An Insider’s Guide to the Ford Foundation International Fellowships Program

Have you dreamed of pursuing advanced study or independent research abroad to further your career goals in serving vulnerable communities? The Ford Foundation International Fellowships Program may be the perfect opportunity for you. 

Background on the Ford Foundation

Founded in 1936, the Ford Foundation is a private foundation with the mission of advancing human welfare. It has assets of $13 billion and annually distributes around $500 million in grants. A key part of the Ford Foundation’s work involves developing leaders around the world through fellowship and grant programs.

One of their signature fellowship initiatives is the Ford Foundation International Fellowships Program. Now in its 63rd year, it has supported over 2,800 fellows from 140 countries to study and conduct research outside of their home countries. Past fellows have gone on to hold influential leadership roles across academia, government, non-profits, and more. The goal of the program is to promote international collaboration and increase understanding between cultures and societies.

Overview of the Ford Foundation International Fellowships

The Ford Foundation International Fellowships Program provides funding for advanced degree study, individual advanced research, or a combination of the two at a university or research center outside of the fellow’s home country. Awards include tuition, travel, Visa costs, health insurance, and a monthly living stipend.

Key things to know:

  • Fields supported include agriculture, architecture, arts and culture, education, environment, gender studies, health, humanities, law, media, public policy, science and technology, social sciences, and more. Interdisciplinary work is encouraged.
  • Study can be for a master’s, doctoral, or post-doctoral program. Research fellowships are generally 6-12 months but can be flexible.
  • Fellows must pursue their studies/research outside of their home country to gain a truly international perspective. However, home-country nationals living abroad are also eligible to apply.
  • Awards are quite generous, covering all academic and living expenses for the duration of the fellowship. The average award amount is around $25,000 for a 10-month period.
  • Fellowships are highly competitive, with only around 10% of applicants being selected each year. Over 1,500 people apply annually for 60-80 awards.

Eligibility Requirements

To be eligible for the Ford Foundation International Fellowships Program, applicants must meet the following core criteria:

  • Citizen and/or permanent resident of one of the fellowship’s eligible countries/territories. Over 140 places around the world currently qualify.
  • Earned at least a bachelor’s degree or equivalent professional degree/experience by the start of the fellowship period. Must supply official transcripts.
  • Be proficient in English (the language of the application materials and reports during/after the fellowship).
  • Have a clearly defined research project/degree objective that requires international experience for its successful completion.
  • Be nominated and undergo a rigorous vetting process by one of the foundation’s screening committee partners. About 30 committees exist worldwide.
  • Commit to returning home after the fellowship for at least two years to utilize their skills and knowledge.

Level I Eligibility

In addition to the core criteria, certain groups have additional “Level I” eligibility requirements aimed at supporting historically marginalized populations:

  • Women: At least half of all awards go to female fellows each year due to underrepresentation.
  • Citizens of selected countries: Certain “developing” nations receive preferences under the foundation’s country prioritization system.
  • Underrepresented groups: Fellows from ethnic or linguistic minority groups, persons with disabilities, and LGBTQIA+ individuals are given priority consideration.

The Application Process

Applying to the Ford Foundation International Fellowships Program is free but highly competitive. Here are the standard application steps:

  1. Eligibility Verification: Check that you meet all criteria, including citizenship of an eligible country/region.
  2. Letter of Nomination: Contact screening committee partners in your home country to express interest and undergo the vetting/nomination process 5-8 months before the deadline.
  3. Project Proposal: Write a 4-page proposal describing your academic/research goals, methodology, significance, and how it requires international experience.
  4. Personal Statement: Submit a 2-page statement on your qualifications, leadership potential, and how the fellowship fits into your career path.
  5. Recommendation Letters: Obtain 2-3 letters from referees able to speak to your potential as a scholar/researcher.
  6. University Acceptance: Secure admission/affiliation at your proposed international host institution before applying.
  7. Transcripts: Provide official/certified transcripts from all degree programs. Transcripts must be in English or include certified English translations.
  8. Budget & Financials: Create a line-item budget for tuition, living expenses, travel, etc. Disclose any other sources of funding.
  9. English Language Proof: Submit TOEFL/IELTS scores for non-native English speakers. Equivalents accepted too.
  10. Deadline: Applications are due annually in mid-October via the Ford Fellowship Portal. Notification of results 8-10 months later in July.

Scoring Criteria

The Ford Foundation uses a weighted scoring system to objectively evaluate proposals across four main categories:

  • Academic Merit & Quality of Proposal: 40% weight
  • Potential for Future Achievement & Leadership: 30%
  • Appropriateness of International Experience: 15%
  • Level I Priority Considerations: 15%

Competitive candidates exhibit strong scores across all categories through thorough applications. Paying close attention to the scoring criteria is key to submitting a fellowship-winning submission.

Frequently Asked Questions

Here are answers to some common questions about the Ford Foundation International Fellowships Program:

Can I Split My Fellowship Between Two Host Institutions?

Yes, fellows can sometimes divide their time between up to two host institutions as long as the research or academic agenda remains coherent. However, this requires additional planning and logistical coordination.

What Fields Are Considered Interdisciplinary?

The Foundation takes an expansive view of what qualifies as interdisciplinary. Any project drawing from two or more academic/applied fields in a meaningful way could be considered, such as environmental policy, gender and development studies, science communication, etc.

How Competitive is it to Secure a Ford Fellowship?

The acceptance rate is typically around 10%, given the large volume of highly qualified applicants each year. Candidates with straight A grades, published research, demonstrable leadership experience, and strong recommendation letters tend to have the best odds of rising to the top. International experience is also a major plus.

Are There Tips for Writing a Competitive Proposal Narrative?

Yes, some best practices include: clearly tying your project to important societal issues; emphasizing how it fills scholarly gaps; spotlighting your passion and qualifications; and illustrating in concrete terms how international experience is indispensable rather than loosely saying it will “broaden perspectives.” Specifics, specifics, specifics.

Can I Submit an Application Through More Than One Screening Committee?

No, applicants may only submit their materials to a single screening committee partner organization. The committees are country-specific, so be certain you go through the appropriate one based on your citizenship and residency. Dual or multiple submissions are not allowed and will result in disqualification if discovered.

Can I Defer My Fellowship to a Later Year If Needed?

Fellowship deferrals are rarely granted and only considered on a case-by-case basis for extenuating personal circumstances like medical or family emergencies. However, you can absolutely reapply from scratch in a future funding cycle if you are not successful the first time around. Persistence and refinement of your proposal often pay off.


The fellowship presents an incredible opportunity for emerging leaders to further their education and research goals abroad while developing solutions to pressing global issues. If your qualifications and project align with the foundation’s mission and priorities, this could be your chance to receive life-changing support. Start the application process early, and best of luck! 

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