Thomas J. Watson Foundation Fellowship



Thomas J. Watson Fellowship

Watson Fellowship Information


NOTE: Updated on July 3, 2023.

If you are interested in applying for the Watson Fellowship, then please contact Lisa Schwartz ( to be added to the Watson Fellowship Information Canvas page.

IMPORTANT UPDATES as of June 20, 2023:

  • Beginning July 1, 2023, a new Watson Committee will mentor applicants and review all applications. Please see the section on Who is 2023-2024 Watson Committee.
  • All applications for internal review are due on August 30, 2023 (first draft of complete application materials) and on September 27, 2023 (revised draft of complete application). Complete applications should be uploaded to the Watson Fellowship Information page on Canvas under Assignments.
  • Please review new information about Budgets and Contact List below.
  • If you are planning applying for the Watson, then you must contact Lisa Schwartz ( and request an invitation to create your application profile on the Watson Foundation’s Application portal.

This is a long document; so please read it carefully.  The document contains links to important resources and other information to help you write a compelling proposal.

The timeline for completing all stages of the application is at the end of the document. 

About the Watson Fellowship

The Watson Fellowship is a rare window after college and before you embark on a career to engage your deepest interests on a global scale. Fellows conceive original projects, execute them outside of the United States for one year and embrace the ensuing journey. They decide where to go, who to meet and when to change course. Fellows do not affiliate with academic institutions and may not hold formal employment.

The program is intended to provide you with a year to develop personal insight, perspective and confidence that will hopefully shape the arc of fellows' lives. Begun in 1968, Watson Fellows comprise leaders in every field. The one-year stipend is $40,000. In addition, the foundation provides (through reimbursement) health insurance, the equivalent of 12-months of payments on outstanding institutional and federally guaranteed loans (Perkins, Stafford), and an additional stipend for the support of Personal Assistance Services (PAS) or spouse. Only partner colleges may nominate students.

Colorado College is one of 41 liberal arts schools invited to nominate four graduating seniors for this unique fellowship. The Watson Fellowship supports a year of self-directed exploration and independent travel outside of the United States.  Fellows have traveled in anywhere from 2 to 12 countries. Single country proposals are extremely rare. The Watson is not a research fellowship directed at data gathering or scholarship. It is not based on academic merit. Rather, the Watson Foundation seeks to find and support students of “unusual promise” to give them the opportunity to enhance their capacity for resourcefulness, imagination, openness, and leadership, and to foster their humane and effective participation in the world. Since 1968, The Watson Foundation has awarded over 2,500 fellowships, providing support to future global leaders in every field of experience.

Selection is highly competitive. Students must be nominated by Colorado College to compete at the national level. The Watson National Committee then evaluates the national pool of nominees, and a select group of Fellows is chosen.


Who is the 2023-24 CC Watson Committee?

Grant writing support:

It is imperative that all applicants consult with Roy Jo Sartin ( in the Writing Center for help with writing their Watson proposals.

What Does the Watson Application Include?

Watson invests in people, not projects. Follow your heart rather than formal research methodologies. Your project should be experiential, not driven by data collection or narrowly focused through a research question. In the selection process, the College committee and the Foundation look first at the unique individual promise of each applicant. We evaluate all applications in terms of the connections between personal statement and project proposal. Only after being convinced by the person do we begin to look seriously at the other side of the equation, the project. The project neither makes nor breaks an application. In other words, Watson is not looking for groundbreaking and innovative projects.  Rather, it is more interested in the person and whether there is an organic relationship between person and project.

