What is a Fellowship? | Everything You Need to Know About Fellowships

The word “fellowship” usually means scholarships for people who have already earned their college degree and who are pursuing additional education.

These people are typically graduate students who are currently completing a graduate program.

Also, it is for graduate degree holders who are receiving hyper-specific training that goes beyond what they learn in grad school.

In academic settings, when people say “fellowship,” they are generally referring to a monetary award that a scholar receives to pay for his or her academic pursuits. 

A fellowship is typically a short-term, merit-based scholarship for advanced study of an academic subject or to do something exceptional

Fellowships are the prizes that graduate students or postgraduate scholars typically compete for.

Fellows are then selected based on their potential to make a positive, long-lasting contribution to their academic discipline.

What is the difference between a fellowship and a scholarship?

Scholarships provide funding to students for university tuition and other study-related expenses and can be either need-based or merit-based. 

Fellowships are strictly on the basis of merit and provide funding for a unique work placement.

It could also be funding for professional training, independent projects, research, or graduate and doctoral study.

Fellowships are offered in virtually all disciplines, at all career levels.

The most important difference between “scholarship” and “fellowship” is that the term “scholarship” always means that there is financial aid available. 

So there is no scholarship without financial aid. 

If there is a scholarship, then financial aid is included in the form of tuition fee, daily allowance for expenses, living allowance or in any other shape, but there is always money included. 

Also, scholarships can be either need-based or merit-based. 

“Fellowship” on the other hand does not necessarily mean that there is financial aid even though in most cases a “financial aid” will be provided.

It might even include an internship or any other service engagement for the student

A fellowship is a status within the University or research institute and it may or may not include a “financial aid”. 

For instance, MIT or Cambridge sometimes announce a “fellowship” and only provide a desk with a computer at the library. 

For that particular position, many renowned researchers or public figures, who are ready to pay for all other costs themselves often apply only to receive the announced fellowship.

Fellowship may be granted as a status within an academic institution and that’s it, nothing more, no salary, no financial aid, just status. 

With that status, the person may be accepted as a fellow of certain college or department and have access to some of the library and research facilities.


What are the types of fellowships?

Among all the various graduate and postgraduate fellowships, there are three major types.

1. Graduate fellowships

These fellowships for graduate students subsidize costs related to their graduate school experience, like tuition. 

Fellowships may also include a cost-of-living stipend and health insurance, and they sometimes cover expenses related to a grad student’s professional development, such as fees for academic conferences.

2. Medical fellowships

These fellowships are for physicians who have already finished medical school and completed a residency in their medical specialty. 

Medical fellows are doctors who wish to receive further medical training within a sub-specialty.

This is so that they can become master practitioners within a niche area of medicine. 

For instance, a doctor who recently completed his or her residency in anesthesiology might elect to pursue a fellowship in pediatric anesthesiology.

The essence of the fellowship is to gain advance knowledge in anesthesiology which focuses on how to anaesthetize children during medical procedures.

3. Postdoctoral fellowships

These fellowships are for individuals who have recently completed doctorates, but who want additional time to devote to study and research. 

Some postdoctoral fellowships provide funding for deep-dive courses on a narrow academic discipline.

This is so that scholars can become experts on a technical but highly important subject. 

Other postdoctoral fellowships subsidize the cost of an ambitious academic project. 

Many of these fellowships require fellows to teach courses and conduct research. 

The most generous postdoctoral fellowships provide funding for both coursework and extracurricular projects.

Why should I apply for a fellowship?

Fellowships are competitive and provide an opportunity to do or create something with the financial support, resources and freedom that a typical job cannot offer. 

Experts say obtaining a fellowship not only allows aspiring grad students, medical fellows and post-doctorates to gain the financial means necessary to achieve their academic goals, it also helps them bolster their professional reputation as scholars.

What this means is that fellowships enhance your resume and provide networking opportunities with leaders in your career field. 

A fellowship might be your best opportunity to travel abroad, be your own boss, attend graduate school or publish a piece of work.

How can I find fellowships? 

In many cases, colleges and universities offer fellowship programs, direct and also fund it.

In those cases, the higher learning institution usually conducts the application, interview and acceptance processes by itself. 

A few examples of these college- and university-specific fellowships include programs like those offered through:

For prospective fellows who don’t yet know exactly what program they’re even looking for, but do know their school of choice, it might make more sense to search the target school’s fellowship database, which many prominent colleges and university now maintain. Examples of university- and college-based databases include:

Prospective fellows who are looking for a broad range of programs and opportunities — or who just want to see what’s out there before they commit — have several databases and fellowship search engines to help them in that journey. 

To find and explore more fellowship opportunities, try the following resources:

1. AMA Residency and Fellowship Database

More than 10,000 programs are available on this database, all of which have proper accreditation from the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education.

2. Mellon Foundation Grants Database

Although it focuses on grants, the Mellon database also holds a lot of fellowship opportunities.

3. ProFellow

The founders of ProFellow know some of the best opportunities are difficult to find online. More than 1,000 funded fellowships can be found on this database, which is easily searchable just by filling out a few information fields.

  • Public Service Jobs Directory
    The PSJD database allows users to search for research and academic fellowships, organizational fellowships and project-based fellowships.

How do I apply for fellowships?

Applying for a fellowship is similar to applying for graduate school. 

A fellowship application typically requires several components, including question responses, a personal essay, resume, transcripts and two or more recommendation letters. 

Many fellowships also require a project proposal, and some fellowships require you to secure a host institution during the application process. 

Fellowship finalists typically participate in an in-person interview with a selection committee.

Fellowship deadlines are typically 6 to 12 months in advance of the fellowship’s start date.

How long does a Fellowship last?

Fellowships are mostly between 3-12 months. Fellows will begin work mid-year, between June and August, depending on the organization to which they belong. 

If you have a specific preference in terms of timing, please let them know early.  However, these preferences cannot always be accommodated. 

It is recommended that new fellows overlap with older ones when possible.  Even for several days, this overlap period will greatly help new settlers settle and orient themselves.

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