What Even Is a Fellowship and 5 to Keep Your Eye On

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Those elusive opportunities filled with promises of funds to keep you rolling through a year of learning, service and action. To all rising seniors (and rising juniors)—what are you doing post-graduation? Have you considered the fellowship opportunities out there? If so, be prepared for a mountain of application hours and hard-core dedication. Most fellowships are highly competitive, accepting only a handful of students nationally. But inevitably, the payoff could be a year (or months or weeks) pursuing topics, exploring cultures and grasping new experiences. You will explore topics most passionate to you, dive into important issues and be nationally recognized as a fellowship-winning scholar.

Read On For Everything You Need to Know About Fellowships.

What is a fellowship?

Fellowships come in a number of shapes and sizes. “There are awards that allow you to participate in think tanks; awards for leadership experiences; awards that pair you with development organizations around the world; and awards that combine experiences,” said Roy Jo Sartin, former Fellowship Coordinator and Writing Center Specialist at Colorado College. With so many out there, you can cater the fellowships you pursue to your interests and goals for the future. You could end up doing anything from interning as a grad student to learning a new language while working on a social justice project.

Fellowships (nowadays interchangeably referred to as scholarships) can last for an entire post-graduate year, or for a short few months or weeks. They can take place domestically, in the United States, or post you in an overseas community. You might even travel to multiple destinations over the course of a year.

Some are associated to various disciplines, including the social sciences, languages, arts, public service or STEM (sciences, technologies, engineering, math). Some have participants pursue an academic course of research, teach in schools, perform public service or explore a topic of personal connection. While some fellowships only accept applications from certain schools or certain nationalities, others are open to any and all students. Essentially, a ton of fellowships opportunities exist. You’re bound to find one that appeals to you, your interests and goals.

Why a fellowship?

“The importance of postgraduate fellowships is multifaceted,” said Pedro de Araujo, Associate Dean and Associate Professor of Economics at Colorado College. All college faculty agreed with this sentiment, and so do I, despite the fact that I wasn’t accepted for the Watson Fellowship I applied to. However, I count the application process as one of the most valuable undertakings I have brought onboard throughout my college career. “It can give students time to process and apply their undergraduate education in the real world; different from a gap year, it gives students a purpose to pursue different opportunities at home or abroad that would not be available by either entering graduate school or employment in the private or public sector,” said de Araujo. “It may also serve as a solid bridge between college life and whatever comes next.”

Sartin, over her years coaching students through the tumultuous application process, has developed a similar opinion. “College is a time of transformation; rarely are you the same person when you leave as when you came in. But equally rarely are you prompted to stop and think about that transformation, and about what it means to you,” she said. “Where did you come from? How have you changed? Where are you going next? Applying for a fellowship can help you do that—it can help you define who you are and who you want to be. If you receive the fellowship, it can help you make that definition a reality.”

Fellowships provide you with time and funding to pursue an interest that you might not be able to later in life. They can help you wrap up your college career and transition into the “real world” in a meaningful and productive manner. Consider them once-in-a-lifetime opportunities for you to engage in and reflect on your passions and interests, and build on your experiences and knowledge.

Which Fellowship?

Navigating the fellowship world can be a confusing process. With so many to choose from, all with varied requirements, application processes and programs for the fellowship itself, you might feel overwhelmed. “The process of applying is itself a clarifying process. The reflection it requires will give you a much more articulated sense of who you are,” said Re Evitt, Associate Professor of English and long-time Watson Fellowship liaison at Colorado College. “Applying for fellowships is a great way to intentionally map your past-present-future. Applying for different fellowships challenges you to understand how others might hope you will engage with the wider world: All the different ways you might reach out to and participate in communities beyond your immediate circle of family, friends [and] peers at school.”

Most colleges/universities have sites to inform students about fellowships available, and some even have specialists to guide students through the application process. If your school offers this, reach out to your faculty fellowship liaison for advice. If not, The National Association of Fellowships Advisors has a helpful catalogue of what’s available. “It’s important to establish your goals, your support needs, as well as your individual strengths first—then research and consider what fellowships/scholarships will be the best fit for what you want to do,” said Evitt.

Typically, multiple fellowships may fall under a similar interest and/or skill set, so you can apply to a number simultaneously, with the same end goals in mind. However, Sartin wanted to remind students to focus on fellowships they actually care about. “Don’t spread yourself too thin trying to apply for every award; pick the ones you really care about, and for which you’re a good fit.”

Looking for a fellowship? Keep these five in mind.

1. Fulbright

Available to: U.S. postgraduate citizens (graduating seniors and alums)

Deadline to apply: Mid-September (internal college deadline); Mid-October (national deadline)

Find out more

Students can choose from two Fulbright fellowships: The Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship and the Fulbright Study/Research Grant. Both are highly prestigious, and cover travel and living expenses for one year in a choice of 150 countries. Applicants may choose to pursue a year teaching English, or to conduct a research project or year of study in a foreign institution. The Fulbright emphasizes international and intercultural exchange and understanding. It’s currently the largest U.S. exchange program, awarding approximately 1,900 grants annually. Cultural ambassadorship is key, and Fulbright recipients must engage with local communities, outside of the classroom or in a research setting.

