How to Describe Your “Impact” in a Fellowship Application

Jan 24, 2019

By Deborah Vieyra

Whether stated implicitly or explicitly, most fellowship applications require you to articulate the kind of impact being a fellow will have, both in your life and on society as a whole. Fellowship bodies want to know that the investment they make in you will yield a return that will resonate either in your personal career trajectory or in society at large — and preferably in both.

At first encounter, the question of your impact may leave you feeling at a loss. It may be hard to envision your post-fellowship life and the contributions you are going to be able to make down the line. To make this element of your application easier to get your head around, separate the question into two kinds of impact that the fellowship will catalyze — the impact on your career goals, and the social impact you’ll achieve as a fellow. These are two distinct forms of impact, and both very important to mention.

Let’s take a look at how best to delve into these two elements of your response, starting first with the social impact you hope to achieve.

The social impact you will make

Start by defining the social impact you believe the fellowship will allow you to make. Ponder what good you will be able to achieve during and after your fellowship. The possibilities for this answer are of course very broad. If you are in a scientific field, will the fellowship allow you to work on project that will make breakthroughs to benefit human or environmental well-being? If you are in a field that will directly benefit the lives of a specific community, describe the change that you will work towards. If you are in the arts, how will your practice serve the local and international community? What cultural contributions will you be able to make?

If it helps you, begin by free-writing your response to this. Sometimes, only after you have begun to jot things down does the picture become clear. If nothing else, the process of doing so may help you define your personal goals for the future.

Lastly, consider how your work will advance the fellowship organization’s mission. To answer this, you must ensure that you have done sufficient research on the fellowship body and what their core mission is. Fulbright, for example, has a mandate to foster international cooperation and, in the case of the programmes for international students, ensure that the fellowship experience translates back to impact for the fellow’s home country.

Ask yourself the question: How will what you would like to achieve align with — and further — the organization’s work?

The impact on your career goals

The next element to consider is how the fellowship experience will further your own goals. To answer this, you first have to define what your career goals are. While you may not know exactly where you want to land up in five or ten years time, your fellowship application is a good opportunity to define a general direction you want to move in, as well as what points you would like to hit along the way.

Of course, having a distinguished fellowship as an item on your resume will immediately add some clout to your personal profile — but try to format a response that is more specific than this. What unique things will the fellowship provide you that you can’t get elsewhere? Think in terms of the concrete competence levels and qualifications that you will be able to acquire, as well as more intangible skills, like the capacity to work and live in a foreign culture. Consider for yourself what makes the experience of being a fellow different, say, to acquiring work experience in your particular field.

Having to consider the impact a fellowship will make in your life and in what you are able to achieve is a vital question — not just as a means to impress the adjudicators but as a way of formulating your own ideas about why you are applying at all. Use this opportunity as a way of clarifying your unique goals, and assessing whether a particular fellowship truly aligns with what you would like to achieve.

Good luck!

Deborah Vieyra is a Fulbright alumna from South Africa who completed her MA in Applied Theatre Arts at the University of Southern California. She now works as a writer, proofreader and performer in Vancouver, Canada.


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