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

Watson Writing Workshop: Sunday, August 27, 2023, 11:30 am – 5 pm PT

Pitzer deadline: September 22, 2023, 4 pm PT

Watson deadline: November 8, 2023, 9 am PT

Finalists’ on-campus interviews: October 2023

Nominees interviewed on-campus by member of the T.J. Watson Selection Committee (a former Watson Fellow): between November 2023 and March 2024

The Watson Fellowship provides a grant of $40,000 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, information about the selection process at Pitzer, and details on the Pitzer internal application. Please also visit the Foundation’s Watson Fellowship website 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.

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 $40,000, for the expenses involved in your year-long project. (If you are accompanied on your project year by a spouse or dependent child, or need Personal Assistance Services, there is a supplemental stipend.) The Watson Foundation website has additional information, including an introductory video and a recent informational webinar, 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, and 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 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.

Starting the Application

The Watson Fellowship uses an online application. Each student who wishes to apply is sent an invitation to a Pre-Nomination Application. To get this process started, please email Pitzer’s Watson liaison, Carina Johnson at [email protected]  with your preferred name and email address. You’ll then receive an invitation to a Pre-Nomination Application.

The online application is very detailed, and time is very short in the fall. For the first stage of the application, only portions of the online Pre-Nomination Application should be completed. Those portions are:

  • Personal Data: Contact Info, Permanent Address, Citizenship, Demographic Data, Special Conditions
  • Activities, Awards, Employment, Education
  • Project Proposal: Title, List of Countries, and Essay [1500 words] The Project Proposal addresses the content of your Watson year, what you propose to do, where, how, how long, etc.
  • Personal Statement [1500 words], The Personal Statement addresses why this is significant to you
  • An unofficial transcript [from Pitzer’s MyCampus2 Portal]
  • Two letters of recommendation [at least one must be from a Pitzer faculty member] are also required. Please enter the names of your recommenders into the Pre-Nomination Application as soon as possible in the fall semester so that they will have plenty of time to complete the recommendation form.

For more information contact
Professor Carina Johnson
Bernard Hall 211
Pitzer College
1050 North Mills Ave
Claremont, CA 91711-6101
Phone: 909-607-3696
Email: [email protected]