Key application elements

  • 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 ) This statement should explain the personal significance—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. In addition to documenting the fit between applicant and project, the Personal Statement is also one place we look for glimpses of “unusual promise.” 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 his plan for the 12-month fellowship year, including a description of his project and an outline for carrying it out. The project proposal should detail the challenges the candidate expects to face and the preparation/strategy he has to confront them. The project proposal should be no more than 1500 words.
    • All proposals must indicate the efforts taken to secure contacts “on the ground” in the proposed project countries. A list of project-related names/institutions obtained from an internet search cannot substitute for real communication.
    • Please ensure that the project can be carried out in compliance with Watson guidelines (for example, that it does not hinge on travel to countries under a U.S. travel warning, embargo, and CDC level 3 warning list).
  • Biographical Abstract – The Biographical Abstract provides the candidate with an opportunity to detail their accomplishments while demonstrating how their projects are rooted in their past or present lives. It allows affords the candidate a chance to demonstrate the connection between person and project for Watson Selection (100 words)
  • Project Abstract – The Project Abstract allows the candidate to succinctly sum up the project for the Watson Selection Committee (100 words)
  • Transcript – Your transcript provides the Watson Selection Committee context for the kinds of preparation you may have to pursue your
  • Budget – A budget should include details about countries, flights, visa requirements and fees, accommodations, and living expenses (clothes, food, health, communications, etc.).
  • Contact List – Name/s of contact/s, country, organization, status of connection (In communication or waiting to hear back), and how the contact has informed your project or year.
  • Transcripts - Applicants can upload transcripts as PDFs or PNGs. Please make sure the PDF is not password protected or encrypted.
  • Recommenders – The candidate should provide CC’s Watson Selection Committee with the names and contact information (telephone; email) for 2 or 3 recommenders. Inform the recommenders that they will need to submit letters as soon as you are nominated. Only the students selected as one of our four finalists need to ask for letters of recommendation from their referees.

Further application information you should provide:

  • Activities – The list of activities allows us to see the individual’s areas of interest.  Provide a brief list of highlights and not the details of your career; the latter can be included in your resumé. We discourage extensive annotations, preferring to solicit such information in the interview. Brief annotations are sometimes helpful, but candidates should NOT provide bulleted lists of responsibilities/accomplishments for their various activities.
  • Countries lived in or traveled to – This information helps us evaluate a candidate’s preparation for work in a particular region as well as determine a candidate’s “no –return” countries. Candidates must indicate the length of stay in each country they have travelled to and the purpose of the stay.
  • Language proficiency – Our expectations of language proficiency vary according to the needs of the project; one project may demand a more nuanced command of a language than another. We understand that no candidate will have a command of every language she may encounter during the Watson year.  Lacking a language need not affect a candidate’s chances as long as a convincing strategy is offered (interpreters, translated informational and survey materials, work through English-speaking NGOs, etc.).
  • Proposed project countries – This list is non-binding and may evolve between the time of application and interview, and between interview and departure, and during the actual fellowship year. We recommend applicants identify one or two back-up countries for their project.  Countries on “warning” may be listed provisionally (we suggest denoting these with an asterisk). Please check the Watson Foundation’s website regularly for information on countries on warning.

Characteristics of a Watson Fellow

Watson awards its fellowship to individuals with “unusual promise” evident in any combination of several areas:

Leadership – The capacity to command a following for what one thinks, does, or creates.

Resourcefulness – Able to deal promptly and effectively with problems, using what is available.

Imagination or Vision – The power of framing new and striking questions and ideas.

Independence – Self-reliance; freedom from the influence, guidance, or control of others. Integrity – Strong ethical character and trustworthiness.

Responsibility – Following through on work or plans without guidance or supervision.

Emotional Maturity – Inner stability, a grounded individual.

Courage – They show a boldness of spirit, openness to new and challenging circumstances, and perseverance in pursuit of a purpose or goal.

Characteristics of a Watson Project

Watson views the project—the thought behind it, its planning, and expression—as a window into the person, not as a formal research agenda.

