Part II: Revisions and the Interview
At this point in the process, after your first round of the Watson application has been submitted and whatever other interview procedure completed, your school will nominate four students to compete in the final round. With a good application (check back on the first part of this travel grant guide!) and a little bit of luck (you’re own your own) you will be among these lucky few who are on their way to this travel grant. Congratulations! You are now one of less than 200 students across the United States who has reached this stage in the Watson Fellowship. Before getting down to work give yourself a pat on the back. Ok, time to get back to working on your successful fellowship application, this is your passion, remember? One travel grant application coming right up!
The next stage in your Watson Fellowship dream will be revision, and lots of it! Hopefully your school will assign you someone to work with who has seen many years of Watson Fellows and their applications. They will be able to guide you as to how to write a successful application. Meet with them and work on the application as much as you can. I know that this is probably a busy time as you will be in your senior year of college, but struggle through, it could all be worth it! You will probably go through several revisions, but remember, you are writing ten pages for a $25,000 travel grant. That is more than you are ever likely to get paid per word again!
You should work on making your story and project stick out! The Watson Foundation works for several months on these applications, if you can write an application that is memorable you are more likely to get a Watson. Make your project compelling and remember to show why you are the one to do this project, why it is your passion, why every bit of your being is longing to take this trip. Remember what your middle school teacher said, “Don’t explain with your writing, make your writing show!” What you write should make the person who reads it excited for you. Heck, they should want to go do your project. (Don't worry, this travel grant is only for graduating college seniors!)
This is also the time to start showing your drafts to others. Have your parent, friends, teachers and other people in your life read it and give their feedback. Speaking of talking to people about your Watson Fellowship, you are going to need to find...
The Watson Fellowship application requires two or three references, with at least two of them being from an academic setting. I would recommend finding three, as long as they are all people who genuinely have lots of good things to say about you. If you need to you probably get away with recommendations from administrators at your college as long as they know you well.
When selecting references, make sure you ask people who know you well and with whom you have a good connection. The Watson Foundation doesn’t care if Fellows have all A grades, and they particularly don’t care if you find the most famous professor in your college who gave you an a back in an intro course freshman year. You want people who are excited for you to succeed with your Watson and can talk about you as a whole person, not just a student.
Spend the time to talk to them about your project, make sure that they understand what you are doing, why you want to do it, and obviously show them your application. You will also want to explain to them exactly what the Watson is. Many professors (and certainly many of the other people you might ask) have never worked with a potential Watson Fellow before and you want them to portray you in the right light. On its website the Watson Foundation describes itself as Fellowship that “offers college graduates of "unusual promise" a year of independent, purposeful exploration and travel -- in international settings new to them -- to enhance their capacity for resourcefulness, imagination, openness, and leadership and to foster their humane and effective participation in the world community.” You will want to explain this philosophy to them, along with the need to show your unique skills and leadership and how this year of traveling on a grant will push you. With any luck you will come across as a exceptionally capable, interesting and promising applicant. Make sure that you follow up with your references and make sure that they have written and submitted their letters. The process is done online, and you should be notified, but it is always better to avoid a last minute panic if something goes wrong! Get everything in before you need to and spare yourself the hassle of worrying about the paperwork of being considered for your travel grant.
The last real stage in the Watson Fellowship application process is an interview with a representative from the Watson Fellowship Foundation. Most of the time this will be someone who has received a travel grant from the Watson Fellowship when they graduated from college. They usually just volunteer to help with the interview process, but when you are dealing with Watson Fellows, you can bet that they are going to be interesting, curious and intelligent!
It’s probably a good idea to see if you can do a “mock interview” with someone at your school who knows the Watson Fellowship well. You will want to be prepared for difficult questions, that will never be the same. Questions such as:
“You can’t do your project every day, what will you do when you aren’t working on the project?”
“What would happen if you break your leg and can’t [do capoira/dance/climb Mt.Everest/learn contortion]?”
“One year is a long time to be away from home and the Watson encourages you to disconnect from social media and immerse in the new world you are in, how will you deal with this isolation?”
“You are planning to travel in countries that speak X, Y, and Z, languages, but you say you only speak languages A and B. How will you manage this language barrier?”
Aside from questions along these lines, you really have to bring the project to life for them. Most likely you will be studying something that they don’t know much about. Do a demonstration, get them involved. Hearing about how you juggle fire is a lot different than walking into the room with blazing torches. They probably haven’t met someone who is passionate about throatsinging. If you don’t demonstrate what you are talking about, you aren't giving yourself a fair shot. Most importantly, be passionate, honest and friendly. Hopefully the interview goes well and you move on to the next step...
At this point it is out of your hands. Cross your fingers and hope for the best. The Watson Fellows are announced in mid-March, so it is a bit of a long wait. Once you find out, go wild and tell everyone you know that you got a round the world travel grant for your greatest passion!! Or console yourself with the knowledge that you made it incredibley far and you are probably amazing! Many Watson Fellowship finalists end up doing their projects anyway, without the support of the Watson Foundation.
Good luck and happy travels! Make sure to read about the first stage of applying for this travel grant!