Fellowship Program - How to Apply

1. Program Goals
2. Eligibility Requirements for Fellowship Applicants
3. Application Procedure
4. Selection Process
5. Where and When to Apply
6. Fellowship Award Requirements
7. Exclusions
8. Frequently Asked Questions About Switzer Fellowships
9. Other information

1. Program Goals

The goal of the Switzer Environmental Fellowship Program is to support highly talented graduate students in New England and California whose studies are directed toward improving environmental quality and who clearly demonstrate leadership potential in their field.  Twenty Switzer Fellowships are annually awarded from a strong pool of over 300 applications. All applicants and recommenders should be aware that the Switzer Environmental Fellowship primarily looks for environmental leadership potential of the applicant, and secondarily, the applicant’s research topic.

 The Switzer Environmental Fellowship provides a combination of funding for graduate study, trainings to help develop leadership skills, and access to the Switzer Fellowship Network. We aim to select environmental leaders representing a cross-section of contemporary environmental issues.   Please make sure you meet all of the Fellowship eligibility requirements before applying and carefully follow the application procedures below.  Click here for an overview of the Fellowship Program

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2. Eligibility Requirements for Fellowship Applicants

An applicant for a Switzer Environmental Fellowship must:

  • be a US citizen;
  • be enrolled in an accredited graduate institution ONLY in California or New England;
  • have strong academic qualifications with academic and career goals focused on environmental improvement, regardless of the school, major or program in which they are enrolled.

In addition:

  • The applicant must plan to be enrolled as a full time student for the entire ’14-‘15 academic year in order to be considered.
  • Master's degree candidates must have completed at least one semester of course work to apply and be seeking the Master's as a terminal degree. Master's degree students planning to pursue a PhD are advised to wait until they are in their PhD program to apply.
  • Individuals enrolled in one-year Master's degree programs may apply prior to enrollment, but must be formally accepted into their program to be eligible for a Fellowship interview. (Interviews take place in May.)
  • Applicants at the PhD level must plan to have completed at least three years of Doctoral work by July 1, 2014, or plan to have passed their qualifying exams by May 1, 2014. PhD candidates with a clear research and career focus are more competitive than individuals who are still undecided or early in their academic program.
  • Mid-Career students may apply and must demonstrate how their academic program will enhance their effectiveness as an environmental professional. 

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3. Application Procedure

All students applying for a Switzer Environmental Fellowship must submit an online application form. A link to the online form is given below.  Each applicant will be prompted to create an account before gaining access to the application form. This will allow applicants to save their work, make edits and track progress during the application review process. Specific application instructions are available on the application form. General guidance is provided here to help you prepare the necessary documentation.

APPLICATIONS ARE DUE FRIDAY, JANUARY 10, 2014 by midnight Eastern Time.

It is imperative that applicants review the eligibility requirements above prior to applying. Applications take a lot of time and work to complete, and ineligible applications will not be reviewed.

APPLICATIONS WILL NOT BE CONSIDERED COMPLETE UNLESS ALL OF THE REQUIRED MATERIALS ARE SUBMITTED AS INSTRUCTED. We cannot allow any exceptions. (Please note that if you need to convert hard copy documents to digital format, the online application has a 'Fax to File' capability that you can use for this purpose, but it requires immediate proximity to a fax machine. Further instructions are available via the online application form.)

The following materials are required to be submitted with the application as uploaded MS Word or Adobe PDF documents.

