Thomas J. Watson Fellowship

Student performing at Chinese New Year's celebration
Watson fellow Dylan Hunziker '14 performing as Chinese female warrior Mu Guiying at the Chinese New Year's celebration in Prato, Italy.

What Would You Do with $40,000?

View our recent April 2022 Watson Information Session!

As one of a select group of 41 small private colleges and universities, Berea College can nominate up to four candidates each year for the Thomas J. Watson Fellowship.

A Watson project is an overseas exploration that you have dreamed about for a considerable period of time. The project should be challenging, yet feasible; personally significant; and sustainable over 12 months.

In planning your project, take advantage of the unique nature of the Watson Fellowship. It is experiential, not academic. 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 or university as a contact is fine, working for that NGO or studying at that university is not.

How to Apply

Candidates must be graduating in either December or May of that academic year — i.e. “senior” students. Both U.S. citizens and international students are eligible to apply!

You will apply to be one of Berea’s four nominees directly via the Watson portal. Contact Kathryn King ( before the end of August so that she can get you an invitation to the application portal.

A complete campus application consists of the following items:

  1. General Information Form
  2. Personal Statement
  3. Project Proposal
  4. Transcript
  5. Passport Photo (available at the CIE)
  6. Two References — These are people who recognize you have some of the following qualities: leadership, imagination, independence, emotional maturity, courage, integrity, resourcefulness, responsibility.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.” Additionally, be sure to provide your references with drafts of your personal statement and project proposal and take time to discuss your plans with them.

Additionally, an interview with Berea’s Watson Selection Committee is generally required.

Start Early!

Successful applicants spend 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 is your passion? 

    Describe your background, your high school and college years, your professional goals and aspirations, and your reasons for seeking a Watson Fellowship. The Watson Foundation loves stories, so tell your story.Discuss how your interest developed out of previous experiences, and why you need to take it to the next level. By the time the reader gets to your project proposal, it should be clear why you chose the project you describe. The project should fit you like a glove.

  • Project Proposal: What is your plan for carrying out your project? 

    Don’t 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 the practical details about how and where you intend to carry it out.Be sure that your project does not involve travel to countries under a U.S. travel warning/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 1,500 words (the Watson guidelines are quite strict about this limit). Otherwise, 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.

Again, be sure to explain to your mentors and recommenders how the Watson Fellowship is unique in comparison to a term abroad, graduate school or other postgraduate awards such as Fulbright.


  • Start now! The spring prior to your application year, please contact Berea’s Watson Liaison and Education Abroad Advisor Kathryn King to get invited to the application portal.
  • September 15: To meet the Campus Deadline, applicants must upload all supporting materials to the portal by 5:00 PM on 15 September.
    • Please remind your recommenders of this date as they will only see the national deadline within the system but their recommendations must be in by 15 September.
  • Following the deadline, Berea’s Watson Selection Committee will review all complete applications and may invite candidates  for a 10-20 minute interview.
  • Early October: The committee will nominate up to four candidates, who will have around one month to prepare their final applications for submission.
  • Early November: Nominees upload the final, edited versions of their applications.
  • December/January: A representative from the Thomas J. Watson Fellowship selection committee will visit Berea to interview our nominees.
  • March 15: Fellowship winners will be announced on the Watson website.
  • June/July: Fellows must depart the United States before August 1.