The Thomas J. Watson Foundation inaugurated the Thomas J. Watson Fellowship in 1968 to give college graduates of unusual promise the freedom to engage in a year of independent study and travel abroad following their graduation.
The fellowship program provides fellows an opportunity for a focused and disciplined year of their own devising—a period in which they can have some surcease from the lockstep of prescribed educational and career paths in order to explore a particular interest thoroughly. During their year abroad, fellows have an unusual, sustained, and demanding opportunity to take stock of themselves, to test their aspirations and abilities, to view their lives and American society in greater perspective, and to develop a more informed sense of international concern.
Administered in cooperation with forty outstanding private colleges and universities throughout the United States, the Watson Fellowship provides a grant of $30,000 to each recipient. (Fellows whose spouse or dependent child will accompany them may be eligible for a grant of $40,000.) In addition, the foundation provides, (through reimbursement) health insurance and the equivalent of twelve-months of payments on outstanding institutional and federal guaranteed (Perkins, Stafford) loans.The purpose of the loan program is to help ease the financial burden of Watson Fellows during their fellowship year, and to provide encouragement for all students, regardless of student loan debt, to apply for Watson Fellowships.
Individual colleges and universities participating in the Thomas J. Watson Fellowship Program establish their own procedures and deadlines for the application process. Use the links on this page to learn about the fellowship program and Puget Sound's application process. Institutions' nominations and their nominees' completed applications must reach the program office by national deadline in November. A representative of the foundation will visit each campus to interview nominees during the fall and winter months. Up to 40 Watson Fellows will be selected from among the candidates nominated by the participating institutions. The awards are announced in mid-March.
In selecting Watson Fellows, the Foundation is most concerned with holistically identifying individuals who demonstrate integrity, imagination, strong ethical character, intelligence, the capacity for vision and leadership, the promise of creative achievement and excellence within a chosen field, and the potential for humane and effective participation in the world community. A candidate's academic record, while not of primary importance, is also considered, together with those extracurricular activities which reflect both initiative and serious dedication.
The proposed project should reflect a candidate's genuine interest in, and long-standing commitment to, a specific concern, whether or not this interest is evident in a formal course of study. The project must be one that can be pursued with great independence and adaptability, and it cannot involve formal study at a foreign institution. It must involve travel to areas where the student has not previously lived or studied for a significant length of time. Fellows should not plan to return home at any time during their fellowship year. The project should be personally significant, imaginative, and feasible.
All fellows are required to maintain contact with the program office during their year abroad. In addition to quarterly progress reports, they must submit a final report summarizing the fellowship year together with an accounting of the expenditure of fellowship funds. The fellowship is taxable and must be reported by recipients as income. Taxes are not withheld by the Watson Foundation. The Thomas J. Watson Fellowship Program welcomes applicants from a diverse range of backgrounds and academic disciplines. All graduating seniors at participating institutions are eligible for nomination by their institution.