Thomas J. Watson Fellowship (rising seniors)

Campus deadline: 11:30 pm on Monday, October 5, 2020

Optional priority draft deadline: Thursday, July 30, 2020 - July 30 is the optional priority deadline for Wellesley applicants for the Watson: if you submit drafts through this Google form by this deadline, your future self will thank you, you are guaranteed feedback before campus deadlines, and you'll get priority in the booking of advising appointments.  

The Thomas J. Watson Fellowship offers graduating seniors a one-year grant for independent study and purposeful travel and exploration outside of the United States, to enhance their capacity for resourcefulness, imagination, openness, and leadership and to foster their humane and effective participation in the world community. Read about Amal Cheema ‘17,  2018 Watson Fellows Carol Hundal, Hans Han, and Nisreen Abo-Sido, and 2019 Watson Fellows Sophia Zupanc and Lucy Wanzer!

*Missed the September 16 official webinar hosted by the Thomas J. Watson Foundation?  Check out an official recording here!  Also, don't miss this three and half minute video about the impact of the Watson.


Who is eligible?

  • Graduating seniors nominated by one of the Watson Fellowship’s participating institutions (including Wellesley College).

What makes a strong applicant for this fellowship?

  • A realistic and innovative project that reflects your talents, interests, concerns, and commitments;
  • The ability to clearly explain how you would benefit from the unique experiences the Watson Fellowship permits and how you would embrace the challenges of immersing yourself in cultures other than your own for a year;
  • Strong letters of recommendation addressing your personal qualities and academic abilities, as well as the suitability and feasibility of the proposed project.


How do I apply?

Since all Watson applicants must be nominated by a participating institution, all Wellesley College applicants must undergo the campus review and nomination process in order to apply.  Wellesley may nominate no more than four applications to go forward to the national competition each year. You’ll find an application checklist and timeline below.

Interested applicants, having read this campus information and looked at the official Watson website, are very welcome to make a Fellowships advising appointment through Handshake, to discuss project ideas and whom to ask for a reference, to get feedback on draft materials, etc. We’ll look forward to speaking with you! Note that appointments are offered during the summer as well as during the academic year, and via telephone and video chat. Applicants who meet the (optional) July 30 deadline to submit drafts through this Google form will get priority in the booking of advising appointments after that; those who miss the draft deadline will be accommodated time permitting. Plan ahead and beat the rush for appointments in August and September!  


Application checklist

☐ Completed official online application: to access the official online application system, please email The application includes a personal statement and project proposal (see further information below).

☐ Using this Google form, submit the following:

  • A two-minute YouTube video clip introducing yourself and your project to the Watson committee (see instructions below). 
  • Resume unofficial college and study abroad transcripts as a single PDF.

☐ One confidential letter of reference from a current faculty member, written in accordance with the official form (available via the official application portal, above, or for informational purposes here). Please request that your recommenders submit their letters via the official application system. (While only one letter is needed for the campus application process, should your application be nominated to go forward to the national competition you'll need a second reference to be submitted by the beginning of November.)

Personal Statement
The Personal Statement introduces the candidate and provides the backdrop for the entire application. It should also introduce the project topic, (but save most details for the Project Proposal). This statement should explain the personal significance  and provide the personal context for the proposed project. The candidate should discuss why she chose her topic, how it developed out of previous interests or experiences, and how it represents a new challenge. It should be clear from the personal statement why, of all the topics she could have chosen, she chose this one. Personal anecdotes are often helpful, but they must be genuine, not forced; creative minds can find clever ways to connect life experience to a chosen topic, but only authentically felt experiences will ring true. The personal statement should be no more than 1500 words.

Project Proposal
The project proposal is read in tandem with the Personal Statement, so the information in one place need not be repeated in the other. The candidate should describe her plan for the 12 month Fellowship year, including a description of his project and an outline for carrying it out. Keep in mind that you may not return to countries you've visited previously, to your home country or to the U.S.  Please also note Watson's guidelines for permitted countries of travel here on their website, under "Fellow Expectations." The project proposal should detail the challenges the candidate expects to face and the preparation/strategy she has to confront them. Many proposals describe early contacts in the proposed countries, demonstrating feasibility. The project proposal should be no more than 1500 words.


Application timeline

Spring and Summer
Prospective applicants should consult campus application material and review the Watson Fellowship website, and begin their applications. To access the official online application system, please just email

July 30
Optional priority deadline for the submission of drafts for feedback in advance of the campus deadline. Submit what you have by then--no matter how rough the draft--through this Google form. (Why so early? Hopefully an earlier deadline helps you have a stronger proposal by the campus deadline; but it also makes it easier for us to give you thoughtful advice, despite the many deadlines and many Wellesley applicants looking for advice in August and September. But why wait? Fellowships advising appointments are available all summer long, via telephone and video chat as well as in person.)

Campus application deadline: 11:30 pm on Monday, October 5, 2020

  • Application materials should be completed/uploaded in the official application system by the campus deadline; however, please do not click to “submit” your application.
  • Please request that your recommenders submit their letters via the official application system.
  • Submit YouTube link, resume, and unofficial transcripts via this form.

All applicants will receive e-mailed letters indicating whether or not they have been invited to interview with the campus Watson committee.

  • 20-minute campus Watson interviews will be held for shortlisted candidates
  • Short-listed candidates will receive an e-mailed letter indicating the final endorsement decisions for the Watson.

Early November
Final Watson Fellowship applications are due online.

Late November-January
Watson finalist interviews take place at Wellesley.

Watson decisions typically announced

Required Video Clip for the Watson Fellowship

All Watson candidates must submit a video clip, two minutes maximum, introducing yourself and your project to the committee. We are requiring that you submit your video to YouTube, using their privacy settings to make the video unlisted and submit the url of your private video to the Watson Committee through this form (required). The preferred clip format is .mov  If you do not have access to a computer with a built-in camera: go to a Mac Lab where there are computers with built-in cameras.

Please describe your project to the committee and tell us why you want to do it. We are looking for information that can come through on a video that may not come through on a written application. We want to see your passion and your enthusiasm - and other qualities that would make you a strong Watson candidate.


Email or call Caitlin Roberts-Donovan at 781.283.2347.