A recorded information session with Switzer Fellow alumni is available here, and answers many commonly asked questions.
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. They should possess solid leadership and communication skills, an excellent technical and/or analytical background and superior academic credentials. Non-academic work and/or community-based experience is highly valued. We seek individuals who are deeply committed to their own leadership development.
In selecting the final pool of interview candidates, we seek a variety of approaches to environmental change, as well as representation across schools, academic programs, and fields of study. We actively seek fellows from a diversity of backgrounds, life experience, and perspective. This includes applicants who may be new to the environmental field or coming from a different field or focus with valuable and transferable skills that make their shift to environmental work very successful and compelling.
Individuals who have some professional or work experience between undergraduate and graduate study are often more competitive candidates as a result of their greater understanding of what is required for promoting positive change within complex systems.
Please see the profiles of our current or past fellowship cohorts for an idea of the diversity of expertise and backgrounds of Switzer Fellows.
Do I need to be studying in a “hard” science area to compete successfully?
No. Applicants from a wide variety of natural and social sciences, policy and related fields, do compete successfully for Switzer Fellowships as long as the candidate clearly applies those skills to environmental improvement. Commitment to environmental goals and leadership potential are essential from ANY field. Environmental and social/community outcomes are valued.
What is the most important factor in submitting a successful application?
Preparation. It may seem obvious, but a thoughtful application makes a difference. You should carefully read the program guidelines to understand the objectives of the Robert and Patricia Switzer Foundation. Take the time to seek out fellow alumni to ask about their experience. Foundation staff can connect you with a fellow alum who can offer guidance or answer questions about the application process. Please fill out this form by December 21st if you are interested in connecting with a Switzer Fellow. Your written materials, especially your essay and your resume, are the primary means by which your application will convey a sense of your aspirations and motivations.
How should I prepare the content and format of the essay?
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 must not exceed the 10,000-character limit in the online application. (This equates to approximately three pages, single-spaced, at 12 point font.)
Who should write my two letters of recommendation?
This is an important decision! 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. Especially for Ph.D. students, it is very helpful for one of the two letters to be from an academic advisor, committee member, or academic colleague. Your second recommender need not be from academia. You may choose former employers, community leaders or colleagues as references. It is less advantageous to ask a peer to write your letter since it is harder to evaluate leadership potential when compared with other applicants. You may only submit two letters of recommendation.
How important is financial need in determining Switzer Fellowship awards?
This is NOT a need-based award. No candidate is screened out based on their financial circumstances. However, financial need can be a factor considered by the final selection committee in situations where candidates are equally qualified.
I will complete my studies before the end of the academic year 2023-2024. May I still submit an application for partial funding?
No. The fellowship is intended to support full-time matriculation for the entire 2023-2024 academic year. You must plan to be enrolled on a full-time basis for 2023-2024 in order to qualify for the Switzer Fellowship.
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 on how their graduate education will position them to have greater influence on environmental issues and outcomes. The fellowship is intended to support accomplished leaders as well as those for whom the fellowship can significantly advance their career.
Can students at institutions outside of New England or California apply for the Switzer Fellowship?
No. The Switzer Fellowship is currently available only to students enrolled at accredited graduate institutions in California or the six New England states (CT, MA, RI, VT, NH, or ME).
Do I need to submit an official academic transcript along with my application?
No. You may submit a current unofficial transcript with your application if you are unable to obtain an official transcript by the time the application is due.
I am not a U.S. citizen, but I am living in the U.S. while I attend graduate school. Can I apply for the Switzer Fellowship?
If you have permanent resident, asylee or refugee status, or you are a Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipient or a resident under the Dream Act of 2021, you are eligible to apply. International students are not eligible.
I am interested in the Switzer Fellowship, but I am financially independent and I 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 is kept strictly confidential.