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Hey there, nice to meet you 👋🏼! I'm Gabby, a returning MLH Fellow in the Software Engineering track for Spring 2023, a 3rd-year computer science student at Western University, and a Software Engineering and DevOps enthusiast!
Over the past couple of weeks, I've received quite a few DMs on LinkedIn and Discord asking for advice on how to nail the MLH Fellowship application and interview process. As a result, I've decided to compile all the advice I've gathered from past Fellows, the admissions team, and my personal experience into one master list of tips and tricks to help make your application stand out and increase your chances of being invited to the Fellowship 🎉
What is the MLH Fellowship? 💭
If you're curious about the MLH Fellowship and not sure where to start, I highly recommend checking out their official website for more details on the program https://fellowship.mlh.io/
In short, the MLH Fellowship is a highly competitive program for aspiring technologists (hint: think SWEs, SREs, DevRel specialists and more!). It provides a unique opportunity for talented individuals to work on meaningful projects, learn new skills, earn a stipend while receiving education from expert mentors, and make a real impact in the tech industry.
What I especially love about the program is that it's open to applicants from virtually any country and does not require you to be in post-secondary education to qualify. You do have to be 18 years or older, however, so for high school students do your best to contribute to other Open Source projects while you wait!
Application Tips and Tricks 🎩✨
So you've decided that you're going to apply to the MLH Fellowship, but you're unsure how to guarantee that your application demonstrates your excellence to the admissions team and stands out from the rest of the crowd. Don't worry, I've been there too! By following the tips below on how to craft your application, you'll be setting yourself up for success as a future MLH Fellow.
1) Start early
"The early bird really does get the worm when it comes to getting into the Fellowship [...] Most folks who will get into the Spring program will have applied by November 30th." - Amanda, MLH Admissions Team
MLH Fellowship applications typically open several months before the start of the program so it's important to start preparing your application as early as possible. According to the admissions team, about 50% of Fellows apply at least 2 months before the start of the program. By giving yourself enough time to write a strong essay application and build a polished code sample, you'll already have a leg-up compared to other applicants. Don't forget to update your social media like GitHub and LinkedIn to reflect your most recent experiences!
When I first applied to the Fellowship, I only applied a month before the start date. The 3-step admissions process took quite a while, nearly 4 weeks from the time I submitted my application to the time I received my acceptance letter. So please don't be like me and give yourself enough time to comfortably go through the process, especially if you are not a returning Fellow!
2) Tailor your application
A large factor in determining whether you get an invitation to the behavioural interview stage is how strong your essay application is. One of the questions you will need to write a response to is
"[...] What perspective or experience will you bring to the fellowship to strengthen our community?"
When answering this question, take the time to highlight what unique experiences or insights you have and how you believe they will help to strengthen the MLH community. Keep in mind, you don't have to have to be an ex-FAANG intern to be able to highlight your unique qualities as an applicant! When I first applied I explained how my perspectives as a political science student gave me a unique outlook on incorporating ethics and security into the software I built. Try to draw on your past school experiences, personal interests, hackathons and more for this question!
Additionally, make sure that your resume has been tailored to showcase your strongest and most relevant experiences when applying to the Fellowship. And please, make sure to answer the question you're asked during the essay portion of the application - by directly answering the question you demonstrate to the admissions team your ability to succinctly and efficiently solve problems.
3) Show your passion
One of the key qualities that the MLH Fellowship is looking for is a passion for growth and learning. Make sure your code sample and essay answers are well-thought-out, and that you've taken the time to polish them to the best of your abilities. Submitting the best version of your work possible signals to the admissions that you are serious about producing high-quality work and that you already have a good grasp of the technical skills needed to excel in the program.
Be sure to also stress why you're an excellent applicant when answering the essay questions
"Why do you want to become an MLH Fellow" and "Is there anything else we should know about you."
Too often people leave the last question blank when in reality they should be sharing a story with the admissions team that leaves a great first impression about their passions and excitement to join the Fellowship.
4) Demonstrate your technical skills
The MLH Fellowship is a technical program, so it's important to demonstrate your technical skills and capabilities in your application. This includes highlighting any relevant coursework, projects, or hackathons that you've participated in, in your resume.
More importantly, please make sure you add enough detail and polish to your code sample. If you're creating a web app, make sure to deploy it and put the link somewhere visible on your GitHub repository so the admissions team can easily interact with your website. If you're building a mobile app, provide a zipped download file or even a link to the application on the App Store! Making your project visible is an enormous factor in making it easier for the admissions team to assess your skills and competency.
Also, be sure that your code is nicely formatted (using a linter or similar tool), that your commit history is informative (i.e. all the commit messages aren't just 'commit'), that you have sufficient complexity and Isolation of Concerns in your codebase (i.e. don't throw everything into 1 file that is only a few lines long), and that you create an informative and easy to understand Readme.MD (this is crucial to the success of your application).
5) Network and seek out mentors
This is a tip that I leveraged a lot, especially when I first applied to the Fellowship.
Networking can be a key factor in the success of your application, so don't be shy to seek out mentors and advisors who can provide guidance and advice on how to improve your application. Message people on LinkedIn and even join the official MLH Fellowship Discord to ask the team and past/current Fellows any questions you may have!
6) Follow the application instructions
I've already mentioned this in a previous point but I cannot stress it enough. Please please please make sure to answer all questions in your initial application as thoroughly as possible, and pay special attention to what they say they're looking for in a code sample.
I've had a few applicants message me and ask why their code sample got rejected, and their GitHub repository included 3 commits and 3 files in total. This is unfortunately not enough information for the admissions team to determine whether your code was original and whether you can create larger projects of sufficient quality during the program. The MLH Fellowship is a highly competitive program and as such, they are looking for proof that you understand how to write good documentation and substantial code.
If you've made it this far into the article, congratulations and thank you! I hope the advice I've shared about the application process will help you find success as a future MLH Fellow. With that said, please don't be discouraged if you don't get in the first or even the second time you apply! The program is highly competitive and as the admissions team says, you should take the rejection as a "not right now" instead of "never"!
Please feel free to comment about more articles you'd like to see and reach out on LinkedIn for any personal questions you may have about the program. ✨
Additional Resources 📚
Looking for more information on the Fellowship? Here are some great links to get started:
- The official MLH Fellowship website: https://fellowship.mlh.io/
- The official MLH Fellowship LinkedIn page (hint: find past fellows here and reach out about their experiences) https://www.linkedin.com/school/mlh-fellowship/
- The November 2022 MLH Fellowship information session, hosted by the admissions team: https://lnkd.in/g6KGiek3
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