  • A 2-3 page original essay. The essay is a critical component of the application screening process.  It is an opportunity for you to reflect on your accomplishments, how you contextualize your research and course work in society, and ultimately, your vision for your future leadership role in the environmental field, including the type of professional position you hope to pursue and the impact you hope to have.  You may describe your academic work in the context of your goals, but not as the sole focus of the essay.  Use the essay to talk about why your chosen field matters to you, to whom it is important, and how your background and personal experiences, combined with your academic course of study, will position you to be an effective leader for positive change.  In other words, how do you plan to use your academic experience for environmental improvement?  Applicants should include examples of how you have been a leader or specifically contributed to solving an environmental issue or problem.  If you have limited leadership experience, you may describe the impact you hope to have, and any  personal and professional challenges you have overcome to achieve your goals.  The word count of the essay should not exceed 2,000.  The essay may be single- or double-spaced, but please use at least 11 point type for all text.
  • Two professional letters of recommendation. (Recommendation letters must be submitted directly to the Foundation per the Recommendation Instructions.) These can be from your academic advisors or other colleagues who know you and your work well.  It is preferable to have at least one recommendation letter from your academic advisor, committee member, or academic colleague, especially for PhD applicants.
  • A current resume, including relevant work and volunteer experience. Please include the number of hours per week and number of months worked for each professional and volunteer experience noted.
  • Most recent Graduate academic transcripts. (Undergraduate transcripts are not necessary except in the case of applicants enrolling in one-year master's programs with no other graduate school experience.) PLEASE NOTE: if you are unable to access your official transcript by the application deadline, you may upload an unofficial copy to your application and send the official copy when it is available. Specific instructions can be found on the application form.
  • A brief outline of the general course of study or research planned. This can include a course list or (brief) summary of your research. Master's students should list courses taken, focus or concentration, and thesis topic. PhD students should include a summary or precis of their dissertation.
  • Evidence of financial need where applicable. Although the Switzer Fellowship is merit-based, financial need may be considered when comparing equally qualified applicants.

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4. Selection Process

Application Review and Interview Process

Applications in New England and California are reviewed separately by teams of environmental professionals. Those students who demonstrate interdisciplinary and collaborative approaches to improving environmental quality and a commitment to developing their leadership, will be invited for an interview.  Selected California applicants will be interviewed in San Francisco and New England applicant interviews will be held in Boston, in May 2014.  Interviewees will meet for a focused and brief interview with a team of two to four environmental professionals and Switzer Foundation representatives . All candidates interviewed are notified of award decisions in writing within two weeks after the interviews.

Criteria for Selection

Criteria for review of Environmental Fellowship applications include the following:

  • Leadership Experience and Potential – Applicant demonstrates (in academic, work, volunteer or other settings) the ability to influence and align others towards environmental goals, and to effectively bridge the public, private and academic arenas.
  • Applied Focus - Scientific, technical, analytical and/or policy study is geared towards applied results; ability to relate detailed knowledge in a broader context.
  • Innovative, Creative approaches -demonstrates new or different perspective to his or her field of study.
  • Career Goals and Commitment – Commitment to aggressively pursue and implement effective solutions to improve the quality of our environment; clarity of career goals and realistic vision.
  • Communication and Critical Thinking – demonstrates clear communication and problem-solving abilities; ability to translate theoretical concepts into practice; ability to communicate effectively in writing and orally.
  • Prior work and volunteer experience in an environmental field - demonstrates involvement in organizing groups or implementing programs; longevity in environmental field; experience in positions of responsibility.

Other Considerations:

  • Individuals who have some professional or work experience between undergraduate and graduate study are often more competitive candidates for Switzer Environmental Fellowships due to their understanding of systems and conditions required for promoting positive environmental change.
  • In selecting the final pool of interview candidates, a diversity of approaches to environmental change is sought, as well as representation of a diversity of schools and fields of study.  Excellence in academic study is a factor in selecting interview candidates, but it is NOT the only factor.
  • Applicants who are pursuing an academic career must be able to articulate how they will effect positive environmental change beyond the classroom or research setting, and may suggest academic professionals whose approach they hope to emulate.

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5. Where and When to Apply


Applications due

January 10, 2014 by midnight Eastern Time

Interview dates

New England Fellowships: May 3, 2014 – Boston
California Fellowships: May 17, 2014 – San Francisco


Mid-May, 2014

Fellowship Payment Dates

Late June, 2014
Late January, 2015

Contacts for further information

For eligibility and general questions:
Erin Lloyd, Program Officer
(207) 338-5654 or erin@switzernetwork.org

For technical assistance with online applications:
Don Brackett, Administrative Officer
(207) 338-5654 or don@switzernetwork.org

Click here to download the Call for Applications


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    6. Fellowship Award Requirements

    Fellowship Retreats

    All new Fellows are required to attend TWO weekend-long retreats during their Fellowship year.   In late September and early October, annual fall retreats are held in New England and California to welcome new Fellows in each region and provide an opportunity for all Fellows to renew acquaintances.  In February or March 2015, a leadership development training will be held as a spring retreat (location to be announced).  It is a requirement of the Fellowship that new Fellows attend retreats in the year they are selected. Past Fellows are always encouraged to attend these retreats. New Fellows will be notified of the exact dates and locations for the annual retreats at the time of their Fellowship award.

