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The Fellowship Application: Your Top 10 Questions, Answered
August 2, 2022

It’s that time of year again — the Mandela Washington Fellowship Application is open! Last year, we took to Facebook to answer all the burning questions from YALI applicants across Africa. Over the course of a two-day #YALICHAT, we received comments from over 600 prospective applicants, and Fellowship Alumni worked hard to address them all. Many applicants had the same questions on their minds, so to wrap up our chat here are the top 10 most frequently asked questions, answered by Fellows who know the program best.

1. Am I eligible to apply to the Mandela Washington Fellowship Program?

Before you apply to the Mandela Washington Fellowship Program, check to make sure you meet all the following requirements:

  • Are between the ages of 25 and 35 on or before the application deadline, although exceptional applicants ages 21–24 will be considered.
  • Are not U.S. citizens or permanent residents of the United States.
  • Are eligible to receive a United States J-1 visa.
  • Are not employees or immediate family members of employees of the U.S. government (including a U.S. Embassy or Consulate, USAID and other U.S. government entities).
  • Are proficient in reading, writing and speaking English. Applicants who are deaf should consult the application instructions for more information.
  • Are citizens and residents of one of the following countries: Angola, Benin, Botswana, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, Cabo Verde, Central African Republic, Chad, Comoros, Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Republic of the Congo, Côted’Ivoire, Djibouti, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Eswatini, Ethiopia, Gabon, The Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Kenya, Lesotho, Liberia, Madagascar, Malawi, Mali, Mauritania, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, Niger, Nigeria, Rwanda, Sao Tome and Principe, Senegal, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, Somalia, South Africa, South Sudan, Sudan, Tanzania, Togo, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
  • Are not alumni of the Mandela Washington Fellowship.

2. My first language is not English. Do I need to speak fluent English to participate in this fellowship?
Fellows must have a proficient understanding of English to participate in the Fellowship. Fellows take classes, conducted in English, at their U.S. universities and will be conversing with other English speakers during networking events and activities. Therefore, knowledge of English is essential to the successful completion of the program.

3. Which track should I apply to?
This is a question posed by many applicants whose work is applicable to more than one category. If you’re involved in many different types of projects, it is advised that you apply to the track where you can demonstrate the highest level of competence, experience and achievement. You want to apply to the track that will make your application as strong as possible and that best aligns with your current work and long-term professional goals. In looking at all of the projects you are engaged with, which one do you seek growth in the most? Which one can the Mandela Washington Fellowship most likely allow you to develop further? It is important to avoid combining all of your various, unrelated projects into one application, as this could confuse the reviewer.

4. Are preferences given for any track?
No, there are no preferences given for applicants in any certain sector. A leader in any sphere of engagement, regardless of the track, is welcome to apply for the Fellowship. As previously mentioned, you just must be sure you are applying under the track that is most relevant to your work. Each track equally focuses on leadership development and helps Fellows gain skills that are transferable to a variety of industries, so one track is not comparably better than another.

5. How can I be a successful applicant?
Successful applicants use real stories, statistics and examples to describe their success. When answering application questions, be specific and provide details! It is also important to clearly state the impact of your work, as well as your plans for after the Fellowship. How will you apply what you learned in the United States to your work in your home community? Show that you will learn from other Fellows and highlight how knowledge acquired during the Fellowship will improve your work. Don’t forget to focus on why you chose to do the work you do. Demonstrate why your work is important to you and to the community you serve. Lastly, be sure to proofread your answers with friends, Mandela Washington Fellowship Alumni or other professionals!

6. Do I have to own or run my own foundation or NGO to be selected for this fellowship?
No, owning or running an NGO or foundation is not a necessary qualification for this program. It is only necessary that prospective Fellows demonstrate a track record in leadership through their application.

7. I have applied for the fellowship before but was not selected. Can I apply again?
Yes, you can, and you should! You can apply to the Fellowship as many times as you want, as long as you still meet the basic eligibility requirements. Many of the Fellowship Alumni in the #YALICHAT spoke about how they had applied three, four or even five times before they were accepted. Each year you apply, your application only gets stronger because you have had more experience. If you’re feeling discouraged because you weren’t accepted in the past, don’t give up!

8. I was not selected for the fellowship in the past. How can I strengthen my application for the future?
Review the advice given in the previous questions to understand how to create a successful application. An additional tip is to contact the U.S. Embassy in your country and ask them to connect you with Mandela Washington Fellowship Alumni from your country. Meet up with them and see if they can give you feedback on how to strengthen your application for next time. A second set of eyes never hurts!

9. How can I be successful in my interview?
A certain percentage of applicants that convince reviewers on passion, impact, vision and knowledge of what to do with the program will pass to the interview phase. When you get to this stage you need to be consistent with the content of your application: Demonstrate what you wrote in your application through compelling stories and practical examples. Highlight why you believe this fellowship is very important for you and what you hope to achieve on your return. Do not dwell on irrelevant information.

10. I submitted my application — now what?
Now you wait! Visit this link to see the current application application timeline: https://www.mandelawashingtonfellowship.org/apply/

Good luck to all future applicants!

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