Hollings Scholarship

Interested in pursuing a career in STEM? Are you a sophomore undergraduate looking for competitive research experience? Apply to the NOAA Ernest F. Hollings Scholarship! Applications are open now until January 31, 2023.


Some general info…

What is it?

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) recognizes students studying in NOAA mission fields through the Ernest F. Hollings Scholarship (aka Hollings Scholarship). NOAA’s core mission fields are: atmospheric sciences and meteorology, earth system sciences and remote sensing technology, coastal and marine ecosystems, and living marine resources. If you are interested in any one (or more) of those, apply to the Hollings Scholarship!

Awarded scholars receive up to $9,500 per academic year (no work required during this- they deposit money in your account twice every semester) as well as a paid summer internship within the U.S. (including territories). It is difficult to find a paid internship while starting a career in the sciences, the extra money during the school year is a huge bonus! NOAA also pays for Hollings scholars attend 2 scientific conferences of their choice in the US to present the results of your internship. They cover housing, travel, and food (up to a certain point) involved with conferences. Beyond graduation, Hollings scholars qualify for direct hire where your application to a federal position will get a good boost. For 2 years after the completion of any degree (BS, Masters, or PhD), you can apply for a federal position and have a more competitive application.

Where is the internship done?

Anywhere in the US, it’s your choice! The search for internship sites begins early October for awarded scholars. During this, a database where NOAA faculty from all core mission fields across the US becomes available to scholars with details of the internship and how to apply. If there isn’t an internship listed that you connect with, you can make your own (this is what I did!). As long as your head mentor is NOAA faculty, you can have a co-mentor at another organization/university that bears a good bit of the mentorship responsibilities.

What do the internships involve?

This is the most unique aspect of the Hollings scholarship- you can do practically any project you want (as long as it fits with your mentor and NOAA’s interests). Projects have varied from active community engagement and outreach development to working with meteorologists to improving weather prediction software.

Am I eligible?

The basic eligibility requirements are:

  • be a U.S. citizen
  • be currently enrolled or accepted at an accredited college/university within the US or US territories as a…
    • 2nd year student @ four-year undergraduate program
    • 3rd year student @ five-year undergraduate program
    • community college/transfer student who is applying to a four-year institute
  • cumulative GPA of at least 3.0 on 4.0 scale
  • have a declared major in STEM (practically any major that support NOAA’s programs and mission)

For more info, check out their frequently asked questions page here and read about the requirements.

Why should I apply?

Money: It’s difficult and frustrating to find an internship during undergraduate years that pays, and even more so to find ones that pay over minimum wage. The Hollings Scholarship is generous with the 2-year stipend during school (up to $9,500/year) and the paid summer internship (this amount varies, but my year was ~$350/week).

Research experience: Getting the Hollings Scholarship means you can find (or make) a research project that is focused on what you want to do. I feel that finding research experience can be limited to what is around you, and while it is important to take advantage of what is available to you, the research you end up contributing to may not be exactly what you are interested in. Don’t get me wrong, all experience is good whether you learn what kind of research you hate and would never want to pursue, or learn basic skills that are transferrable to all different kinds of projects. But Hollings is a special chance to find a lab or NOAA faculty that does the same things you are interested in, and then make your own project within it.

Direct hire: this is a recent addition to the Hollings scholarship. Once completing your internship, you receive a certification for direct hire within federal positions. This means that when you apply for a job after graduation (for my cohort, direct hire continues for 2 years after completion of any degree), your application is brought to the top of the pile. It is hard to get federal jobs, so having direct hire is a huge benefit.

Resume boost: Getting the Hollings scholarship is a huge boost to your resume or CV. I’ve heard from mentors and professors that having the Hollings can set you apart from the get-go for other internships, jobs, and graduate school applications. So if the money, experience, and direct hire isn’t enough to convince you to apply, do it for the resume!


General essay tips & resources

For the 2023 application, the essay prompt is as follows:

This essay is a self-description of your academic, research, and career goals as they are related to NOAA’s mission http://www.noaa.gov, and how your proposed course of study and/or research will help you achieve these goals. This is your opportunity to present yourself, your aspirations and career goals in a concise manner. Include any background information that is pertinent, any graduate school plans, and provide insight into why you have chosen to pursue these education and career goals (a list of college courses alone is not sufficient). This 2 to 3 page essay will be used to evaluate you as an individual, not necessarily as a scientist, and your motivation for applying for this scholarship. The essay should demonstrate your organizational and written communication skills. If you have conducted any NOAA-mission science experiences such as an internship, research project, or club activity, please include that demonstrated experience in your essay. The essay should be typewritten, single-spaced, and should not exceed three pages in length. (Minimum 6000 characters – Maximum 9000 characters; characters includes spaces and punctuation) *

My essay was almost the exactly same prompt, so it doesn’t seem to change much over the years.

I had a hard time finding blogs/advice online about writing the Hollings essay, which is why I am writing this:). However, there are a few websites and pages I think may be helpful for those first steps:

NOAA page: So, you want to be a NOAA scholar? 15 tips for applicants

2019 Hollings Reviewer Instructions

University of Rhode Island- Benjamin A. Gilman & CLS Critical Language Scholarship Workshop (this is a long pdf presentation about a bunch of scholarships, there are great tips for writing application essays in general starting on page 56)

Also, if your university has a National Fellowships & Scholarships Office (NFSO) with employees who review essays, take advantage of that resource. University of South Carolina has one of these with employees hired to specialize in essay reviews, either for general fellowships and applications or specific ones (like Hollings). I would not have gotten the Hollings scholarship without the help of Ethan Knight, who at the time was working for the NFSO at University of South Carolina. These faculty have reviewed hundreds of essays and have really good tips for starting and editing essays for practically any application- so use them!


