What are Fellowships?

Fellowships are short-term programs that can last for several years but are generally limited to a few months. Unlike most internships, fellowships generally come with paid stipends. In some cases, fellows enjoy additional benefits like health care, housing or student loan repayment. The real benefit, however, is the professional development that fellows can expect to get out of the experience. These competitive programs require significant commitment from the candidate, and no matter what type of fellowship you're pursuing, you should apply for a fellowship you're truly ready to see through to the end. Fellowships can be awarded, administered and funded by universities and colleges, corporations, nonprofits, foundations, media groups and governmental entities.

What are the Benefits?

Given the structure of fellowships, fellows usually gain significant experience quickly. They’re given weighty responsibility and are expected to meet demanding challenges that otherwise would likely be reserved for higher-level professionals. Fellowships foster professional development, provide intensive training and open the door to high-level networking opportunities.

Once accepted into a program, fellows are given the professional support and resources needed to pursue and achieve accomplishments that would rarely be available to interns or professionals at the beginning of their careers. Fellows receive training and unique mentorship opportunities and are exposed to instructors, speakers and leaders who are at the top of their fields — many of whom were likely fellows themselves. The work fellows do is challenging, interesting and highly applicable to their academic and professional pursuits.

There are, however, some drawbacks to keep in mind. The rigorous application process can be stressful. On top of that, a serious, binding commitment is required and the stipends awarded rarely compete with the salaries that someone qualified for a fellowship could command in the job market. Fellowship compensation can vary widely but as an example, at the University of California, Berkeley, $25,000 for a 9-12 month program is considered generous. Berkeley fellows also receive healthcare coverage, student loan repayment assistance and stipends for housing. Other fellowships may offer such benefits – or more – but it’s not always a guarantee.

How to Apply

According to Crystal Olivarria, a career coach at Career Conversationalist, applying for a fellowship is more rigorous and in depth than applying for a job or even admission into a university. A big part of getting it right, she says, is adopting the right state of mind.

"Fellowships should not be viewed as prizes to win but rather as rewards earned," Olivarria says. She goes on to explain that fellowships should be thought of as advanced scholarships. “They usually require a more detailed application process. This is because fellowship administrators want to know what candidates have done, what knowledge and skills were gained and how that all can be applied to the cause the fellowship supports."

If you've identified a fellowship you'd like to pursue, you might be wondering about next steps. One of the key ingredients to a successful application is getting an early start. "Schedule plenty of time to apply, don’t rush through the process," advises Olivarria. She notes that the application process can be complex, requiring lots of prerequisite paperwork — like intent-to-apply forms — all of which come with strict submission deadlines. Personal statements — which are required for most fellowships and tend to carry significant weight among administrators and review committees — require multiple drafts, revisions and fine tuning. If you don't leave yourself enough time, you'll put additional stress on yourself, are more likely to encounter errors or miss important steps and won’t show administrators and committees what you’re truly capable of.

Start by getting your preliminary documents in order, including your resume, transcripts and letters of recommendation. The committee will want to review these foundational documents first. From there, they'll move onto the heart of your application — the fellowship proposal.

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Prioritizing Your Proposal

Your proposal is the part of the application that gives you the opportunity to introduce yourself to the committee, explain what you intend to accomplish and present your case for why you're the right candidate. The good thing is your proposal doesn't have to be submitted as a finished product — most review committees expect your goals, plans and intentions to evolve throughout the process. But a proposal should provide evidence that you've carefully thought through why you want the fellowship and how you can contribute to the program.

Fellowship applications and the proposals they require all have unique guidelines and procedures, which applicants must understand completely before they get started and follow closely once they do. While you should read through all requirements carefully, there are some basic guidelines that can be applied to most fellowship proposals. Prospective fellows should consider the following when drafting a proposal:

  • If you're applying for a fellowship, chances are you're a specialist who has traveled a long path toward an academic niche. It's likely that at least some of the people reviewing your application won't hail from that world. You’ll want to demonstrate your knowledge but should avoid industry jargon and complex language that only those in your field are likely to understand.

  • Write in a conversational tone that's neither too manufactured nor too informal. Let your personality come through and stick to language and ideas that are truly your own.

  • A fellowship proposal is where you will share your accomplishments with the committee so they can understand what you've achieved. Modesty won’t help you, but neither will bragging — and never, ever exaggerate or embellish any accomplishments or accolades.

  • You're more than likely not going to get it right on the first draft. The revision process is as important as the writing process, and you'd be wise to get a second — or third or fourth, if possible — set of eyes on your proposal before you submit. Your school's alumni organization might be able to pair you with a mentor or advisor, and alumni of the fellowship program itself are uniquely qualified to review your work. As Olivarria sums it up, "Look for ways to enhance the application by consulting with a mentor and asking for their feedback and input."

How to Nail the Interview

A strong application containing a well-crafted proposal can lead to an interview with administrators and a review committee. Whether or not interviewing is your strong suit, preparation is key to this critical part of the process. Like proposals, interviews can include a wide spectrum of possible scenarios and formats so there's no one correct way to prepare. Also like proposals, however, there are a few standards for success that can be applied almost universally during fellowship interviews. Candidates should consider the following to prepare for an interview.

