The Obama Foundation Scholars Program at Columbia University: Frequently Asked Questions

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 Obama Foundation Scholars Program is a full-time program, running for the duration of the academic year from August/September 2018 through May/June 2019. 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, from August 2018 through May 2019.

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 the academic year.

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.

For the 2018-2019 class of Obama Foundation Scholars at Columbia University, the Obama Foundation nominated a number of outstanding candidates, who were invited by Columbia University to apply for the Scholars program. Applications were reviewed by a Columbia selection committee, which chose a group of finalists. All finalists were invited to participate in interviews via phone or Skype.  Following the interviews, the Columbia selection committee chose the first class of Obama Foundation Scholars.

The application period for the fall 2018-2019 class is closed.  The application for the 2019-2020 class will be available in October 2018.  Please check back on this website at that time.  The deadline for submitting applications will be in December 2018.

Interested applicants must complete and submit an application through the Obama Foundation Scholars Program online application system.  Applications will be reviewed by a Columbia selection committee, which will choose a group of finalists. All 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. The Obama Foundation will review the finalists and offer feedback to Columbia before the Columbia selection committee extends offers to the 2019-2020 class of Obama Foundation Scholars.

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.

The Obama Foundation Scholars Program covers the following costs:

Program-related travel, including from/to country of residence at the start and end of the program; housing, 
health insurance
, a monthly stipend for basic living expenses (e.g., food, utilities, local transportation), and all fees associated with academic attendance and participation.

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 political opinions and 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 course developed by Columbia faculty, which will run for the academic year. Scholars will also have the ability to elect a few courses offered by Columbia University, which will allow them to deepen existing areas of expertise or fill in gaps in their 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 training the next generation of leaders. Scholars will also 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.

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.

The Obama Foundation Scholars Program at Columbia University seeks rising leaders from around the 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 going forward.
  • 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 and written).
  • 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.

          About the Program 

          Scholar Bios