    Use of Fellowship Funds

    The Fellowship is paid in two equal installments, the first in June and the second in late January. The entire grant may be applied to one or more of the following: tuition, matriculation and other university fees, living expenses, education or research related expenses. To the extent that the fellowship is not used for tuition, it may be considered income and the Fellow may be liable for income tax. The Foundation does not file IRS-1099 Forms on the Fellowships. Fellows are, however, required to submit a report of expenditures to the Foundation at the end of the Fellowship year. Please consult with your tax advisor for proper treatment of the award.

    Reporting Requirements

    Switzer Fellows are required to submit two written reports during their Fellowship year. An interim report must be received by January 15, mid-way through the Fellowship year, and a final report by June 15 at the end of the Fellowship year. Guidelines and requirements for these reports will be provided in advance of each due date. Payment for the second half of the Fellowship award will be released upon receipt of a satisfactory interim report.

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    7. Exclusions

    Employees and Trustees of The Robert and Patricia Switzer Foundation and their family members are not eligible to apply and the Foundation does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, gender, religion, sexual orientation or national or ethnic origin in the selection of Fellows. 

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    8. Frequently Asked Questions About Switzer Fellowships

    WHAT KIND OF CANDIDATE IS THE SELECTION COMMITTEE LOOKING FOR? The ideal candidate possesses a strong personal commitment to solving problems and effecting change in the environmental arena. He/she should possess solid leadership and communication skills, and have excellent technical and/or analytical backgrounds as well as superior academic credentials. Non-academic volunteer or community-based experience is also highly valued.

DO I NEED TO BE STUDYING IN A "HARD" SCIENCE AREA TO COMPETE SUCCESSFULLY? No. Fellowships are not limited by field of study. A good grounding in science is considered a plus, but lack of a hard science background will not prevent a candidate with other strong skills from competing successfully for a Fellowship as long as the candidate applies those skills to environmental improvement. A variety of fields and disciplines are supported, but commitment to environmental goals and leadership potential are essential.

WHAT IS THE MOST IMPORTANT FACTOR IN SUBMITTING A SUCCESSFUL APPLICATION? Preparation. It may seem obvious, but a thoughtful application is most appreciated. You should carefully read the Program guidelines to understand the objectives of the Switzer Foundation. Take the time to seek out prior Switzer Fellows who may be on your campus or in your area to ask about their experience. Your written materials, especially your essay, are the primary means by which your application will convey a sense of your aspirations and motivations.

ARE THERE MORE SPECIFIC GUIDELINES FOR CONTENT & FORMAT OF THE ESSAY? No. Please read the essay requirements in the guidelines. The essay is the most critical component of your application for the initial screening and is the best way to convey your personal commitment to the field and to driving positive environmental change. A precis of your master's or doctoral thesis is NOT what we're looking for in the essay. The essay should not exceed the 2,000 word limit, and may be double or single spaced with typeface 11 pt or larger.

WHO SHOULD WRITE MY TWO LETTERS OF RECOMMENDATION? The letters of recommendation will have substantial weight in the evaluation of your application. It is critical that you obtain recommendations from individuals who can provide the best overall perspective on your leadership and professional potential, abilities, and dedication. You may choose faculty members, former employers, community leaders or colleagues as references. It is very helpful for at least one letter to be from an academic advisor, committee member, or academic colleague, especially for PhD students.

SHOULD MY RECOMMENDERS SEND ME THEIR LETTERS OF RECOMMENDATION FOR UPLOADING WITH MY APPLICATION? No. Recommenders should email their letter directly to the Foundation per the Recommendation Instructions on our website. Applicants should be sure to download a copy of the instructions and forward them to recommenders. Applicants should only provide the name and contact information of the recommenders in the space provided in the online application.

