Any graduating senior at the University of Puget Sound (or one of the 39 other liberal arts colleges in the Watson program) may apply to be nominated for a Watson Fellowship. The university may nominate up to four students each year. Out of the roughly 200 students nominated by all of the colleges, up to 50 will be awarded a Thomas J. Watson Fellowship.
The Watson Fellowship Program notes; "In selecting Watson Fellows, we are 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. 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."
This fellowship was created by the Watson family as a way to contribute to the global community by giving a small number of bright and committed young people the tremendous freedom and responsibility that comes with the Watson Fellowship. They thought that this opportunity for growth would help create the leaders -- in government, science, the arts, business, education -- that will be needed in the future. Leadership takes many forms. Watson Fellows are expected to be potential leaders.
There have been hundreds of Watson Fellows selected since the program began in 1969, and if there is one thing that is clear when you look at them it is that Watson Fellows don't fit into any neat pattern in terms of academic or personal background or type of project proposed. Perhaps there is a lesson in this. Watson fellows must be highly independent to thrive on a year of independent travel and to succeed in the extended opportunity for individual growth.
There is therefore no standard answer to the question "What does a good Watson application look like?" but it is safe to say that winners are chosen on the basis of a combination of the person and the proposal. The person is important because the Foundation is looking for individuals who can demonstrate ability to carry off a successful project under sometimes trying conditions. The person must demonstrate a sincere interest and understanding in the project proposed, as well as the personal characteristics necessary to pull it off. The project must fit the person, but here, it is much more difficult to say what is best. Good projects not only capture the imagination of the proposer, but of the committee also.
The one characteristic that Watson Fellows have in common is their passion for the project that they propose. Sometimes this passion is directed towards a project that is closely aligned with academic major and career goals, but as often as not the project is something deeply personal.
Who should apply for a Watson? Any graduating senior who is passionately committed to studying a particular question or problem, who desires the opportunity to fulfill that passion through an entire year of independent foreign travel, and who can communicate this passion effectively to others.
If this description fits you, then you might be a Watson Fellow.