An official website of the United States government

Applying for the Mandela Washington Fellowship: Application advice from former Mandela Washington Fellows
September 21, 2016

Having trouble with your Mandela Washington Fellowship (MWF) application? Former Fellows are here to help.

Since the Mandela Washington Fellowship began in 2014, Fellows have provided applicants from the YALI Network a lot of advice for their applications. We’ve compiled the best recommendations we received.


Before you begin your application, research the Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI). Once you better understand the program’s goals, you’ll be able to write a stronger essay by connecting your personal goals with those of YALI.  Make sure you understand application requirements and read all the YALI Network blogs with application advice from alumni. 


Read the application thoroughly before filling out the online form. When answering essay questions, first write your responses in a word-processing software like Microsoft Word. Once you’ve finished writing and editing your essay, copy and paste it into the application form, making sure to abide by the word-count rules. This will allow you to work on your essays offline and have friends, family or former Fellows proofread your writing. Seek out a former Fellow to provide you with personalized advice either online or in your area.

Do not rush through the application process. Take your time to avoid errors. Make sure to submit your application with time to spare in case of a technological malfunction. And, most importantly, answer only in English! If you answer any part of the application in another language, you will be disqualified.


“Share your passion in your application. Be brave and brag about who you are as a leader and what you have done and will continue to do to make this a better world for all,” according to 2016 Fellow Lumbiwe Lulu Limbikani.

Don’t be modest in your application essays. Show how passionate you are about a subject through your accomplishments and actions. No accomplishment is too small. Detail the positive impact you’ve had on your community. Specify the number of people affected by your work and the amount of time you’ve spent on your projects. Talk about the challenges you have overcome and how you were able to persevere. Also, be sure to articulate your goals for the future and how being a Mandela Washington Fellow will help you accomplish them.

While you are encouraged to boast about your accomplishments, do not lie. The next step in the application process is an interview in which you will be questioned about your achievements. If you are only applying for the chance to visit the United States, it will show through in your application. While coming to America is a great opportunity, you should seek to improve yourself so you can change the lives of those in your community.

Include your short-, medium- and long-term goals in your application. The Mandela Washington Fellowship will provide you with the tools to accomplish your overall vision. How will you apply what you learn as a fellow to your situation in Africa?


Once you complete your application and press the submit button, you are one step closer to becoming a Mandela Washington Fellow. As you wait to hear if you have been selected for an interview, there are many things you can continue to do to prepare. Learn about climate change, civic responsibility and the rights of women and girls through the YALI Network Online Courses. Use your newfound knowledge to teach those courses to members of your community through the #YALILearns initiative.

Improve your conversational English by finding people to practice speaking with and by watching or listening to English-language media. Also, improve your knowledge of the terminology in the track to which you applied by taking one of the YALI Network Online Courses: Business and Entrepreneurship, Civic Leadership or Public Management. These skills will prepare you for your interview as well as your time in the U.S.

If you are not selected as a Fellow this year, do not give up. Begin working on your application for the next year. Perfect it. Many Fellows apply numerous times before they are accepted into the program.

The greatest piece of advice from former Fellows: Do not give up hope.