Cynthia Sullivan
Written By - Cynthia Sullivan

Check MarkEdited By Gabriel D.

Check MarkReview & Contribution By Jake Wilson

The expense of attending college after the undergraduate level can run into tens of thousands of dollars. A fellowship is a possible funding option for some exceptionally motivated students to defray the costs of graduate study. To help students decide whether or not seeking this type of academic funding is the best option, read on for some information about applying for fellowships and the steps one needs to take.


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What is a Fellowship?

While the specifics of a fellowship can vary significantly from one field of study to the next, the term “fellowship” generally refers to a monetary award used to reduce the overall expense of postsecondary education. Funded opportunities with a brief lifespan—a few weeks to a few years, associations, organizations, institutions, or government departments sponsor fellowships and determine the qualifications for participation. By “fellowship,” people in the academic world usually mean a monetary reward to a student to help defray the costs of their studies. It is a form of financial aid awarded to students based on their demonstrated academic merit to pursue post-graduate study. 

Although the term “fellowship” is typically reserved for graduate school, it is sometimes used by undergraduate institutions to name a college scholarship. The term is also occasionally used by private sector firms to describe an entry-level position for recent college graduates. Typically, when people hear the word “fellowship,” it is financial aid for those who have already received a bachelor’s degree, are working on a master’s or doctorate, and are furthering their education by taking a super-specialized graduate course or enrolling in a postdoctoral fellowship. In short, a fellowship is a (paid-for) enrichment opportunity that advances one’s academic and professional objectives.

Fellowships are frequently created to promote a variety of activities, such as:

  • using opportunities to delve deeper into a specific field of work;
  • participating in standalone or integrated research as part of a greater effort;
  • establishing new organizations within communities;
  • acquiring a graduate degree; or
  • training in a certain field.

What Do Fellowships Entail?

Graduate or post-graduate students can compete for fellowships awarded to those with the most promise of making significant contributions to a given field of study. Most fellowships are compensated, offering grants, stipends, or other forms of financial assistance. Some fellowships only pay for tuition, but others support research-related activities and special endeavors outside of the classroom, such as dissertations, exhibitions, and theses. Other perks like health insurance, travel or relocation subsidies, money for dependents, flexible funding for language classes, or housing are occasionally included with fellowships.

What Types of Fellowships Are Available?

All academic levels of students can apply for fellowships. The list below highlights the differences between various fellowship kinds and demonstrates the range of fellowships frequently offered:

Graduate Fellowships

Thanks to fellowships, graduate students can receive financial aid to help with expenses like tuition. Those who get fellowships may additionally receive a health insurance premium waiver and a living allowance to help defray the cost of living and reimbursement for some of the expenses associated with furthering their professional development.

Medical Fellowships

Only doctors who have graduated from medical school and residency programs are eligible for medical fellowships. Medical fellows are board-certified physicians who have chosen to pursue additional training in a subspecialty to establish themselves as experts in that field.

Postdoctoral Fellowships

Postdoctoral fellowships are intended for recent Ph.D. recipients who wish to continue their academic pursuits. The recipient of a predoctoral fellowship typically has the freedom to choose the graduate school and major in which the award will be used. Some postdoctoral fellowships pay for intensive study in a specialized field, allowing recipients to develop their expertise in an arcane but crucial study area. Fellowships for postdocs can help cover the costs of a large research endeavor and provide a stipend for academic pursuits and nonacademic activities. As a condition of receiving a postdoctoral fellowship, many individuals are expected to share their knowledge through lecturing and conducting original research or demonstrating intellectual excellence and the potential that the student and their proposed research may have for making significant societal contributions.


To create the next generation of disciplinary and/or multidisciplinary specialists who will become leaders and innovators in their fields of expertise, traineeships are provided under training grants secured by institutional professors. Traineeships offer a competitive income and cost-of-education allowance, like predoctoral fellowships. Some may also provide research grants, internship possibilities, and opportunities for foreign research. The choice of the students who will take part in the advanced training program is made by the lead investigator(s), which is a key distinction between graduate traineeships and predoctoral fellowships.

