary cohort and encourage students from different disciplines to talk to each other about how their research experience varies. Thinking about how others are researching and creating may help you think differently about your own work and lead to exciting innovation.

To meet all of these core tenets of our program, we consider applicants holistically. Part of our review rubric focuses on what they can bring to the fellowship (including how they might diversify the URFs by bringing new perspectives to our cohort), while others focus on what they can get out of it and what they can contribute through research in creating new knowledge in their fields. We do not select specifically for diversity or award underrepresented students over more-qualified applicants.

How competitive is the URF program?

It is difficult to measure the current acceptance rate of the URF program, as we have been modifying our eligibility and application requirements, increasing our recruitment and awareness efforts, and generally making adjustments to the application cycle that make last year’s acceptance rate obsolete.

We aim to have 100 URFs in total at USU during any given semester, including incoming students all the way to seniors. Depending on how many of our URFs graduate each year, take leaves of absence, withdraw from the program, or otherwise come and go, each incoming class may be between 20-30 students.

The fellowship is prestigious, however, and the students who submit applications tend to very competitive in quality regardless of quantity.

When will I know if I was accepted? Will I find out if I'm not picked?

If you apply by the April 15 deadline, we will notify you before May 1. If you apply by the June 15 deadline, you will be notified in July or August as we hear back from our reviewers and from the early cycle students.

All applicants will receive a notification of the award decision. You will receive an award offer letter, a waitlist letter, or an unsuccessful application letter. Awarded students will receive instructions on how to accept the award and the acceptance deadline, waitlisted students will receive information about when they can expect a final decision (after the acceptance deadline for awarded students), and applicants that are unsuccessful will receive information about reapplying and other opportunities that they can consider.

Students who are not accepted from the April 15 applicant pool will be automatically considered with the June 15 applicant pool and should not reapply. They are eligible to reapply the following year if they have six semesters to graduation at that time.


Fellowship & Requirements

What is a fellowship? How is it different from a scholarship?

Fellowships are, by most basic definition, a way to support researchers, artists, or creative scholars in their pursuit of knowledge. While scholarships offer money as a reward for prior achievements or merits, fellowships offer a way to advance future efforts.

The URF program is a fellowship that includes both the funding component as well as the experience and pursuit of knowledge component. When we talk about your URF scholarship, we mean the payments made on your Banner account as part of your participation in the fellowship. We think of this scholarship as a way of providing you the financial space to devote time to your research, freeing you from the necessity of having to work longer hours at a part-time job or the strain of taking out higher student loans.

Our Fellows are expected to be engaged in both their research and in the research community and culture here at USU, from participating in URF workshops and socials to attending research presentations, guest lectures, student presentations and performances. In this sense, the strings attached to the fellowship is more rigorous than a simple scholarship. However, we believe that the benefits of your participation will more than make up for the effort you put into it!

How does the scholarship work?

The URF scholarship has no strings attached—you can spend it on tuition and/or fees, but you can also use it for books, rent, or any other expenses that you choose to. We will never request information on how you choose to spend your scholarship.

It applies directly to your Banner account (USU’s system for tuition and fees, scholarships, and other financial aid). During the first week of each spring and fall term, a $500 scholarship should be applied to your account. If you have any tuition, fees, or other charges that you have not yet paid due on your account, the scholarship will first be applied to that negative balance. Then, any remaining amount will be reimbursed to you. If you don’t have a negative balance, the full amount of the scholarship will be reimbursed to you. It can be combined with any other scholarships or funding that you have.

When a positive balance on Banner is reimbursed to you, it will go to your account via direct deposit if you have set that up. This will take a couple of days or less. If you have not set up direct deposit, the positive balance will be cut as a check to you and mailed to the address you have listed in Banner. You should check that this address is current, as a misplaced check can cause significant problems and delays. Checks may take up to a week to be printed and mailed.

If you do not see the scholarship when you expect to, you should reach out to the program coordinator, Athena Dupont, at athena.dupont@usu.edu. If the scholarship shows up on your account but you have not received a deposit or check, you will need to contact the financial aid office to track its status.

If you want to have the scholarship applied to a summer semester, you must inform the program coordinator by the end of the spring term and make sure that you are eligible to do so.

Why do some students get six semesters of scholarships and some students get eight?

Our applicants come from two pools of candidates: those applying to join the fellowship during their first semester at USU (high school seniors or other applicants that are not yet undergraduate students), and existing students with at least six semesters of their undergraduate degrees remaining.

For that first pool of not-yet-undergraduates, we offer eight semesters. This will cover the traditional four-year undergraduate degree. For that second pool of students, they already have completed a year of their education by the awarding date and we thus offer them an award minus that first year, or six semesters.

What does "full-time" mean?

