Travel the world(72802)
Credit: archer10 (Dennis) [Flikr]


What is the Watson Fellowship Travel Grant?
The Watson Fellowship is probably the biggest and best travel grant that you could dream of getting. This travel grant, if you are lucky enough to win it, is essentially free money for travel. In fact, the Watson Fellowship is a $25,000 grant for traveling the world for one calendar year. During this year of free travel 40 graduating seniors are given the opportunity to pursue a deep-seated passion across many countries. The number of countries ranges from about three to over a dozen, but typically number around five to eight. The travel grant is very open ended and allows students to pursue anything they want. In past years, Watson Fellows have studied food production, circus, electronic music, places that are very cold, sustainable communities, sword dancing, and contortion, just to name a few! The only limit is your imagination.

Restrictions for the Watson Fellowship Travel Grant:
The Watson Fellowship travel grant has very few restrictions. First of all, you can't travel to countries on the US State Department watch list. This is just for your own safety. You can only spend the money supporting yourself; the travel grant isn't supposed to be used to donate to projects that you find along your way. Probably the biggest restriction that you will have to think about is that you aren't allowed to return home within the United States (nor your home country if you are an international student) for a full calendar year. Some people might find this to be too intimidating, but many others find this travel grant opportunity to be a dream come true! I personally would love to be paid to travel outside the United States for a year!
Another related restriction is that you aren't allowed to revisit a country that you have been to for more than a few weeks before the start of the year. That means that if you spent a semester abroad in Russia, you can't return there. This is because the Watson Foundation doesn’t want you to just relax into a familiar place.

Watson Fellowship Philosophy
The purpose of the Watson Fellowship is to give travel grants that will push the boundaries of the people who get them. They say on their website that the mission of the fellowship is to "[offer] 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." They are an organization that is more interested in who you are as a complete person, not just as a student or researcher, and they award travel grants to "invest in you, not your project." This means that if you are truly passionate about what you propose in your Watson Fellowship application, you stand a much better chance of winning this travel grant.

Requirements For a Watson Fellowship Winner:
Not only are there few restrictions you win a Watson Fellowship, but there are very few requirements for your grant. Most travel grants come with strings attached, usually you have to produce a tangible result at the end of your free travel. With the Watson Fellowship, you are required to write a two page report every three months, with the final report being five pages long. Including the ten page Watson Fellowship application, you are getting over $4 A WORD! For any InfoBarrel writers in college, maybe you should think about trying your skills applying for this travel grant! This really is the closest thing to free money that you will ever find in a travel grant! The last requirement for the Watson Fellowship is attending a end-of-year conference to give a short presentation on your year to the other recipients of the travel grant.

Eligibility for the Watson Fellowship:
The Watson Fellowship travel grant is only available to graduating college seniors at certain universities, but if you meet those requirements you should absolutely consider applying.  These schools tend to be liberal arts colleges, but to find out if yours is amoung them you can look at the Watson Fellowship website for a full list of participating colleges. There is no  minimum GPA or specific numeric requirements; the Watson Foundations believes in taking a more holistic approach to their Fellows.

Applying for the Watson Fellowship Travel Grant:
Bear in mind that the Watson is a very competitive fellowship; lots of other students want to get free money for travel as well.  Your college must nominate you based on a preliminary application which you then polish to submit to the Watson Foundation. The application is based on two five page essays and an interview with a member of the Watson foundation or a previous Watson Fellow. One of the essays is a project proposal, where you will describe what exactly you want to do on your year of free travel. The other one is a personal statement where you talk about who you are, why you are interested in this particular project, and show how passionate you are about what you are planning to do. If this sounds like the greatest oppertunity you will ever find (which it is), make sure to check out my guide on writing the perfect Watson Fellowship application:
How to Write a Succesful Watson Fellowship Travel Grant Application (Part I)
How to Write a Successful Watson Fellowship Travel Grant Application (Part II)

Final Thoughts on the Watson Fellowship Travel Grant:
The Watson Fellowship is certainly not for everyone. You will be missing the holidays with your family and friends, traveling constantly, living out of a suitcase or backpack for a full year, and constantly be having to make new friends and connections. The Watson Foundation may give you free money for travel, but they expect you to take care of the rest of it on your own. The Foundation is quite small and Many people might find the Watson Fellowship to be a bit of a scary prospect, but if all those things excite you, this is the travel grant for you!