  • You're likely to emerge from the application process feeling like you know every nook and cranny of the fellowship program. The reality, however, is that it all can blur together during the frantic race to submit paperwork, meet deadlines and compile all the necessary materials. Now that the dust has settled, take some time to revisit the program details, brush up on exactly what the fellowship entails, who it's designed for, what it hopes to accomplish and why you felt you were a good match in the first place.

  • Even if you started early, the application process was probably still stressful and hectic. Re-read what you wrote, how you presented yourself, what language you used and the strengths you highlighted. Your application, after all, represents the totality of everything your interviewers know about you. It's also going to be the basis for many of the questions they’ll ask you during the first critical meeting.

  • You will, of course, have to answer plenty of questions, but you'll almost certainly be asked to present your interviewers with questions of your own. This is an excellent chance to demonstrate how much time you've taken to learn about the fellowship and the people and work involved. This is a good opportunity to showcase your inquisitive nature and your critical-thinking skills but it’s also a good time for you to get more information on things that weren’t clear or on details that weren’t discussed in the program description.

  • You'll of course be asked to discuss where you've been, what you've done and where you see yourself in the future, even if it's just the near future in terms of the fellowship. But be prepared for off-topic questions designed to let interviewers see the core of your personality and experiences. They might ask about your favorite historical figure, your biggest weakness or something you would have done differently if given the chance. They are, after all, trying to get a better understanding of who the real you really is, which leads to the final point.

  • Preparation is key. Reciting rehearsed, canned answers that you presume a review committee might want to hear is not. It's natural to be guarded when you're nervous but try to let your true personality shine through — it's gotten you this far, after all. Remember that you're there because the committee was impressed with you, your work, your style and your ambitions. People win fellowships. Rehearsed answers and lists of accomplishments do not.

Examples of Fellowship Opportunities

In many cases, fellowship programs are offered, directed and funded by colleges and universities. In those cases, the application, interview and acceptance processes are usually conducted through the higher learning institution itself. A few examples of these college- and university-specific fellowships include programs like those offered through:

For prospective fellows who don't yet know exactly what program they're even looking for, but do know their school of choice, it might make more sense to search the target school's fellowship database, which many prominent colleges and university now maintain. Examples of university- and college-based databases include:

In many other cases, however, fellowships are sponsored, funded and administered by outside associations, foundations and organizations not related to a college or university. Examples of some of the most prestigious and well-known are:

  • The ANY fellowship program is geared toward candidates with a passion, background and talent for immigration issues, particularly how they apply to education for first-generation college students.

  • This fellowship is open to those who have been residents, fellow members and members in good standing of the ACP for at least two years since completion of their residency.

  • Through the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME), the American Society of Anesthesiologists offers medical students fellowship opportunities across a dozen specialist concentrations.

  • Many of the CDC's fellowships provide direct gateways to future careers with the globally recognized governmental health organization.

  • Search for dozens of fellowship opportunities in specializations like anesthesia, emergency medicine, family medicine, internal medicine, pediatric, psychiatry, surgery and women's health.

  • Designed exclusively for New York City math and science teachers in public schools, MFA's two unique fellowships both run for four full years.

  • Half a dozen fellowships across a range of academic levels and areas of study are issued through the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine.

  • NYFA awards $7,000 fellowships to originating artists living in New York or Native American reservations within the state. Applicants come from a wide variety of disciplines and backgrounds.

  • Search for any one among dozens of fellowships at several levels of academic achievement, including postdoctoral early career, postdoctoral any stage, library fellowships and residential fellowships and humanities centers.

  • The most promising early career scientists and scholars compete for highly competitive Sloan fellowships.

  • The Smithsonian Institution Fellowship Program is one of the better-known fellowships, and many other highly desirable fellowships are placed through the Smithsonian. There are also a broad range of fellowship opportunities throughout the Smithsonian's vast network of museums, units and research centers.

  • The Terra Foundation offers a variety of fellowships for both established and emerging scholars.

  • Anyone from business leaders to public servants can apply for the Coro Fellowship, which takes place entirely in urban settings. The program is designed to prepare community leaders and changemakers for the rigors of advanced community service and civic improvement.

  • Truman scholars can pursue fellowships beyond graduation through the Truman Albright Fellows, Truman Democracy Fellows and the Truman Governance Fellows.

  • The Pratt Association's highly competitive fellowships run for two semesters and expose the winning candidates to professional experience in some of New York City's most celebrated cultural institutions.

  • The Woodrow Wilson Dissertation Fellowship in Women's Studies is for PhD candidates who plan to complete their dissertations during the year of their fellowship.

Where to Find More Fellowships

Prospective fellows who are looking for a broad range of programs and opportunities — or who just want to see what's out there before they commit — have several databases and fellowship search engines to help them in that journey. To find and explore more fellowship opportunities, try the following resources:

  • AMA Residency and Fellowship Database

    More than 10,000 programs are available on this database, all of which are accredited by the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education.

  • Mellon Foundation Grants Database

    Although it focuses on grants, the Mellon database is also packed with fellowship opportunities.

  • ProFellow

    The founders of ProFellow know some of the best opportunities are buried online. More than 1,000 funded fellowships can be found on this database, which is easily searchable just by filling out a few information fields.

  • Public Service Jobs Directory

    The PSJD database allows users to search for research and academic fellowships, organizational fellowships and project-based fellowships.