Center for International Education

Thomas J. Watson Fellowship

What Would You Do with $30,000?

A Watson project is something that you have wanted to do and dreamed about doing for a considerable period of time. If it’s cold and rainy, and you have lost your passport, and your camera has been stolen, and you’re sick, and your best friend is getting married back home, but you still want to stay abroad and pursue your project, that’s a Watson. In planning your project, take advantage of the unique nature of the Watson Fellowship: it is experiential, not academic. So if your passion is also an academic interest, consider how you might pursue it as a PhD dissertation and what a graduate school would not fund. Then figure out how you could propose it as a Watson instead. Because the year-long experience may not involve extended formal study at a foreign university, your project should be one that can be pursued with great independence and adaptability. Moreover, you must stay in charge of your own agenda, so while using a non-governmental organization as a contact is fine, working for that NGO is not. The project should be challenging, yet feasible; personally significant; and sustainable over 12 months. As one of a select group of 40 small private colleges and universities, Berea College can nominate up to four candidates each year for the Thomas J. Watson Fellowship.

Watson Fellowship Application Instructions

New this year: our campus application is now exactly the same as the national competition. You will apply to be one of Berea’s four nominees directly via the Watson portal. Contact the Watson Liaison, Ann Butwell ( before the end of August so that she can get you an invitation to the application portal.

What’s in an Application?

In addition to the items listed below an interview with Berea’s Watson Selection Committee is also required for those selected.

A complete campus application consists of the following items:

  1. General information form (including activities)
  2. Personal statement (description below)
  3. Project proposal (description below)
  4. Transcript
  5. Passport photo (available at CIE)
  6. Two to three references (Note: The Watson is a different type of experience than a term abroad or graduate school; therefore, you will want to explain the fellowship to your references, emphasizing the importance of “unusual promise.” In addition, be sure to provide your references with drafts of your personal statement and project proposal and take time to discuss your plans with them.)

Start Early!

Successful applicants have spent months planning their Watson projects and then writing and revising their applications, so start preparing in May (or earlier), not September. The personal statement is the most important part of the application, followed by the project proposal:

  • Personal Statement: What are you passionate about? Why this is your project? Why you and not someone else? Discuss why you chose this as your topic, how it developed out of previous interests or experiences, and how it represents a new challenge. You may also want to describe your background, your college years, your professional goals and aspirations, and your reasons for seeking a Watson Fellowship. The Watson Foundation loves stories, so tell your story. It should be clear from your personal statement why, of all the topics you could have chosen, you chose this one.
  • Project Proposal: What is your plan for carrying out your project? You need not repeat information here that you provided in your personal statement, as the two are read in tandem. Describe your plan for the 12-month fellowship year, including a description of your project and details about how and where you intend to carry it out. Be sure that your project does not involve travel to countries under a US travel warning or embargo, or to areas where you have previously lived or studied for any significant length of time (generally speaking, a month or longer).

Each statement should be no more than 1500 words (the Watson guidelines are quite strict about this limit).

Other than following the guidance above, the specific content of each statement is entirely up to you—there is no “right” or “wrong” way to write them.  After thoughtfully preparing drafts of your personal statement and project plan, request feedback from faculty members whose critical judgment you respect. Be sure to explain to those faculty members, as well as to those who recommended you, how the Watson Fellowship is unique in comparison to a term abroad, graduate school or other postgraduate awards such as Fulbright (if you are not sure how to explain this, confer with the Watson Liaison for advice).


  • fredrweruSeptember 15: To meet the Campus Deadline, your application and all supporting materials, must be uploaded to the Watson application portal by 5:00 PM on 15 September (if the deadline falls on a weekend or holiday, applications will be due the next business day). Please contact the Watson Liaison, Ann Butwell ( today to get invited to that portal.
  • October 1: Following the deadline, Berea’s Watson Selection Committee will review all complete applications. Candidates then may be invited for a 15-20 minute interview with the committee, which consists of faculty members from various academic divisions, although that body reserves the right to close any application before interviewing the applicant.
  • Early October: Once all interviews have taken place, the committee will nominate up to four candidates on a competitive basis. The nominees will have a month to work with a mentor and each other to prepare their final applications.
  • The first Wednesday of November: By 3 pm on this date, the four Berea College nominees must submit the final version of the application must be uploaded to the Watson application portal.
  • December/January: A representative from the Thomas J. Watson Fellowship selection committee will visit Berea to interview our four nominees.
  • March 15: The Watson Fellows are announced.
  • June/July: Fellows must depart the US in order to be back in time for the returnee conference on the first weekend in August.


Contact the Watson Liaison, Ann Butwell, at or (859) 985-3924, or drop by Woods-Penniman 205.

For more information, go to the Thomas J. Watson Foundation’s web page.