The U.S. Congress established the Harry S. Truman Scholarship competition in 1975 to honor the nation's 33rd president. The scholarship of up to $30,000 provides funds for graduate school for students preparing for careers in government or public service.
Between 60 and 65 scholarships are awarded annually to college juniors; the competition is based on state of home residence, and at least one scholarship is awarded to each state and to the American territories. A few are given at large. Although the scholarship is primarily for graduate studies leading to a career in public service, $3,000 is provided for the senior year in college. This is an extremely competitive award.
The application consists of a transcript (at minimum, students must be in the upper quarter of their college classes), questions about the candidate's background and goals, information about activities, a series of paragraph-long responses, an 800-word essay on an issue of public policy, and four letters of recommendation. A good application generally takes 20 to 40 hours to prepare and review. Students should go to the Truman website for a complete look at the application and extensive questions and answers concerning the scholarship.
Students (U.S. citizens) with excellent grades, documented leadership, public service activities, and a record of community service who wish to earn a degree that will lead to a career in the public or private non-profit sector should consider applying for a Truman Scholarship. The most difficult portion of the application is the articulation of career plans and yet this is the most essential aspect of a Truman Scholarship. The foundation is looking for "change agents" rather than practitioners; that is, they prefer people who wish to change policy, not so much candidates who plan to become lawyers, teachers, and social workers.
For students on campus during the fall term of their junior year, applications including a draft of the policy essay should be submitted to Dr. Peter Ahrensdorf no later than December 1. Interviews will be held on Reading Day. For students on foreign study, applications are due as soon as possible upon return to the U.S. Students should make every effort to arrange transcripts and letters of recommendation before departure for foreign study. Students should communicate with Dr. Ahrensdorf during their time abroad. Interviews may be held to determine college nominees. Davidson College may nominate up to three Truman candidates. Dr. Ahrensdorf and the Graduate Fellowship Committee will work with all candidates to ensure the strongest possible application. Interested students should discuss the possibility of the Truman with Dr. Ahrensdorf during the spring of their sophomore year.
Three letters of recommendation plus a college endorsement, written by the Truman Faculty Representative, are required. One letter must discuss a candidate's potential for graduate study; one, potential for public service; one must address the leadership experience the candidate has described in his or her response to question seven. Each letter must be detailed, documenting close acquaintance with the student's scholarship, character, and leadership. The college's letter of endorsement is formed in part by the on-campus interview with the Truman Selection Committee, in part by discussion with the candidate.
Usually early February
Interview timing depends on the state from which the student has applied. State interviews last for 20 minutes with a panel of five distinguished citizens. Winners are usually announced in late April.
Truman Faculty Representative is Prof. Peter Ahrensdorf in the Political Science Department. The application can be downloaded from the Truman Foundation website. The Truman Foundation also publishes Want to Make a Difference? Go for the Truman.