  • Organic – The project grows from a candidate’s background, interests, and activities.
  • Inspiring – The project provides the energy to sustain and propel the Fellow through the ups and downs of the year. The project is more important for this role in the Fellow’s life than in its potential contribution to the “body of knowledge” in a discipline.
  • Transformative – The project may be inspired by an academic interest, but it is not dominated by formal research questions. The Watson Year is about personal transformation through intentional travel and interaction with people in other countries. A research agenda may inform these priorities rather than overshadowing them or being the focus.
  • Time Out – Typically, a project represents a clear break with the candidate’s specific academic or career trajectory. It is not just a follow-up to a senior thesis or a prequel to graduate research. It capitalizes on this unique opportunity to pursue a deeply personal interest without the constraints of institutional structure, research process, or professional expectations.
  • Timeless – A project may grow from a long-dormant interest, put on hold during years of formal academic training. It can also be a new interest, if the stimulus of the idea is truly personal, significant, and organic to the candidate’s background. The strongest projects tend to be those for which a candidate can document a long, sustained, deeply-rooted passion, rather than a new idea that has bubbled up from a recent college class or activity.
  • Bold – A Watson Fellowship gives the Fellow permission to fail. We are interested in what the Fellow learns in the process of searching, not in specific research. Applicants are encouraged to push the envelope. Significantly, our reporting procedures do not require any formal product centered on the project. We ask for reflective reports that require Fellows to think holistically about their quest.
  • Realistic – Without institutional affiliations, Watson Fellows have little support structure in the field. Given this independence, the project must balance boldness/drive/passion with realistic goals for the year.  When crafting your proposal think about “What is achievable, given my subject matter, my preparation, my funding, my contacts, my skill set?”
  • Connected – The project is a means through which Fellows connect with the world. Throughout the application process, candidates should be exploring possible connections in each proposed project country. We are most interested in project- related connections, demonstrating the feasibility of the project, but even connections for housing or other assistance (especially in regions where travel is particularly challenging) demonstrate that the candidate is thinking about the realities of life in the countries they plan on travelling to. Many candidates express reticence about contacting people in advance when there is no guarantee that their application will be successful. We encourage, nevertheless, that candidates start developing their contact lists early in the process: “If I receive this fellowship, would you be willing to consult with me…”
  • Peripatetic – The project allows the Fellow to take full advantage of human and institutional resources in the “field,” accepting the Watson Foundation’s encouragement to pursue a question around the globe in person, rather than while tied to a single place. With few exceptions, a Watson year unfolds in multiple countries on multiple continents, with a range from six months in two countries to one month in one country.
  • 3-Dimensional – While a typical academic project might consist of a thesis and a plan of action, a Watson project adds a third dimension: personal “A Watson project is the person, and the person is the project.” The final product that interests us is measured in personal terms.

Watson Foundation Requirements

Travel Warnings and Embargos

All Fellows must abide by U.S. State Department travel warnings (as opposed to advisories), CDC warning level 3, and Treasury embargoes. Travel warnings can be accessed through the website of the U.S. Department of State:

Even if a travel warning applies only to a limited region, the entire country is still off limits for Watson purposes. Watson expects that project proposals will be designed with these restrictions in mind.

The “No Return” Rule

The rule that a Fellow not return to certain countries is twofold:

  • Returning to a country one has previously visited is not allowed without explicit written permission from Watson Headquarters. Because the Watson encourages Fellows to have new experiences in new places, Fellows may not travel to countries in which they have significant previous experience. These “no-return” countries will be officially determined before departure, and the Fellow is expected to abide by the foundation’s requirements.
  • A Fellow may not return to their home country or the USA during the fellowship year. Watson is sensitive to personal emergencies and tragic circumstances and will work compassionately with any Fellow in such a situation. Such circumstances would include the death of an immediate family member (parent or sibling) or a serious medical situation. The Fellow should contact the Program Office before making a move. All such requests for compassionate leave are reviewed on a case-by-case basis. Typically, returns are allowed only for a brief period—a week or two.


Parents, family, or friends may visit or travel with the Fellow for a short time. In the course of one’s year, such visits should not add up to more than two weeks.

Length of a “Watson Year”

Fellows are expected to pursue their Fellowship for at least a full year (twelve consecutive months) without returning to the United States (or their home country, if they are foreign nationals). They need to plan and budget for at least this duration. A Watson Year is NOT an “academic year;” it will include an entire summer, either at the beginning or end of the Fellowship period, or portions of both summers. Fellows can embark on their Fellowship immediately after graduation, but they must start their Fellowship no later than August 1. Extensions are not permitted, except in the case of a medical emergency or death of an immediate family member. This date allows for a full year in the field, before the scheduled (and required) “Returning Fellows Conference” in early August.

Reports and Financial Accounting

Fellows are required to provide three Quarterly Reports during the year, and a Final Report due by September 1st. Accompanying the Final Report, a financial accounting for the complete stipend must be provided.

Solo and “Independent” Study

Fellows are expected to undertake their year abroad independently, by themselves, except for approved married Fellows. Visits with family members, friends, boyfriends/girlfriends during the year should be limited to two weeks. Email, new media, mobile devices, and other forms of fast, far-reaching communication abound. Watson strongly urges Fellows to wean themselves from communication that overly ties them to family and friends back home or disrupts their sense of place. For example, Fellows who frequently update their Facebook status or “need” to check their email are using them too much. We expect Fellows to be fully present in the place where they are resident, not electronically tethered to a place where they are not.

Spouses or Personal Care Assistants

The Watson Foundation may provide an additional $10,000 stipend supplement for married Fellows, when approved. Candidates who are married or plan to be married at the time of their departure should be prepared to speak to this issue in the campus interview. It would also be appropriate to address this point in the application itself in the Personal Statement.

