What Is a Fellowship Program?

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  • Written By: Jessica Ellis
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 01 December 2019
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A fellowship program provides funding for academics, research, or other purposes to select candidates that meet the program's criteria. Many fellowships are associated with specific schools or certain disciplines, but there are many non-academic fellowship programs as well. A fellowship program can allow a talented person to pursue their educational, career, or intellectual goals with reduced financial strain.

Institutional fellowships are usually offered by a specific school or program. These fellowships vary from school to school and may require the student to be studying a specific subject, come from a distinct racial, cultural, or economic background, or show extraordinary merit in some way. Institution-based fellowship programs are often less competitive than national or widespread fellowship programs, since only current and incoming students are allowed to apply. Private universities are often more likely to offer multiple fellowship programs, which are usually funded by alumni or private donors. A fellowship given by a school or school-based donor usually covers part or all of the tuition for a semester or year, but may also provide funding for living expenses as well.


A subject-based fellowship program requires that fellows intend to study or pursue a specific field. This might include choosing a specific area of study, such as economics, drama, or marine biology. Subject-based fellowships may also be granted to individuals that intend to pursue a research project in accordance with the donor's interests. For instance, a non-profit environmental foundation might offer a yearly fellowship to an applicant who is attempting to pursue a research project geared toward improving marine wildlife safety.

A fellowship program can have several other related meanings that usually connect to higher education. Qualified doctors who are pursuing a specialization often receive their advanced training through a fellowship program. Some schools may also consider all postgraduate students “fellows,” though this may or may not have an effect on tuition and requirements. A fellowship program may also be offered by a business or laboratory as a means of advanced training for a few select applicants. This type of fellowship typically involves a wage in exchange for work, which may be called as “stipend.”

Finding a fellowship program can be an important means of paying for advanced education. With fewer governmental programs available at the postgraduate level, students often find themselves unable to achieve the top levels of education in their fields without assistance. There are many excellent fellowship databases that can be located through Internet searches; if a person plans to attend a specific university or wants to work for a certain company, it may also be worthwhile to inquire about in-house fellowship programs.


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