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What Is a Fellowship and How Can One Help Me?

Graduate school can be expensive. There are many ways to help pay for it, from scholarships to work-study. Fellowships are another avenue that can provide extra money for your grad school experience, while also enriching your academics.

What is a fellowship?

A fellowship is a form of money given to a student for their academic or pre professional pursuits. It is essentially a merit-based scholarship for advanced study of a subject. Fellowships are often sponsored by specific organizations in order to expand leadership and knowledge in their field. They are great opportunities for scholars to expand their own career prospects.

The word “fellowship” is more commonly used for opportunities for those who have already completed their college degree and are pursuing further academics. This could be graduate students in the midst of their program or people who have completed their graduate degree and are continuing on to more advanced academic work. 

It is uncommon that undergraduates pursue fellowships, though some undergraduate fellowships do exist. Most undergraduate fellowships come in the form of school-specific research opportunities, like these opportunities on Stanford’s website

Graduate and postgraduate students typically compete for fellowships. Scholars with the most promising research project are selected for “the prize,” which fellowship awards are sometimes called. This prize money tends to go directly towards the student’s tuition, though it can cover other academic-related expenses like travel to conferences, and other research projects.

Related: Everything you need to know about graduate assistantships

What types of fellowships are there?

Although ultimately there are about as many types of fellowships as there are academic pathways, we can break fellowships down into three major categories.

Graduate fellowships

Fellowships for graduate students typically help pay for the cost of graduate school. They may also include money for cost-of-living expenses, and for professional development opportunities.

Related: Grad school financial aid options

Medical fellowships

Medical fellowships are for physicians who have already completed their med school and residencies. They help new doctors gain experience in a more specialized field of medicine. For instance, a neurologist could pursue a fellowship in brain injury medicine if they wished to work with patients who have TBIs. A medical fellowship isn’t necessary for those who wish to become doctors but it can help new doctors gain extra information and experience.

For med students: Top medical school scholarships

Postdoctoral fellowships

These fellowships are for those who have achieved their doctoral degrees but still wish to dive deeper into their academic speciality. They can be especially useful for scholars who weren’t able to pursue a certain course of study while achieving their degree. The fellowship can pay for both additional coursework or personal research projects, and sometimes both. Many postdoc fellowships require recipients to teach.

How can fellowships help me?

Fellowships are beneficial for a number of reasons. First off is the financial benefit. If a recipient is still in school, the fellowship can directly subsidize tuition costs. Graduate school is quite expensive, but fellowships can greatly increase the return-on-investment for graduate school. Fellowships can also pay for auxiliary expenses like books and general costs-of-living. For students and early professionals alike, fellowships can cover the cost of travel to conferences and other research opportunities.

Fellowships are also a great addition to your resume. Especially if you’re interested in pursuing a life of scholarship, a fellowship in the academics section of your resume will open up new opportunities. Employers read “fellowship” as indicative of a driven and enthusiastic learner. 

Fellowships can also inspire students to dig deeper into their interests. They do this by providing incentive for a given project and encouraging scholars to showcase their research. For a medical fellowship, this may be necessary in order to gain specialized career experience. For others, a fellowship is an opportunity to pursue an academic question they previously have not.

What qualifies me for a fellowship?

So you’ve decided a fellowship might be the right avenue for you, but are you right for the fellowship? Recipients of fellowships have a clear sense of intent. They know their work well and understand where they want it to go. Even if they don’t have the answers yet, they know the specific questions they are asking. On top of this, fellowship recipients can describe how their present work connects to not only their broader career goals, but the world at large. 

Because different fellowships involve different requirements, certain experiences may make you more qualified. If a fellowship has a teaching requirement, and you have already spent time teaching, you may be more qualified for the award than someone who has done more research but no teaching. The most important qualification for a fellowship is a strong passion for the given academic niche and a willingness to share this with an academic community.

How can I find fellowships?

The easiest way to find fellowships is through your given institution. Often colleges and universities have career development offices that can link students to fellowship programs. Asking your professor or advisor about fellowship opportunities is also be worthwhile. They are sure to be connected to other research organizations that might help. If you know any current fellows, talk to them about how they found their opportunity. If you don’t know any, reach out to current fellows highlighted on fellowship pages.

Fellowships can also be found through online databases. UC Berkeley has curated a page showcasing multiple fellowship finders. Job databases also list fellowships. Use the keyword “fellowship” or “internship” to search directly for what you’re looking for. Your dream fellowship is probably out there, it’s just a matter of finding it. If you’re motivated in your academic pursuits and know how to showcase this, you’re well on your way to securing a fellowship.

See also: How to complete the FAFSA for graduate school