What is a Fellowship? This Unique Funding Award Explained

Jun 02, 2019

By ProFellow Founder, Dr. Vicki Johnson

If you’re new to ProFellow, you might be wondering, what is a fellowship exactly?

A fellowship is typically defined as a competitive, short-term funding opportunity for graduate study, scholarly research or professional development. Fellowships exist in all disciplines and at all career levels, from undergraduate study to late-career leadership development for executives.

At ProFellow, we more generally say a fellowship is a funded opportunity to do something exceptional. It’s a broad definition for a reason! We’ve got more than 1,200 fellowship programs, representing more than 1 million funding awards for individuals, listed in our free fellowships database. So let’s explain in a little more detail what fellowships are and how we define them.

Fellowship Defined

A fellowship is a competitive award for an individual that is:

  • Funded, meaning it provides a stipend or grant, and sometimes other benefits;
  • Competitive, meaning it has an application process and only some applicants are selected;
  • Merit-based, meaning fellows are selected based on the strength of the application and proposal, and not based on financial need;
  • Short-term, meaning the length of the fellowship period ranges from a few weeks to a few years (but is often one year in length);

And finally…

  • Exceptional, because fellowships provide you the opportunity, resources, networks and funding you can’t typically get elsewhere!

It’s important to note that many programs, grants, scholarships and awards for individuals that meet these criteria don’t have the word “Fellowship” or “Fellows” in their title or description. However, if the program is funded, competitive, merit-based, short-term and exceptional – we’ll add it to ProFellow’s database. Some examples of programs that are not called fellowship in name include Teach for America, Schwarzman Scholars and the Young Leaders Program.

Types of Fellowships

People often believe fellowships only serve academic endeavors – this is a myth! It’s true there are many fellowships for students and scholars to complete a degree or conduct research. But academic fellowships are just one category of awards we call fellowships.

Here are brief descriptions of the most popular fellowship types, and how they might apply to you.

Academic Fellowships

Graduate Fellowships

A graduate fellowship will provide a tuition scholarship for master’s or doctoral study and in some cases, an annual living stipend. Graduate fellowships are typically awarded to full-time graduate students and can be offered by the university or by external educational organizations, like the National Science Foundation.

Research Fellowships

Research fellowships provide funding for – you guessed it – research, typically academic or clinical research conducted by undergraduate or graduate students, or by scholars and scientists who have a PhD. However, there are some research fellowships geared towards professionals who will apply the research to practice.

Postdoctoral fellowships

Postdoctoral fellowships are one to two-year long research fellowships for those who have recently completed a PhD or other doctoral degree. Often referred to as a “postdoc”, a postdoctoral fellowship can provide an early career scholar additional research experience beyond their studies.

Professional Fellowships

Professional fellowships provide the opportunity for professional development at different career stages and can be done in the U.S. or foreign countries. They typically function like temporary full-time jobs, offering a stipend and other benefits while you undertake a work placement in an organization, but these fellowships may also fund you to pursue a self-designed professional or creative project, attend conferences and events, receive coaching and mentorship, or advance your early-stage social enterprise. Almost all fellowships seek to support emerging or established leaders in their socially impactful work as public servants, founders, advocates, and creative artists and authors. Some fellowships also aim to increase the diversity of people working in specific industries and disciplines.

Fellowships for early-career professionals and recent graduates

There are many professional fellowships for recent college graduates with up to 5 years of work experience. Some have the purpose of helping recent graduates discover or gain entry to special career tracks by offering work placements in government agencies, non-profits or corporations. Some provide an experience abroad for teaching, professional development or cultural immersion.

Fellowships for mid-career and executive professionals

Mid-career fellowships provide the opportunity for professionals with 10 or more years of work experience to achieve professional or leadership development through a temporary full-time work placement or self-designed professional project. Some also provide funding for continuing education.

Summer Fellowships

Summer fellowships are typically professional nature and provide a high-level internship-like experience for enrolled students or recent graduates.

How to Find and Win Fellowships

  • Sign up to gain access the ProFellow fellowship database listing more than 1,200 fellowship opportunities. We keep this resource up-to-date with a wide array of fellowships. You are sure to find something that will enhance your career journey.
  • Start your search as soon as possible. Most fellowships have deadlines that 6-12 months prior to the commencement of funding. Therefore, the sooner you find opportunities of interest, the better!
  • Hone in on your aspirations—and consider how to justify them. For almost every fellowship application, you will be required to put together a personal statement. Here you will be asked to tell the selection committee where you have come from that has informed your decision to apply for the relevant fellowship, and what you intend on doing with it. Clarity alway wins out. The better you are able to succinctly articulate your aims, the higher your chances of achieving them.
  • Know that most sought-after fellowships are highly competitive. While this should be no reason to put off applying, it should indeed be impetus to put your best foot forward. Check out fellowship application tips from current and former fellows who know the process.
  • Head on over to our guide for competitive fellowships. We take you through the process step-by-step to give you a framework for starting and completing your applications.

Fellowships are life-changing opportunities! Don’t miss this opportunity to find the right fellowship for your career goals.

Dr. Vicki Johnson Headshot

Dr. Vicki Johnson is Founder and CEO of ProFellow, the world’s leading online resource for professional and academic fellowships. She is a four-time fellow, top Ph.D. scholar, Fulbright recipient and an award-winning social entrepreneur. She is the Creator and Director of Fully Funded, an award-winning online course and mentorship program for graduate school applicants seeking to find and win full funding. 

© Victoria Johnson / ProFellow, LLC 2019, all rights reserved.