My tips for applying

I included the essay prompt above, so I won’t go over all of the portions of it again.

Tip 1. Start your application (and writing the essay) early.

You hear this with any application, but I will just re-iterate it again. It helps SO much to start an application early. You never know if a major life event will come up that may delay writing, or if you’ll have technical problems that make it harder to get the application in. I have been writing my NSF GRFP (a graduate school fellowship) and was happy to have started early because my computer started failing. There was a week at a time I could not use my computer at all, but I was not nearly as stressed as I would’ve expected because I had already worked hard on my essay. Also, getting drafts of your essay down early allows you time to get feedback from professors, editors, friends and family, and whoever else may help with revising your writing.

Tip 2. Get a lot of eyes on your essay.

I never realized how valuable it is to get multiple perspectives on your writing before college. It really does open your eyes to gaps in your writing and clarify your experiences to focus on the goals of the organization you’re applying to. This ties into Tip 1, but make sure to start writing early to give your reviewers plenty of time to look it over. This is also a great opportunity to meet more graduate students and professors you’ve been meaning to talk to but are hesitant to strike up a conversation. You just stop by their office or send an email and explain you are applying to the Hollings scholarship and would like to improve your writing in the essay (bonus tip- read over some of their publications and find aspects of their writing you admire and ask for tips on how to incorporate those into your essay). A lot of professors and graduate students are open to helping undergraduates, the worst they can say is no, but even then they will likely have other people to refer you to.

Tip 3. Focus your experiences to align with NOAA’s mission goals.

Do not lie about your experiences or the things you learned from them, but focus your writing to emphasize those that align well with NOAA’s mission goals. You only have a limited amount of space, so with each experience and detail ask yourself if it supports your alignment with what the essay (and organization) is looking for. For example, as I wrote my personal essay for the NSF GRFP I wanted to focus the flow of the essay to be my progression from an interest in research, to interest in ecology, and finally to marine invertebrate ecology. To do this, with each experience I had I made sure to emphasize how I learned from it and how it progressed into the next step of my career towards marine invertebrate ecology. Checking the details of your writing to see if they emphasize the organization’s goals is helpful with any essay where you are asked to describe your experiences, not just the Hollings scholarship.

Tip 4. Get a draft of your essay down before reading other examples.

I learned this trick from Ethan Knight at the NFSO at UofSC, and have used it ever since. Before reading any essays from past winners, I will get a draft of my essay down. With my first draft, I’ll then go back to essays of past winners and see what aspects of writing or formatting they included that I feel would improve my own. By getting your own draft written before seeing past winners, you can end up with a really creative essay that stands out from the rest. The past winners won for a reason, so it is helpful to look at their essays and see what they did that could be used to improve your own (such as flow of material, organizational style, and gauging how personal the writing can be). However, by looking at the past essays before beginning your writing you may end up limiting your creativity to fit what the past winners did. This trick isn’t for everyone, and if I am really stuck on how to even start an essay I’ll check out the introduction to successful essays, but I’ve found it to be helpful for forming creative writing that I otherwise would not have explored.

Tip 5. Be creative and tell a story.

There are thousands of students who apply to the Hollings scholarship every year, and many more are deserving of the scholarship than they are able to award. The trick I used to stand out was writing a story that ties in my natural curiosity for the world with my early undergraduate experiences and future goals. Creating this story can be chronological (eg. from your first pet fish into college) or not. I chose to do a non-chronological approach and instead tie similar things from various points in my life together to form a larger story. I feel this is approach is more challenging, but the planning and writing process helped me discover what the larger story I want to tell is, and what specific points in my life would be the most impactful to include. Also, when you talk about your relevant experiences, be sure to focus on what you learned and how your career progressed from them.

Tip 6. Focus your essay on some key aspects.

The scholarship application is evaluated as following: (from NOAA’s website FAQ 3. How will my scholarship application be evaluated?)

  1. Relevant coursework (30)%
  2. Education plan and statement of career interest essay (30%)
  3. Letters of recommendation (20%)
  4. Additional relevant experience related to diversity of education; extracurricular activities; honors and awards; non-academic and volunteer work; interpersonal, written, and oral communication skills (20%)

Additional relevant experiences and the education plan and statement of career interest are all a part of the essay, meaning the essay is worth 50% of your application evaluation. If you want to include relevant coursework in the essay you can, but keep in mind you submit your transcript so they can find relevant courses there. It may be helpful to break down each category (extracurricular activities, honors, career interest, etc.) and make a list of everything you have been involved with for each. From here, play around with which experiences you think should be highlighted more than others in the essay. When I do this, it is a lot of trial and error during writing. I’ll highlight one thing and bypass another, but later down the line I may switch this to get a more complete, coherent story together. It also helps to have everything together to find ways to smoothly transition from one topic to another (especially if you do a non-chronological format).

Tip 7. Keep in mind that scholarships and fellowships are competitive.

If you are awarded the Hollings Scholarship, that is great! You will have an amazing experience and will learn so much along the way. If you are not awarded it, please do not feel like you are not good enough for a career in research. Applying for competitive scholarships and fellowships are a part of the field; if you do want to pursue a career in research be prepared for a LOT of rejection. For every cool experience a person has, I promise they applied and were rejected from 20 other ones. It can be really disheartening receiving rejections, but it is important to keep in mind that everyone’s path is different. You may not be awarded a certain scholarships and fellowships that others get, but you will also get scholarships and fellowships that other people don’t. Just learn everything you can from the experiences you have, and enjoy it all as much as you can.

Here is my Hollings Scholarship essay if you would like to read it…

If you made it all the way to the end of this long page, thank you so much for reading! If you have any questions or comments, please reach out. I have a few different ways to contact me listed under the “Contact Me” page. Good luck with the Hollings application and essay!