Tips for applying to the Atlas Corps Fellowship by Oyindamola Johnson
Atlas Corps Fellowship remains one of the most prestigious Fellowships, and with a 2.5% acceptance rate, being selected serves as a huge personal and professional accomplishment. Atlas Corps is an overseas fellowship for the world’s best social change leaders. Their mission is to address critical social issues by developing leaders, strengthening organizations, and promoting innovation through an overseas fellowship of skilled social sector professionals.
As someone who was once a Fellow, and now a member of the over 500 strong Alumni network of social impact leaders spread across every continent of the world, I’ll like to share some few tips on how you can go about your application.
1. Answer essays thoughtfully and truthfully
Getting into a Fellowship such as Atlas Corps definitely comes with some level of expectations regarding your fit for the Fellowship, and how it can change your professional career and trajectory. In a bid to put your best foot forward, I certainly can’t overemphasize the importance of answering all essay questions thoughtfully and truthfully. Remember that facts don’t lie, and claims can always be verified through reference checks and other means, so it’s very important that you ensure your responses adequately addresses and answers the questions posed, and to ensure that you’re truthful and honest in them all.
2. Give examples and proofs
Your essay reviewers may most likely be individuals who aren’t from your country, and may not be aware of certain facts and information that you’re privy to. So, it’s very important that you give as much detailed but concise background information when answering sections of your essay. Data, numbers, stats, and figures are very essential. Rather than say “through my work, I have impacted the lives of young people in my community”, you can better put it this way, “through my work as the founder of Let Girl’s Learn, a nonprofit organization based in Nairobi Kenya which focuses on protecting the rights of young girl’s in having access to quality education, we have impacted over 500 young girl’s by providing them access to guidance and counselling which has enabled them make better career choices, and led to over 250 gaining admission to the University of Nairobi over the past 5 years.”
3. Give yourself permission to “own” your accomplishments
Sometimes, we feel what we have done isn’t good enough or isn’t fantastic enough for you to get into the Fellowship. But, remember that you need to give yourself permission to own your accomplishments. It isn’t really about how huge your impact has been, several factors are considered in choosing who makes it into the Fellowship. Whatever your story and accomplishments has been, “own” it, be proud of it, and be confident enough to let others into your world by sharing them.
4. Get someone to proofread your application
While writing your essays, I’ll suggest that you leave gaps of a day or two or even more, depending on how much time you’ve got left in order to take a fresh look once again at your essays. You’ll observe that you’ll often have areas to adjust and amend when you read it with a pair of “fresh eyes.” Once this is done, and you’re satisfied with the outcome, it’s best to reach out to someone to help go through, critique, or review your essays. For example, I ask for nothing less than 2-weeks to revert on any essays sent to me for review. Don’t make the mistake of sending your essays a day to deadline of submission, that doesn’t work and puts unnecessary pressures on all parties involved. Respect the time and schedule of your reviewer and make sure you get across to them very early.
5. Power of Recommendations and Referrals
As an Alumni of the Atlas Corps Fellowship, I have the opportunity to refer and recommend certain outstanding individuals who will be a good fit for the Fellowship and would benefit both personally and professionally from the experience. Referrals and recommendations certainly doesn’t lead to automatic selection for the Fellowship, it however enhances as well as boosts your chances. Remember that referrals and recommendations will not come from people who do not know you personally or who aren’t aware of your work and impact in the nonprofit space, so I’ll suggest you reach out to previous Atlas Corps Fellows whom you know well, and who are willing to write a recommendation letter on your behalf. Please, don’t just reach out to Fellows to ask for recommendations, it may not readily come if there’s no previous relationship or credibility established between both parties. As mentioned, recommendations don’t lead to automatic selection, but it does help improve your chances.
6. Your Bio
Asides your completed essays, your “Bio” is perhaps one of the most important parts of your application package. Your 300 word bio could often be the deciding factor on whether you get into the Fellowship or not. Your bio is what potential Host Organizations read before deciding on which applicant to interview for possible selection. Your bio summarizes everything about you in 300 words and should provide an insight into who you are. If your bio is weak and not written well, it may hurt your chances, so I’ll suggest you pay good attention to this. Atlas Corps provides guidelines on how to write your bio, and I’ll suggest you follow the format. Another means of getting this done is to get professional help in this regards, in order to ensure that your bio effectively tells your story.
After you’ve submitted your application, there’s often a waiting period. Some waited for about 3 years before getting into the Fellowship, and some got selected almost immediately after applying. There’s just no hard or fast rule to this, cos there’s a lot of factors that come into play.
After submission, I wouldn’t advise that you keep checking your emails to see if you’ve been shortlisted, just move on and keep being the awesome person that you are. With or without the Fellowship, you’re going to keep impacting and changing lives positively. If the congratulatory email you’re expecting comes in, then I might as well say congratulations in advance. If for any reason you’re not selected for a particular application cycle, remember that there are other cycles that you can always get selected into as long as you opt to remain in the pool of applicants.
In summary, Atlas Corps helped me change my perspective of the world around me and myself also. It remains one of the most significant accomplishment that I have recorded both personally and professionaly. Despite the fact that it took me almost 2-years, and several application cycles before getting in, the 1-year I spent serving with my Host Organization in New York was worth every single bit of it. And I wish you all the very best with your journey also.
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