The Thomas J. Watson Fellowship is a one-year grant for purposeful, independent exploration outside the United States, awarded to graduating seniors nominated by one of 41 partner institutions.

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Become a Watson Fellow

The Watson Fellowship is a rare window after college and pre-career to engage your deepest interest on a global scale. Fellows conceive original projects, execute them outside of the United States for one year and embrace the ensuing journey. They decide where to go, who to meet and when to change course. They do not affiliate with academic institutions and may not hold formal employment.

The program produces a year of personal insight, perspective and confidence that shapes the arc of fellows' lives. Started in 1968, Watson Fellows comprise leaders in every field. The one year stipend is $36,000. In addition, the foundation provides (through reimbursement) health insurance and the equivalent of 12-months of payments on outstanding institutional and federally guaranteed (Perkins, Stafford) loans. Only partner colleges may nominate students.

Am I Eligible?

You are eligible to apply for the Watson if you are a graduating senior nominated by one of our 41 partner institutions. We do not accept at-large applications. All majors and fields of inquiry are eligible.

The foundation's vision and values grow from the belief that a diversity of people, ideas, and experiences is critical to creating more humane and effective leaders. Watson Fellows are selected without regard to race, color, religion, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, national origin, or disability.

We encourage you to contact your campus advisor with questions regarding eligibility and accommodations.

Selection Criteria

Qualities sought in the selection of fellows include:

  • Leadership
  • Imagination
  • Independence
  • Emotional Maturity
  • Courage
  • Integrity
  • Resourcefulness
  • Responsibility
Fellow Expectations
  • Attend the pre-departure webinar (spring)
  • Depart by August 1 of the award year
  • Remain outside of the United States for 1 year
  • Remain outside countries that are US State Department Level 3 or 4 (or areas within countries listed as "Do Not Travel" and "Reconsider Travel"), on US Treasury Sanction, or designated CDC Level 3.
  • Submit quarterly reports and an end of year expense report
  • Attend the returning fellows' conference (August)

Application Process
  • Ensure eligibility
  • Meet with your campus advisor
  • Complete the application including:
    • Your Personal Statement - What has convinced you to apply for the Watson? What do you hope to benefit from the year?
    • Your Project Proposal - Your project must sustain your interest amidst the highs and lows of a year in unfamiliar places. What is your plan for the 12-month period? What opportunities and challenges are unique to your project?
  • 2 Recommendations
  • Transcript
  • Complete the campus selection process

If nominated by your college you will enter the national selection process and have a one-hour Zoom interview with a foundation representative. Please ask your campus advisor about internal deadlines. The national selection process begins in November. Awards are announced in mid-March.