Sidharth Tripathi, a senior at Colorado College, has been awarded (but ultimately did not accept) an English teaching assistant Fulbright to the Czech Republic. “Applying was stressful, I really did not set any expectations. I just tried my hardest on applications and hoped for the best.” As Tripathi said, “My incentive behind applying for the Fulbright was to learn more about how Czech people value family through their traditions, as that was very important in my upbringing.”

Teddy Corwin, a senior at Colorado College, was also granted a Fulbright ETA to Germany. “I am most excited for the chance to settle into my community and get to know the daily lives of those who work at the school to which I’m assigned,” said Teddy. “I’d say my ultimate goal is to build relationships with my coworkers and the students in the area to better understand the social climate of the Rheinland.” 

Tasnim Elboute, an environmental studies major at Yale focusing in food and agriculture, will soon embark on her Fulbright research grant in Morocco. Elboute will be investigating the social dynamics of food service and labour, as they intersect with gender. “As Morocco’s agricultural sector continues to industrialize, there is a higher need for field work, which attracts many young women​ who may not have other employment options in rural regions,” Elboute said. “Over the next year, I will interview women farm workers in the Souss and Oulad Amr regions​.​ I​’​m really interested in telling the stories of young women farm workers as well as connecting their experiences to a critique of global food trade.”

2. Humanity In Action

Available to: Sophomore to senior students, from the U.S. and the E.U.

Deadline to apply: Early January

Find out more

Humanity In Action fellowships take place in multiple locations across Europe. Each program lasts five weeks. HIA brings together groups of diverse students to investigate questions of minority rights. This includes analyzing historical-social frameworks of tolerance and intolerance, discrimination and resistance and the maintenance of democratic values. Fellows must workshop to produce original research on these topics, within the national framework of the program-country. Along with the summer placement in Europe, fellows also attend the HIA orientation at the Council of Foreign Relations in Washington, D.C.

You can apply for the Humanity In Action fellowship at any point in your college career, sophomore year onwards. Keep in mind that recipients do need to cover the cost of their own return airfare to Europe and some living expenses (housing is covered). However, financial aid is available to those with demonstrated need.

3. Princeton

Available to: All seniors and alumni

Deadline to apply: October or November

Find out more: Princeton in Africa, AsiaLatin America

The Princeton fellowship program is three pronged: The Princeton in Africa, Asia or Latin America. Each program provides successful fellows with funding for housing and living expenses for a 12-month placement with a development organization in their continent of choice, working to progress issues that they care most deeply about.

Colorado College senior Avukile Zoya, recipient of the Princeton in Africa (PiAf) Fellowship, outlined her plans for the coming year. “I will be working with Baylor International Pediatric AIDS initiative (BIPAI) in Botswana, Gaborone which provides free-of-charge pediatric HIV care, treatment and support to adolescents throughout Botswana.” She recommended the PiAf to those who feel genuinely passionate about bringing and perpetuating change in Africa, those prepared to step out of their comfort zone for a year and those yearning to experience personal, cultural and professional growth.

CC senior Miles Cooper, on the other hand, is heading to Phnom Penh in Cambodia with the Princeton in Asia fellowship, to work for ChildFund International. “I’ll be assisting the office with logistics for their programs and helping with their record keeping/programming in Cambodia. They are the leading child advocacy group in the Kingdom and work to ensure that all Khmer children have access to services,” he said. He has few fears about the upcoming year, but Cambodia has general elections coming up, and unrest can often come with political change. “I think my fear is I’ll be drinking coffee in a cafe next year in Phnom Penh and I’ll see a Vice news crew run by me,” he said.

4. Watson Fellowship

Available to: Seniors from Watson partner institutions

Deadline to apply: Decided by school for internal applications, November nationally

Find out more

Each year, students from 40 colleges across the U.S. are invited to compete for $30,000 in order to spend 12 months traveling and investigating a topic that most interests them. Watson fellows typically spend time in four to six countries globally. They explore issues ranging from food security to boat building, and from bird migration to board games. Preliminary applications occur through Watson partner institutions. Each school may put forward a total of four students for the fellowship for national selection.

Beyond that, The Watson does not ask you to produce reports, write academic findings or work for non-profits or any other institutions. It is intended for fellows to spend 12 months pursuing a personally meaningful interest, which will shape them as an individual. The only rule? You cannot return home or enter the U.S. during the year.

5. Ameson Year in China

Available to: Native English speaking seniors and graduates with U.S., U.K., Australian, or Canadian passports

Deadline to apply: Rolling

Find out more

This program places fellows in public schools across China for a year of teaching English as a foreign language. The Ameson Year was developed as a way to improve U.S.-China relations. Fellows are considered Educational Ambassadors. This involves complete immersion into a different culture, language and geographical landscape, while teaching new friends about their home nation. They provide grantees with a monthly stipend, travel reimbursements and full TEFL certification that can be used for years to come.

“I’m excited to learn about eco-tourism, there are lots of hiking and waterfalls, improve my Chinese language and see how I can make arts on the road,” said Colorado College senior Emma Kearney. She will go off to Pan’am in Zhejiang province this August. “Time difference might make things hard…and the language barrier.”

A senior sociology major at Colorado College, and a Brit. Passionate about writing, conversation, being in the sunshine and having a good pint.

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