Dissertation Fellowships

Dissertation fellowships are designed for students who finish the dissertation writing process within a one-year grant and usually just offer a stipend for living expenses. Since the grantee is in an advanced stage of doctoral training and has completed the majority, if not all, of the required coursework, dissertation scholarships rarely offer educational allowances.

How Long is a Fellowship?

The length of time needed to finish a fellowship program varies from fellowship to fellowship and from institution to university. Most fellowships run for at least a year, with some lasting for much longer, provided the fellow fulfills specific criteria, such as keeping a high Grade Point Average (GPA). To secure sufficient financing to finish their degree program, students can explore combining multiple short-term fellowships. Since obtaining a doctorate usually requires at least four years of study and one year of dissertation preparation, a fellowship for a Ph.D. student may last for several years.

Why Should I Get a Fellowship?

Being awarded a fellowship not only gives aspiring graduate students the resources they need to fund their academic ambitions but also enhances their reputation as scholars in the field. A fellowship on a resume distinguishes a candidate in the academic job market, and seeking a fellowship also enables people to gain new abilities.

The benefits of joining a fellowship are numerous. Among other things, fellowships can offer chances for professional development, personal and professional network growth, cultural immersion, and experiential learning. Students gain from the application process itself, which aids in goal-setting, articulating beliefs and future aspirations, developing presentation and interview skills, and much more. In addition, fellowships offer the following advantages:

1. Fellowships provide access to priceless professional networks

Professional fellowships exist to connect emerging professionals with seasoned experts in their respective professions. They frequently come with workshops, mentorships, and other networking opportunities to introduce fellows to business leaders, thought leaders, and mentors—many of whom are fellowship alums. Fellows can create partnerships through significant personal contacts that may result in a new career, a graduate school reference, or a long-term mentor. The possibility to develop a professional network of peers and a social circle for extracurricular activities are benefits of belonging to a network of fellows.

2. Fellowships allow you to work on challenging, intriguing projects

Some fellowships are set up to expose fellows to a certain kind of work or allow them to work on a project of their own invention. Taking on new and challenging projects and research can give fresh graduates without prior work experience the experiences that can benefit their professional development.

3. Fellowships might help with employment and travel expenses

Numerous fellowships are available to support a work experience abroad. Students might want to live overseas once more as a professional after a unique study-abroad experience in college. But they will soon discover how challenging it may be to locate employment or volunteer opportunities abroad, let alone the funding to cover relocation, living costs, and insurance. International fellowships often provide all the resources one requires for an experience abroad, including a professional placement, a monthly salary, insurance, a visa, roundtrip travel, and logistical support throughout a fellowship. Some fellowships also include funding for overseas travel and language study.

What Do You Need To Apply For A Fellowship?

Fellowships have a competitive application process and are merit-based. A fellowship application often calls for a personal essay, two to three letters of recommendation, a CV, transcripts, and other materials, much like a graduate school application. A project proposal is also necessary for fellowships that provide funding for self-designed projects. Although application formats differ, they almost always call for a written application and professional references. If chosen as a finalist, one will also be asked to participate in a tough individual or group interview. It is wise to start a fellowship search early because application deadlines for fellowships are often 6 to 12 months before the fellowship begins.

What Can Make You A Strong Candidate For A Fellowship?

Directors of fellowships look for candidates with a strong sense of direction and the ability to explain how they would use the award to further their careers. A candidate’s chances of being accepted to one of these fellowships may improve if they have a well-developed academic and professional goals statement. Before applying, students should carefully consider the fellowship’s requirements to see if they meet them. Some Ph.D. programs only cater to students interested in specialized fields of study.

Frequently Asked Questions about Fellowships

What are some key things to know about graduate student fellowships?

Graduate student fellowships are merely one of many forms of financial aid for which students may qualify. A fellowship award frequently supplements a student’s income from their assistantship, which may involve an academic project, teaching, lab research, or administrative duties essential to the university’s operation.

How hard is it to get a fellowship?

What should I know about medical fellowships?

What should I know about postdoctoral fellowships?

Will a fellowship affect long-term career prospects?

Fellowship vs assistantship – what is the difference?