The Watson Fellowship is one of the coolest opportunities out there for graduating seniors. You are given $25,000 to travel the world doing whatever you are truly passionate about for one year which is about as close to free money as you can get. In fact, you will not be allowed to return to the United States for this time, instead getting the chance to fully immerse yourself in a project of your choice. There is no restriction on what you can do except your own imagination and passion! Unfortunately, you will have to go through a competitive application process to get the Watson Fellowship. In this article I will walk you through how to write a successful application for this amazing grant.

The Application Process for the Watson Fellowship:
The Watson application process consists of two separate stages, the internal college nomination and the national Watson Fellowship selection. In each of these stages you will submit a two-part written section and have an interview. First, let’s take a look at the internal nomination process:

Internal Nomination Process:
Each college or university participating in the Watson Fellowship is allowed to nominate up to four students every year to the national competition. Most universities do this by allowing students to prepare applications that are reviewed by a board of administrators and professors to decide which of the applying students have the best chance at winning the Watson Fellowship. Your school will probably have a meeting, announcement or info-session that will detail some of the characteristics that they will be looking for in the applications. To write a successful application it is important to attend this session and take notes of the things the presenter says. Your first goal must be to impress this group of people. The first application that you write will not be the final one you submit, so make sure to direct this round of your Watson application to them! Among other things, they will let you know about the two part written application for the fellowship, consisting of a Project Proposal and a Personal Statement.

Project Proposal:
The project proposal is where you lay out what you want to do! This should be something that you are absolutely passionate about doing for a full year. To write a successful application should be detailed in your plan; the more contacts you can show you have talked to, itineraries you have listed, and preliminary budgeting information, the better. Do your research! It isn’t enough to say that you want to study music or food around the world. Talk about specific places, groups, and people that you want to visit. There should be some kind of theme that ties them all together; if you are interested in food, maybe you could be studying cultures that use every part of an animal or different cultures that rely primarily on corn. The possibilities are endless, just make sure you are specific in your plan and have done your research. Probably the most important thing in your Watson application is how the project proposal relates to you as a person...which brings us to...

Personal Statement:
Your personal statement is different from anything you have written before. Don’t think of it as a resume, or even a cover letter of sorts. A successful application should show in a deeply personal way why you are the best person in the country to do this specific project. If your project is on circus and contortion, you shouldn’t be writing about winning a national honors competition or a valuable job experience you have had. Demonstrate your passion! This is the opportunity to gush about your project; you’re living your dream, right? The Watson Fellowship will tell you that they are investing in “people, not projects.” This is to say that they don’t really care if your project is interesting to them, as long as it matches up with your life passions. If you just thought of your project last week because you heard there was a lot of money for travel, you probably don’t have a good shot at winning. If you have been living, breathing, and thinking about this since you were 10, I hope you are ready to travel the world.
The other thing that is important to talk about in this section is your sense of adventure and how suited to being a Watson Fellow you are. One of the requirements of the fellowship is that you must be gone from the United States (or your home country) for one calendar year and the Watson will want to know that you both understand the challenges of living solo for a year, and are excited to face them! That said, it can’t look to easy. If you seem like you will just be living within your comfort zone, they won’t be impressed. The point of the fellowship is to push you further and make you explore new things! It is a bit of a balancing act showing that you are the kind of person that will both handle being by yourself for a year as well as use the year to push beyond your normal boundaries, but if you can walk that line your application will be very strong!

School Nomination:
Some schools will also hold a round of interviews with all or some of the applicants within your school. These can range from one-on-one interviews that simulate the final interview to panels of interviewers from a committee. As these follow the same general pattern as the final interviews, I will talk about making this part of your Watson Fellowship application successful later on in the next section. The general trick is that you must convince them that you will be a strong candidate in the next round. The Watson Fellowship is very prestigious, not just for the student but for the school as well. There is no guarantee that schools will have a student selected, so they want to make sure they are nominating their strongest candidates.