Frequently Asked Questions

Barbara Alper

The Obama Foundation Scholars Program at Columbia University seeks rising leaders from around the world who meet the following criteria:

  • Have a proven commitment to service and leadership within a community, region or country outside the United States, coupled with a demonstrated commitment to return to these communities following their completion of the program and apply their enhanced training, skills and connections on a long-term basis for the benefit of these communities
  • Are emerging leaders who have made meaningful contributions to their field and are now at a “tipping point” in their careers
  • Are fluent in English (verbal, written and spoken)
  • Have the ability and inclination to positively shape the future of their community
  • Have a demonstrated commitment to humility, integrity, inclusivity, stewardship, fearlessness, imagination and teamwork

The Obama Foundation Scholars Program is a full-time program, running for the duration of the academic year from August through May. Prior to arriving in New York, Scholars will be asked to take part in some online activities, though these are not full-time commitments. In addition, Scholars will be expected to engage in various activities led by the Obama Foundation throughout the year. Upon return at the conclusion of the program to the countries and regions where they work, Scholars will be expected to play a role in the broader international Obama Foundation network, participating in Obama Foundation events and efforts, though these activities will not interfere with full-time jobs.

No. Scholars must commit to participating in the full program for the entire academic year.

No. This is a full-time program in which active and engaged participation is key to creating a meaningful experience, so Scholars will not be permitted to continue their current job during their participation in the program.

No. Scholars are expected to reside in New York City for the academic year.

Yes. During certain portions of breaks, Scholars will engage in experiential learning efforts, such as work with Columbia World Projects, as well as activities hosted by the Obama Foundation.

Applications for the 2019-2020 Program are now closed. The 2020-2021 application will be available in the fall of 2019.

Interested applicants must complete and submit an application through the Obama Foundation Scholars Program online application system. Applications will be reviewed by a selection committee. All identified finalists will be invited to participate in interviews via phone or Skype. Applicants may also be asked to take a timed, written English test, which they will be required to complete within a week of being notified.

Yes. Obama Foundation Scholars must be fluent in reading, writing and speaking in English. Scholars are expected to be able to read and comprehend complex texts, work in teams, give oral presentations, draft memos and reports, understand academic lectures, engage in classroom discussions and build networks — all in English. Applicants to the Obama Foundation Scholars Program at Columbia University whose native language is not English are required to demonstrate proficiency in the English language by submitting valid and official scores from one of three exams: The internet-based or paper-based exams of the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL); the International English Language Testing System (IELTS); or the Pearson Test of English Academic (PTE Academic). 

This requirement is waived for applicants who:

  • have completed an undergraduate degree — not a master’s or graduate degree — in a country where English is an official language;

OR

  • have previously taken the TOEFL, IELTS, or PTE exams and scored at or above the minimum requirement of 100 (TOEFL-IBT), 600 (TOEFL-PBT), 7.0 (IELTS), or 68 (PTE). If you qualify for a waiver under this exception, you must upload a scanned copy of the score report to the online application to ensure your application is eligible for review. Please note: If you did not score at or above the required minimum or do not have a copy of your old results, you must retake the exam.

The Obama Foundation Scholars Program covers the following costs:

  • Monthly stipend to assist with living expenses in New York City
  • A furnished studio apartment within walking distance of Columbia University
  • All tuition and fees for up to four courses at Columbia University
  • Basic medical, dental and life insurance for the duration of the program
  • Air travel to and from home country and any program-related activities

Applicants with spouses/partners and/or children are welcome to apply, but the Obama Foundation Scholars Program will only cover costs associated with the Scholar and will not cover costs for family members or partners. Housing allowances and stipends are fixed at a single Scholar rate. In general, family members will not be permitted to travel with Scholars on Program-related trips throughout the year. The Program will provide assistance for obtaining visas only to Scholars.

No. The Obama Foundation Scholars Program is a non-partisan, non-political program that is not affiliated with any political party or entity. We are looking for Scholars who will bring a diverse set of perspectives to the program.

The curriculum of the Obama Foundation Scholars Program will bring together academic, skills-based, and experiential learning, designed by Columbia University in consultation with the Obama Foundation. All Scholars will participate in a core seminar developed by Columbia faculty, which will run for the academic year. Scholars will also have the ability to select up to four courses offered by Columbia University, which will allow Scholars to deepen existing areas of expertise or fill gaps in their existing knowledge and skills.

Yes. Obama Foundation Scholars will have the opportunity to meet President Obama. 

In addition to participating in the Columbia University-led elements of the program, Scholars are also expected to engage in a unique set of activities led by the Obama Foundation in New York City, Chicago, and possibly other U.S. locations.

Scholars will also have the opportunity to lend their experience and expertise to Obama Foundation programs focused on training the next generation of leaders. Scholars will work with the Obama Foundation to tailor an action plan to remain engaged with the Foundation upon their return to their home countries or regions.

No, this is not a degree-granting program. Obama Foundation Scholars who complete the Columbia University program will receive documentation from the Obama Foundation Scholars Program at Columbia University recognizing their completion of the program.

The program is appropriate for individuals from a variety of educational backgrounds. At Columbia University, the Scholars will participate in a year-long, rigorous, immersive program that brings together academic, skills-based, and experiential learning, designed by Columbia University in consultation with the Obama Foundation. The program will provide individuals who have a proven commitment to service and leadership with the tools they need to make their efforts more effective and give them the opportunity to apply their skills and knowledge to tackling real world challenges. Scholars will also have the opportunity to build connections with a network of leading practitioners and rising global leaders, taking advantage of the unique opportunities for engagement that come with being in the City of New York.

After completing the program, Scholars are expected to return to the country or region of the world where they have been working and continue along a path of service, either through a full-time job or volunteer activities.

Yes. Upon returning to their countries and regions, Scholars will become part of the powerful global community of Obama Foundation Scholars. Each Scholar will have the opportunity to continue to actively engage with the Obama Foundation as a program alumnus.

Yes. The Obama Foundation Scholars Program is designed for individuals with a history of and future commitment to living in and making significant contributions to communities, countries, or regions outside of the United States. American citizens and residents who fit these criteria are welcome to apply, however preference will be given to leaders from outside the U.S.