February 25, 2024
truman scholarship

The Truman Scholarship is a prestigious and highly competitive award for college juniors who want to pursue careers in public service. It was established by Congress in 1975 as a memorial to President Harry S. Truman, honoring his legacy of dedication to public service.

The purpose of the Truman Scholarship is to provide opportunities for outstanding young people to prepare for careers in government, nonprofit organizations, advocacy groups, and other roles as “change agents” who improve society through public service. The scholarship provides up to $30,000 toward a graduate degree and allows scholars to participate in leadership development activities and internship programs in Washington, D.C. and elsewhere.

Since the foundation’s inception, over 3,000 students have been selected as Truman Scholars from colleges and universities across the United States. The scholarship is highly competitive – only 50-65 students are selected each year from a pool of over 600 candidates. Truman Scholars are change-makers committed to making an impact through public service.

Eligibility Requirements

The Truman Scholarship has strict eligibility requirements applicants must meet to be considered. According to the Truman Foundation, candidates must:

  • Be U.S. citizens, nationals, or residents of American Samoa (or expecting citizenship by the award date)
  • Be a junior pursuing a bachelor’s degree as a full-time student at an accredited U.S. college or university
  • Have a college GPA of at least 3.7 and be in the top quarter of their class
  • Be committed to a career in public service in government, uniformed services, nonprofit, advocacy, or education
  • Demonstrate leadership experience and potential through campus activities, community service, government internships, etc.

The Truman Scholarship is highly selective, so meeting the minimum eligibility criteria is not enough. Applicants should strive for a GPA of 3.8 or higher, have excellent test scores and transcripts, and showcase significant leadership roles and commitment to public service.

Truman Scholarship Application Details

The Truman application process is comprehensive and requires strong essays, recommendations, and an interview. Here’s what to expect:


There are four essay prompts on topics like your background, career goals, policy proposal, and an important leadership experience. The word limits range from 100-500 words. Experts recommend drafting your essays well in advance and having mentors review them to ensure they are compelling and error-free. Tips include being detailed, specific, passionate, and reflective when explaining your public service motivations (source).


You will need three letters of recommendation from sources like professors, supervisors, or community leaders. Choose recommenders who can speak to your leadership potential and commitment to public service. Provide them with your resume and draft application so they can write informed letters (source).


Finalists are interviewed by regional review panels. Practice articulating your interests, goals, leadership background, policy ideas, and passion for public service. Review common Truman interview questions and participate in mock interviews to prepare (source).


Applications are due by 11:59pm EST on the first Tuesday in February. Students are nominated by their undergraduate institutions in the fall prior. Interviews occur from mid-February to early March. Winners are notified in April (source).

Strengthening Your Truman Scholarship Application

There are several ways to improve your chances of being selected as a Truman Scholar. Focus on these key areas in your application process:

Get Involved on Campus and in Your Community

Truman Scholars demonstrate a long-standing commitment to public service leadership. Start early by taking on meaningful roles in student government, community organizations, volunteer programs, or social justice campaigns. Discuss the impact you made through these activities in your application essays.

For example, University of Virginia student Elle Barnes organized a campus initiative to provide free menstrual products in school bathrooms, demonstrating her commitment to addressing period poverty. This public service leadership strengthened her Truman Scholarship application.

Secure Strong Letters of Recommendation

Letters of recommendation from professors, supervisors, or community leaders who can speak to your qualifications are crucial. The Truman Foundation recommends asking writers early and providing guidance on what to highlight.

Choose recommenders who know you well enough to vividly illustrate your abilities, integrity, and potential for public service impact.

Craft Compelling Essays

The essays and policy proposal are where the Truman Scholarship committee gains insights into your experience, interests, and leadership potential. Showcase your written communication skills and follow the provided prompts closely.

When drafting essays, be authentic and back up your experiences with vivid, memorable examples according to the Truman Foundation’s essay advice. Revise thoroughly and have mentors review your work.

Prepare for Interviews

Finalists participate in an in-person interview, so practicing your public speaking and interview skills is essential. Expect questions about your background, goals, policy proposal, and current events.

Conduct mock interviews to polish your ability to present your experience and perspective. The interview gives the committee a sense of how you think on your feet.

Insights from Past Truman Scholars

Learning from past Truman Scholars is invaluable for applicants. Their experiences provide important tips for crafting a competitive application and making the most of the prestigious scholarship program.

In an article titled “Enough About Me, What Do You Think About Me? Surviving the Truman Interview Process”, Tara Yglesias reflects on her Truman interview experience. She recommends being knowledgeable but also humble – “you know a lot, but you have more to learn.” Preparation is key, but so is being adaptable, as the interview can take unexpected turns.

On the Truman website, example application essays provide models for thoughtful, reflective writing. One Scholar writes: “My idealism is my energy, it focuses my passion.” Strong essays convey the applicant’s personality and demonstrate their intense commitment to public service.

Past Truman Scholars emphasize using the scholarship’s resources and network. The $30,000 in graduate funding opens doors to advanced degrees. The Truman Foundation’s internship program connects Scholars to government agencies and nonprofit organizations. This jumpstarts careers in public service.

By learning from those who have gone through the competitive Truman process, applicants gain invaluable advice. Past Scholars recommend focusing on knowledge, preparation, humility and passion. Making the most of Truman opportunities leads to impactful public service careers.