DO I NEED TO SUBMIT TRANSCRIPTS FROM UNDERGRADUATE WORK? For most applicants, no. All that is required is your graduate school transcripts. However, for individuals entering a one-year degree program, you will need to provide transcripts for the last year of prior academic study (graduate or undergraduate).

THE GUIDELINES STATE THAT AN OFFICIAL TRANSCRIPT OF PRIOR GRADUATE WORK IS REQUIRED WITH THE ONLINE APPLICATION. MY SCHOOL ONLY PROVIDES OFFICIAL TRANSCRIPTS IN HARD COPY. WHAT SHOULD I DO? We will accept scanned copies of official transcripts in Adobe PDF or JPEG format.  If official transcripts are not ready by the application date, you may attach a digital version of your unofficial transcript to the application, and later submit the official version.

HOW MUCH DETAIL IS NEEDED FOR THE "OUTLINE OF COURSE OF STUDY"? You may summarize your thesis or dissertation topic, list courses to be taken and your research focus. Do not exceed four pages.

HOW IMPORTANT IS FINANCIAL NEED IN DETERMINING FELLOWSHIP AWARDS? This is NOT a need-based award. No candidate is screened out based on his/her financial circumstances. However, financial need can be a factor considered by the final selection committee, particularly in situations where candidates are equally qualified. If you feel your financial situation is a major factor in your ability to complete your studies, you should explain your financial need where requested in the application, citing specifics if necessary. We rely on your honesty in providing us with this information.

I WILL COMPLETE MY STUDIES BEFORE THE END OF THE ACADEMIC YEAR 2014/2015. MAY I STILL SUBMIT AN APPLICATION FOR PARTIAL FUNDING? No. The Fellowship is intended to support full-time matriculation for the entire academic ’14-‘15 year . You must plan to be enrolled on a full-time basis for ’14-‘15 in order to qualify for the Fellowship.

DO I NEED TO BE ALREADY ENROLLED IN ORDER TO APPLY? Yes. Master's degree students must have completed at least one semester of coursework at the time an application is submitted. One exception to this is for students who will be enrolled in a one-year professional Master's degree program. These students may apply before they begin, but must have equivalent professional experience and must be fully accepted into their program to be granted an interview. PhD students must plan to have completed at least three years of study by July 1, 2014 or plan to have passed their qualifying exams by May 1, 2014. Students planning to conduct research during the Fellowship year must specify their planned enrollment status for this time period.

CAN MASTER'S DEGREE STUDENTS COMPETE SUCCESSFULLY FOR SWITZER FELLOWSHIPS? Yes. The Switzer Fellowship Program is interested in seeing applications from strong Master's degree students. Master's students will compete against each other rather than against doctoral candidates.

CAN MID-CAREER STUDENTS COMPETE SUCCESSFULLY FOR SWITZER FELLOWSHIPS? Yes. The Switzer Fellowship Program is interested in candidates in all stages of their careers, as long as they have a clear focus in how their graduate education will position them to have greater influence on environmental issues and outcomes.

CAN STUDENTS AT INSTITUTIONS OUTSIDE OF NEW ENGLAND OR CALIFORNIA APPLY FOR THE FELLOWSHIP? No. The Switzer Fellowship is available only to students enrolled at accredited graduate institutions in California or the six New England states (CT, MA, RI, VT, NH, or ME).

I AM INTERESTED IN THE FELLOWSHIP, BUT AM FINANCIALLY INDEPENDENT AND DO NOT NEED THE FELLOWSHIP FUNDS. CAN I APPLY FOR THE FELLOWSHIP BUT DECLINE THE FUNDS SO THAT THEY CAN BE USED FOR SOMEONE ELSE? Yes. The Foundation is interested in awarding the Fellowship to qualified candidates. Recipients may receive full Fellowship benefits even if they opt out of the funding. This final determination is not made until the award decisions are made and are kept strictly confidential.

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    9. Other information

    For  more information, please see Fellowship Benefits. Learn about past Fellows through the Fellowship Network Directory or under Recent Awards. Read about the work of our Fellows on our News page.

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