Application Timeline/Application Process

[1] Meet with your Watson Liaison – BLOCK 7-8

Schedule a time to meet virtually or in person with the Watson Liaison and Watson Committee members in Blocks 7 and 8. Brainstorm about your project and discuss:

  • your Watson ideas
  • your person-project connections
  • possible faculty and/or staff mentors
  • resources at Colorado College
  • how to identify and develop global contacts for your Watson year
  • any other questions you might have

[2] Work on Watson Proposal Drafts – JUNE-JULY-AUGUST

  • As a genre of writing proposals are unique.  Think about your audience and their expectations.  In this case, your audience will be the Watson Foundation’s review committee. Therefore, you will want to write a proposal that responds to the selection criteria described on the Foundation’s website. 
  • Be prepared to write and revise several drafts of your Watson Personal Statement and Project Proposal over the summer.
  • Consult with the faculty members of CC’s Watson Committee and with your faculty mentors.
  • Consult regularly with the College’s Grant Writing Specialist Roy Jo Sartin (
  • Discuss your drafts, in person or over Zoom, with at least two Watson committee members or CC faculty before returning to campus for the Fall semester.

[3] Submit the first complete draft of your Watson application (Personal Statement, Proposal, Budget, CV, and unofficial transcript) by the 1st Wednesday of Block 1 of Fall 2023 (August 30, 2023)

Proposals should be uploaded in a single PDF file to the Watson Fellowship Information Canvas page under Assignments by August 30, 2023.

[4] After your first draft is received, you will be invited to discuss your proposal with a faculty member of CC’s Watson Committee. During this meeting, you will receive feedback on how to finalize your proposal. 

[5] In Block 1, you should reach out to Lisa Schwartz to set up your account on the Watson Foundation’s application portal.  All applicants who submit the first draft in Block 1 are required to create a profile on the portal and submit their materials as they are finalized.  We require you to do this, so that you are not scrambling at the last minute to complete your application.

[6] A complete and revised draft of your WATSON APPLICATIONS is DUE by 5:00 pm on the first Wednesday of Block 2 (September 27, 2023)Revised roposals should be uploaded in a single PDF file to the Watson Fellowship Information Canvas page under Assignments by September 27, 2023.

 The draft you submit in Block 2 should be as close as possible to the final version that you will submit to the foundation.

(NOTE: You will not be invited to a campus interview if you fail to submit the revised draft by September 27, 2023.)

Required submissions:

  • Personal Statement
  • Project Proposal
  • Project Abstract
  • Biographical Abstract
  • Budget + Contact List
  • Unofficial Transcript
  • Any other supplementary materials that will help the selection committee in making its decision. Supplementary materials can include portfolios of written or artistic works that are coherent with your personal statement project proposal.
  • Names of your referees/letter of recommendation writers

[7] After we receive your full draft, proposals will be reviewed (usually in WEEKS OF 2 & 3 of BLOCK 2) and you will be invited to an interview with the members of the Campus committee.  Interviews will be held in Weeks 3 & 4 of Block 2 and Week 1 of Block 3.

[8] Watson CC Nominees will be announced at the end of Week 1 of Block 3.

[9] NATIONAL WATSON APPLICATIONS DUE – WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 8, 2023, 12:00 pm.  Nominees should upload all required documents to the Watson portal by this deadline. They should also notify their referees to submit letters of recommendation.

Items to be submitted by the four nominees”

  • Personal Statement
  • Project Proposal
  • Project Abstract
  • Biographical Abstract
  • Budget*
  • Contact List*
  • Unofficial Transcript
  • Any other supplementary materials that will help the selection committee in making its decision. Supplementary materials can include portfolios of written or artistic works that are coherent with your personal statement project proposal.
  • Names of your referees/letter of recommendation writers

* Budget and Contact List: All applicants should submit a budget and contact list with their application. In the Budget and Contact List, nominees should at least include the following:

-Budget: Countries, flights, visas, accommodations, and living expenses (clothes, food, health, communications, etc.)

-Contact List: Name of contact, country, organization, status of connection (In communication or Waiting to hear back), and how the contact has informed their project or year.

-Note: Once submitted, the Budget and Contact List cannot be edited. Applicants may continue developing them in a separate document and upload them to the supplementary materials section.

[10] March 15, 2024: Nominees will be notified and the Fellowship recipients will be announced.

Report an issue - Last updated: 07/05/2023