Careers in Public Service

The Truman Scholarship provides a strong foundation for scholars to pursue impactful careers in public service. Many Truman Scholars go on to take leadership roles in government, nonprofits, advocacy organizations, and other areas.

Commonly pursued career paths include:

  • Government: Roles in local, state, or federal government such as analyst, aide, manager, or elected official.
  • Law: Pursuing a law degree to work in public interest law or civil rights.
  • Foreign Service: Joining the U.S. Foreign Service and working in embassies worldwide.
  • Education: Teaching in underserved public schools.
  • Advocacy: Working for nonprofits and NGOs focused on social justice, human rights, and policy issues.

The Truman Foundation provides extensive career development opportunities for scholars including internships, mentorships, and professional networks. Scholars can tap into an incredibly helpful alumni network of over 3,000 Truman Scholars working in all levels of public service.

By actively participating in Truman programs and connecting with alumni, scholars can build the skills, experiences, and relationships to accelerate their careers after graduate school.

Applying What You’ve Learned

As you prepare your Truman Scholarship application, it’s important to reflect deeply on your passions, interests, experiences, and future goals. The application process is a chance to synthesize everything you’ve learned and done during your undergraduate years.

Here are some key steps to take during undergrad to prepare a competitive Truman application:

  • Get involved in campus groups and leadership roles aligned with public service and your interests.
  • Volunteer and participate in community service projects regularly.
  • Take on internships in government, nonprofits or advocacy organizations.
  • Research issues you care about and develop policy ideas.
  • Build relationships with professors who can write you recommendation letters.
  • Maintain a high GPA and take rigorous courses.
  • Start drafting your policy proposal early, and get feedback from mentors.
  • Reflect on how your experiences have shaped your passions and future goals.
  • Practice writing essays and polish your interview skills.

If you lay the groundwork throughout undergrad, you’ll be ready to submit a competitive Truman Scholarship application that stands out. The process involves synthesizing your background, experiences, skills, goals and interests into a coherent narrative. Use the application as a chance to share your story and make the case for how you’ll use the scholarship to make an impact.

For guidance, check out tips from former Truman Scholars on the foundation’s website like https://www.truman.gov/apply/advice-guidance. Their insights can help you submit an application that gets noticed.

Maximizing Your Chances

The Truman scholarship application process takes significant preparation and planning. Here is a sample timeline leading up to the deadline:

  • 6 months before: Research eligibility requirements and speak with your campus representative
  • 5 months before: Brainstorm policy proposal ideas and potential recommenders
  • 4 months before: Request letters of recommendation and start drafting essays
  • 3 months before: Submit campus representative nomination and complete policy proposal
  • 2 months before: Finalize all application materials and practice interview questions
  • 1 month before: Submit final application through online portal

Throughout the application process, keep the following key tips in mind:

  • Start preparation early and give recommenders plenty of notice
  • Craft a compelling policy proposal on an issue you are passionate about (https://www.truman.gov/apply/advice-guidance/writing-effectively)
  • Choose recommenders who can speak in-depth about your qualifications
  • Revise your essays and have others provide feedback before submitting
  • Practice mock interviews so you can articulate your background and interests
  • Follow all instructions closely and proofread all materials before submitting

Being proactive, prepared, and polished will give you your best shot at this prestigious scholarship.

Looking Ahead as a Truman Scholar

After graduation, Truman Scholars have a wide range of opportunities available to them through the Truman Foundation’s network and resources. The Foundation provides ongoing career counseling, mentoring, professional development workshops, internship funding, and connections for finding jobs. This support system helps Truman Scholars make the most of their graduate education and launch their public service careers.

Many Truman Scholars go on to pursue advanced degrees in fields like public policy, international relations, law, public health, education, and social work. Graduate school allows scholars to gain specialized expertise to tackle complex issues in their area of interest. For example, they may study topics like health care policy, city planning, environmental law, or diplomacy. The Truman Scholarship provides up to $30,000 for graduate studies so scholars can afford top programs.

After graduate school, Truman Scholars embark on impactful careers in government, nonprofits, advocacy, research, and other fields. They take on leadership roles as elected officials, policy advisors, diplomats, lawyers, researchers, healthcare professionals and more. The Truman Foundation’s career center connects scholars to job and internship opportunities that align with their goals. Mentoring from the nationwide network of Truman alumni also provides invaluable guidance on career development. With hard work and the Foundation’s support, Truman Scholars are prepared to become the next generation of public service leaders.


In this guide, we’ve covered the key details you need to know about the prestigious Truman Scholarship. As a recap, this award provides up to $30,000 for graduate school as well as leadership development, internship opportunities, and career support to juniors pursuing careers in public service. We discussed the competitive eligibility requirements, application components like essays and interviews, and tips to strengthen your candidacy based on insights from past Truman Scholars.

With diligent preparation, a record of campus and community leadership, compelling recommendations, and persuasive application materials, you can put yourself in a strong position to win this selective scholarship. If you are committed to a career improving society through government, nonprofits, or advocacy, the Truman Scholarship can provide you with funding and a valuable network to make this vision a reality after graduate school. We encourage you to reflect deeply on your public service goals and how this program can help you achieve these aspirations. With focus and dedication, you have an exciting opportunity to join the distinguished Truman Scholars family.

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