As part of your preparation, include the following steps:
Explore the relevant website fully to make sure the opportunity is a good match for you.
Make a list of all requirements, including the application deadline.
Make an appointment with the National Fellowships Advisor, Jason Ezell. (If you have done the above, make an appointment now.) This is important. Many opportunities have internal deadlines or an institutional endorsement. The advisor will let you now. When you make the appointment, be clear which opportunity you would like to discuss.
Begin the application immediately. Some aspects of the process may only make sense once you look at the online application and how you submit supporting materials.
Make a timeline to complete the application, using a calendar and an alert system if possible. Give yourself plenty of wiggle room. For most opportunities, you should work for several months in order to turn in a truly competitive application.
Choose any recommendation writers carefully, based on the criteria and instructions of the award. As a courtesy, you should give all recommendation writers (1) a draft of your key application essays and (2) a month's notice to complete their recommendation.
Work with other relevant university professionals closely as you move through the application process. Departmental faculty, language professors, writing tutors, service coordinators, etc., can all be crucial to a competitive application.