The Thomas J. Watson Fellowship

Pitzer College is one of forty-seven liberal arts colleges across the nation invited by the Thomas J. Watson Foundation to join with it as partners in the Watson Fellowship Program.

Important Information

Acrobat pdf Recommendation Form

Word document Recommendation Form

Watson Bootcamp: August 26, 2017

Pitzer deadline: Friday, September 29, 2017  by 10 a.m.

Watson deadline:  November 8, 2017 by 12 noon

Finalists on-campus interviews: October 2017

Nominees interviewed on-campus by Watson Program director: between November and March

The Watson Fellowship provides a grant of $30,000 for promising young people to spend the year following graduation in independent study and travel.

Here you will find general information about the Watson Fellowship and information about the selection process at Pitzer. Please also visit the Foundation’s Watson Fellowship website, at for an official description of the program and its origins, a discussion of the purpose of the program and expectations of Fellows, commonly-asked questions, a list of current Fellows and their projects, and more. Then consult these pages for details on application and selection here at Pitzer.

About the Watson Fellowship

The Thomas J. Watson Foundation began the Watson Fellowship Program in 1968 to provide exceptional young people the freedom to pursue a year of focused and disciplined independent study and travel abroad.

The year is devised and designed by you, the applicant, and is a chance to explore a particular interest, test your aspirations and abilities, view your own life and culture from other perspectives, and further develop a sense of global inter-relatedness and of possibilities for effective participation in different communities.

The Watson Fellowship provides a stipend, currently of $30,000, for the expenses involved in your year-long project. (If you are accompanied on your project year by a spouse or dependent child, the stipend is $35,000.)

We have a recently-produced DVD from the Watson Foundation, “Going Solo: The Watson Journey,” as well as a videotape, which describe the fellowship using the comments of former Fellows. Please see Carina Johnson (contact information below). You can also view them and other materials at

All graduating seniors at Pitzer are eligible to apply. Since the project is to be of a year’s duration, it is crucial that it involve an area of demonstrated concern and personal interest to you.


The formal requirements of the year are that a Fellow pursue the project diligently, stay in contact with the Foundation, submit quarterly progress reports and a final report and accounting of funds.

A perennial question is “What’s the formula for success (receiving a fellowship)?” The short answer is “there is no formula.” However, your project does have to be feasible, does have to involve something you care enough about to spend a year pursuing, and does have to take you to the unknown–in location and in experience. The Foundation does seek “individuals who demonstrate integrity, strong ethical character, intelligence, the capacity for vision and leadership, and potential for humane and effective participation in the world community.”

Students often ask whether there is a preference for certain kinds of projects or whether a particular topic is off-limits because it is politically or socially controversial. The short answer to both questions is “no.” Look through the Directory of Fellows and you’ll see an amazing variety of projects.

There is no restriction on the topic of your project; however, there are restrictions on where you may pursue it. The Foundation wants you to complete the year successfully, and expects you to carefully weigh safety issues as you consider where to travel. See the State Department’s list of travel warnings. In addition, the project “must involve travel to areas where the student has not previously lived or studied for a significant length of time.”

Students also ask whether a project has to be something that hasn’t been proposed before. Again, the short answer is “no.” The project is something new for you, and the significance of the year is in your doing it.

Finally, a benefit that is often overlooked is that “the Fellowship Program will supply, as a supplement to the stipend, an amount equal to twelve-months’ payment of outstanding, federally guaranteed and institutional student loans. The purpose of the loan program is to 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.”

Selection Process

The process for selection has two parts. First, Pitzer invites applications, screens them, conducts interviews, and nominates three candidates to the Foundation. These nominees each submit an application (electronically, on forms that the Fellowship Program makes available) which must be received by the Foundation by the November deadline. Nominees are then interviewed by a Foundation representative sometime between early November and late February, and results are announced about mid-March.

Applications to the Pitzer Watson Selection Committee include:

  • an application cover sheet/checklist (available from Sandy Hamilton, Fletcher 204 or download the Watson application form here)
  • a 5-page project proposal (which addresses the content of your year, what you propose to do, where, how, how long, etc.),
  • a 5-page personal statement (which addresses why this is significant to you),
  • an unofficial transcript,
    • two recommendations [at least one must be from a Pitzer faculty member] submitted on the Recommendation Form, available as a writable pdf Recommendation Form or as a Word document Recommendation Form. (Normally these would be from faculty members who know you well, but there may be exceptions. See Professor Carina Johnson – contact information below – if you have a question.) Please submit electronic copies of your letters of recommendation to Sandy Hamilton at

For more information contact
Professor Carina Johnson
Bernard Hall 221
Pitzer College
1050 North Mills Ave
Claremont, CA 91711-6101
Phone: 909-607-3696
Fax: 909-621-8481