Applying for the Mandela Washington Fellowship: Here’s What Not to Do

As the deadline to apply for the Mandela Washington Fellowship fast approaches, former Fellows offer their advice to this year’s applicants. Many Fellows unsuccessfully applied for years before they were accepted. Here are their top six tips for what to do while preparing your application. Good luck!

1. Don’t be overly modest.

If you don’t describe your achievements and the work you have done, the application readers won’t know what makes you impressive. Your essays should make clear why, out of the thousands of young African leaders who apply for the Mandela Washington Fellowship every year, YOU deserve to be one of the few chosen. What makes you innovative? How have you changed your community? How will the Fellowship change your life and help you make a bigger impact?

2. Don’t forget to use the YALI Network to reach out to former Fellows.

Who better to answer questions about creating a successful application than people who have already been chosen for the Fellowship? Even if you don’t know any former Fellows personally, it’s a good idea to reach out to at least one or two whose skills and experience align with yours. Former Fellows are easily accessible via email, Facebook, Twitter and other online platforms. Try using the YALI Network Face2Face group.

3. Don’t become discouraged if you have been rejected in the past.

Every year, the Mandela Washington Fellowship accepts applicants who have applied two, three, or even four times before. Think of it this way: If you have been unsuccessful applying in years past, you have the advantage of knowing the application process and what has not worked. This is another good reason to contact former Fellows because they can offer advice and suggestions on how to improve your application.

4. Don’t compare yourself to other people.

Sometimes, reading about the work that former Fellows have done can be intimidating. Don’t get discouraged by using other people as a standard to judge your own accomplishments. Think about how you have helped make your community a better place. Leadership comes in many different forms, and the application readers are looking for a diverse range of experiences when they select the next cohort of Fellows.

5. Don’t leave your application until the last minute.

Every year, this is one of the top pieces of advice from selected Fellows. The application questions may seem simple, but they require many hours of thoughtful reflection and drafting and revising your essays. You should certainly have someone — a friend, a colleague, a former Fellow — read your application and offer you suggestions on how to improve it.

6. Don’t miss the deadline.

Make sure to have all your application materials in at least one day before the deadline to avoid any technical or computer issues.

Looking for more tips? Check out the MWF Application Insider Guide [PDF].

Start your application here:


Mandela Washington Fellowship,

MWF Application Information,

Professional Development