Summer Enrichment Program Application Tips

Tips on Preparing a Competitive Application

The Charles B. Rangel International Affairs Summer Enrichment Selection Panel evaluates each applicant based on a variety of different criteria. It seeks individuals who show a clear interest in a career in international affairs, along with a strong academic background, a commitment to service, leadership, and diverse interests in areas such as international affairs and government, cultural sensitivity, writing skills, and an ability to overcome obstacles. A good application introduces the individual to the panel and shows the applicant's unique motivations, experiences, and accomplishments. Thus, there is no specific formula for preparing a competitive application, as each applicant is unique. However, below are a few tips.

Applicants should review all eligibility requirements up front at the Rangel Program website. The program has no flexibility on core eligibility requirements such as U.S. citizenship, cumulative GPA, and full-time undergraduate student status. Applicants should make a plan to complete all aspects of the application on time. This will require steps such as securing letters of recommendation, uploading transcripts, writing a statement of interest, and providing financial need information.  The FAQ section under the Summer Enrichment part of the website can answer many application questions. Applicants are welcome to contact program staff in an email to rangelprogram@howard.edu if they have additional questions.

The Summer Enrichment Program provides a unique opportunity for participants to learn about a wide range of possible international affairs careers, including those in government, non-governmental organizations, and the private sector. There is a special emphasis on careers that involve public service and particularly those related to the U.S. Department of State. A strong interest to pursue a career that involves international affairs should be the main reason for you to apply. Your statement of interest should highlight why you are interested in pursuing this type of career and give insight into what type of career is of greatest interest to you.

Applicants should carefully craft a statement that highlights their motivations, as well as their background, experiences, and skills that would help them to succeed in the summer program and an international affairs-related career. The selection panel is interested in seeing indications of diverse interests and backgrounds, including experience living or traveling overseas; international exposure within the United States; relevant academic work; internship, volunteer, or work experiences in government, NGOs, and service organizations; and other experiences relevant to public service or international careers. It values experiences that show cultural sensitivity, including interest or experiences in languages or working with various cultural or socioeconomic groups. The panel is interested in learning about any particular obstacles or disadvantages the applicant had to overcome, including- but not limited to- socioeconomic, family, or personal circumstance. Competitive applicants demonstrate a commitment to service generally and a career in international affairs and/or public service. They also demonstrate strong writing skills, including clear statements of goals, interests, and background, and proper English usage. Generally, the panel is interested in knowing who you are, what motivates you, what experiences and skills you bring to the table, and what you want to do.

Applicants should review their statements carefully to ensure that they answer the question asked, that they express ideas clearly and concisely, and that they are free from grammatical, spelling, or other errors. The statement should be 500 words or less.  If your statement is too long, cut out non-essential information. The panel does not need you to tell them what globalization is; it needs to know who you are and why you want to pursue this opportunity.

Applicants should provide official transcripts for ALL colleges or universities where they earned more than 6 credits. Failure to submit all transcripts can slow consideration of an application.  Applicants should request transcripts early and ensure that they are uploaded to the application before the deadline. The panel reviews all academic transcripts, looking for course work that would, overall, normally indicate particular academic ability and rigor. There is no specific requirement for an academic major, and past participants have had a wide range of majors, including International Studies, Economics, Political Science, Business, Communications, Psychology, and Foreign Languages. The panel is interested in the overall academic background. However, it does look for coursework in the following areas: Mathematics /Quantitative Courses or Sciences; English; Economics, Business or Management; Government/Political Science; and foreign language skill or studies. Coursework in these areas is not required but can be a useful indicator of success in the program and beyond.

The selection panel factors economic status into the selection process. There are many different manifestations of financial need, including reliance on grants and loans as an undergraduate student, accumulation of significant student debt, the need to work while in school, lack of family resources, and choice of less expensive school. Applicants can help the selection panel to understand their financial situation in the following ways:

  • Answering financial questions in the application 
  • Writing a statement that explains your situation. The most useful statements focus specifically on questions of financial need. They clearly and concisely explain applicants’ needs for financial assistance for their undergraduate education and during the program. They use quantitative data whenever possible, including specific data on financial assistance received during undergraduate school and outstanding education-related debt. They can highlight overall family economic status, as well as the individual’s situation, e.g. work during school, low-paid service positions, or particular financial obligations.  

The Summer Enrichment Program requests two letters of recommendation, one from a faculty member and one from a community leader.  The community leader should be an individual in a position of responsibility who can comment on the applicant’s non-academic accomplishments and potential for success as an emerging professional. The best letters focus on skills and experience relevant to professional activities, including work ethic, initiative, dependability, composure, interpersonal skills, communication, and goal-orientation.  They link these skills to success in the program and/or career. Examples of community leaders could include a work or internship supervisor or a faculty advisor for a student organization.

Applicants should seek individuals who know them and their work well. Titles of recommenders are less important than the substance of recommendations. Thus, a professor with whom you’ve taken several classes will likely be able to give a more compelling assessment of your strengths than the Department chairperson whom you do not know well. Your supervisor in a congressional internship may give better insights on your abilities than a general recommendation from the Member of Congress with whom you did not work personally.

Applicants should approach recommenders early, provide them needed information, and monitor to ensure that they submit the recommendations on time. The best letters of recommendation directly address the applicants’ suitability for this summer program and international affairs-related careers. Generic letters of recommendation are less powerful. Missing letters of recommendation are one of the most common problems in applications; it is the applicant’s responsibility to make sure that all letters arrive on time.

The panel is particularly interested in extracurricular, community, or volunteer activities that show a commitment to service and to social causes and issues. Applicants should list all such activities and indicate any leadership roles that they have had in such activities, including creating programs or organizations or serving as an officer. The panel also values internship or work experiences that show an interest in such issues.

Such honors and awards could include inclusion in the Dean’s List, service or academic awards, scholarships, selection for prestigious programs, or any other honor the individual would like to highlight in his/her academic or work activities.

The Summer Enrichment Program selection process is very competitive. Applications that are polished, addresses all requirements, and are completed and submitted on time project a favorable impression. To ensure that all supplemental materials arrive on time, applicants should upload everything onto the online application well before the deadline. Do not wait until the final hours to complete the application. 

Contact the Rangel Program staff if you have any questions after reviewing the website. We are happy to answer questions by e-mail (rangelprogram@howard.edu).