To be considered a full-time undergraduate, you should be enrolled in at least 12 credits per semester. As our seniors near graduation, some of them may be enrolled in fewer than 12 credits because they do not need a full courseload to complete graduation requirements—for these students, we can make an exception. If you think this might be applicable to you, or have another valid reason that you are not enrolled full-time, you should contact the program coordinator, Athena Dupont, at athena.dupont@usu.edu.

How many hours per week do I have to do research?

There is no defined requirement for your involvement in research.

The amount of time that you may need to invest in your research will depend on a lot of factors. Students who are still finding a research mentor might invest an hour or so per week at the beginning of their first semester; students who are finishing their capstone projects for an Honors contract may be putting in six. Students who receive a paid research assistantship often put up to twenty hours in per week, while students who volunteer with a mentor are only expected to commit a few. Your arrangement will vary by discipline, by the type of project you’re working on, by your mentor, and by how advanced you are in the project.

What other requirements are Fellows obliged to complete to stay in the program?

Apart from their research, we expect URFs to submit a check-in form in the fall to share with us your summer accomplishments and any goals for the year, and then a report at the end of the fall and the spring term to share your progress. These are simple online forms and a chance for you to let us know how you’re doing and to ask for help if you would like any.

We also require that all Fellows complete an initial training series, attend an annual meeting each fall, and try to attend socials where they are able to. Any mandatory trainings or meetings can be made up in other ways, if you cannot attend them in-person due to legitimate scheduling constraints.

Finally, we offer four workshops per semester. Fellows are required to attend one of these four, or make up the workshop by completing an independent alternative. These workshops are designed to aid your professional development, and the ways you can make them up are flexible and varied.

We hope that students feel these requirements actually aid them overall, and we make every effort to ensure that the program adds to your education rather than gives you hoops to jump through. If any requirements are a hardship for students we are happy to discuss alternatives.

Can I get a paid research position and still be a URF?

Yes! URFs are welcome to take any other research scholarships, grants, paid positions, or other funding opportunities in addition to the fellowship. Make sure that you follow all USU employment guidelines, and that any research commitments won’t overwhelm your focus on your studies, but feel free to apply for any funding that you have access to.

Am I required to do summer research?

No. However, there are a lot of great summer opportunities that you might find valuable, and many of them offer funding to support you. If you choose to participate, you’ll gain further experience and increased access to other opportunities in the future.

If you intend to take summer courses at any time during your undergraduate career, you can request that we give you one of your semesters of URF support for a summer semester. This means one less semester of fall or spring support (you’ll still get only the six or eight semesters of funding that you were awarded) and you would be required to complete all URF requirements including research engagement during that summer semester.

If I don't like my research project, will I lose the fellowship?

No! Researchers do their best work when they are excited about the projects they are involved in. If you start a project and find that it isn’t a good fit, we encourage you to find other research that is. Some students will try out several projects and learn a broad range of researching skills, while others will stay with one research lab for several semesters or even years delving into a narrow specialty. Both will provide you with great experience.

If you are thinking about moving to a new research project, you need to be open with your mentor about your plans. Faculty understand that many undergraduates are here at USU to discover their passions and that their work might not be right for you. Clear communication to your mentor about this will help you maintain that positive relationship and might help you find others who share your interests, while ‘ghosting’ your mentor can damage your relationships and close other doors to you. The URF team can help you navigate these kinds of situations and help you locate new opportunities.

Can I quit the program if it's not the right fit or I can't meet its requirements?

The URF program is designed to be flexible and work around and with each student’s education needs. For some students, one or more requirement might be challenging. We are happy to work with any URF that has a valid reason that they cannot meet a requirement in a certain semester or overall; in some cases, students might be allowed to make that requirement up in another way, while in others, students can put their fellowship on hold for a semester until they are able to meet all requirements again in the future.

Some students find that the program is not right for their interests, goals, schedules, or any other reason. That’s okay! Students who don’t want to continue can withdraw from the fellowship at any time. Depending on the circumstances, students may be asked to return their scholarship for the semester in which they quit the program, but students will not be asked to return scholarships from any completed semester in the program. Any students who choose to withdraw from the fellowship will not be further penalized and will still be fully eligible for other research opportunities such as an URCO (Undergraduate Research & Creative Opportunities) or travel grant, presentation events, etc., and it will not impact their records in any other way.

What happens if it takes me more semesters to graduate than I was awarded the fellowship for?

Students who have completed all the funded semesters of their award but not yet graduated are still considered Fellows. Once you have used your scholarship semesters up, you’ll still be invited to all our programming, given the same opportunities as our funded students, and treated like a URF in nearly all ways. These students do not have any strict requirements or mandatory activity for any semester that we are not funding them, such as attending a workshop or submitting a report.