About Columbia Scholars
In addition to the programming offered through the Obama Foundation, and conducted with their counterpart Scholars cohort, Obama Foundation Scholars at Columbia University participate in an immersive program on Columbia’s campus that brings together academic, skills-based and experiential learning, designed by Columbia University in consultation with the Obama Foundation.
Obama Foundation Scholars at Columbia University are based at Columbia World Projects, an initiative that mobilizes the university’s researchers and scholars to work with governments, organizations, businesses, and communities to create tangible solutions to real-world issues. The program takes advantage of the unique opportunities for engagement that come with being at one of the world’s most important centers of research and residing in New York City.
Key components of the program at Columbia University include:
- A Weekly Seminar that runs the length of the academic year, exploring questions in tandem with key global trends including inequality, technological developments, the diffusion of power, population movements, and climate change.
- Personal and Professional Development Workshops designed to strengthen practical skills to enhance Scholars’ ability to lead. Previous workshop topics, led by institutes and faculty from across Columbia, include conflict management and resolution, design thinking, public speaking, and data analysis and interpretation.
- An Experiential Learning component that engages Scholars in the work of Columbia World Projects.
- Audited Coursework that provides Scholars with the flexibility to select and enroll in up to two graduate level courses each semester at Columbia.
- A Thought Leadership Speaker Series that introduces Scholars to seasoned practitioners from the NGO community, and philanthropic, governmental, and international organizations to expand Scholars’ networks and perspectives to help advance their work.
- Partnership with a Columbia faculty adviser selected for their subject matter expertise to provide Scholars with new insights and perspectives to inform Scholars’ work.
- Meaningful opportunities for Scholars to contribute to the intellectual life of the campus and gain exposure to different perspectives by engaging with the Columbia University community.
How to Apply
Now accepting applications!
The application for the 2024-2025 Obama Foundation Scholars Program at Columbia University is now open.Apply Now
The deadline to submit an application for the 2024-2025 Obama Foundation Scholars Program is December 12, 2023 at 5 p.m. ET.
The Obama Foundation Scholars Program at Columbia University seeks rising leaders from the United States and around the world who meet the following criteria:
- Are emerging leaders who have made meaningful contributions to their field and are now at a “breakthrough moment” in their careers
- Have a proven commitment to service and leadership within a community, region or country, 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 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 inclusivity, community-orientation, hope, courage, imagination, strategy, accountability, integrity and resilience
Please note: Priority will be given to applicants who have not matriculated at Columbia University. The fellowship is a full-time, residential program at Columbia and cannot be undertaken at the same time as a degree program.
For more information, see the program’s About page.
Since 2018, the Obama Foundation Scholars Program at Columbia University has welcomed:
- 70 rising leaders from 54 countries who have demonstrated a commitment to finding solutions to challenges in their communities, countries, and regions
- Scholars who were, on average, 33 years of age, with ages ranging from 26 to 45
- Emerging institutional and movement leaders addressing a range of challenges, including strengthening governance, increasing access to high-quality healthcare, environmental sustainability, and promoting women’s rights and ending gender-based violence
To learn more about our Scholars, please visit the Meet the Scholars page.
A complete application, submitted entirely online, includes the following materials:
Complete online application form
Complete the online application form by 5 p.m. ET on December 12, 2023.
The resume/curriculum vitae should be a chronological listing of your employment and academic history, and other significant activities, including any awards, publications, or other achievements․
Personal video statement
The personal video statement should be a short video (no longer than three minutes in length) introducing the applicant and their work to the selection committee. Applicants will upload their video statement to a video hosting service, like YouTube or Vimeo, and will include a link to their video in the online application. Additional information on the requirements for the personal video statement can be found in the online application.
Responses to short essay questions
The short essay questions help the selection committee understand the applicant’s work, their motivation and how the program fits into their career trajectory. Applicants will submit their essay questions in the online application.
Proof of English proficiency
Applicants whose native language is not English are required to demonstrate proficiency in the English language by submitting scores from one of four 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); the Pearson Test of English Academic (PTE Academic); or the Duolingo English Test (DET). No other exams will be accepted.
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;
- have previously taken the TOEFL, IELTS, PTE Academic, or DET exams in the last five years and scored at or above the minimum requirement of 100 (TOEFL-IBT), 600 (TOEFL-PBT), 7.0 (IELTS), 68 (PTE Academic), or 120 (DET; 75 on the DET taken prior to July 2019). If applicants qualify for a waiver under this exception, they must upload a scanned copy of their score report to the online application to ensure their application is eligible for review. If they did not score at or above the required minimum or no longer have a copy of their old results, they must retake an English proficiency exam.
- TOEFL – Internet-Based Exam: 100
- TOEFL – Paper-Based Exam: 600
- International English Language Testing System Academic: 7
- Pearson Test of English Academic: 68
- Duolingo English Test: 120 (75 on the exam taken prior to July 2019)
Please note that while applicants who received scores below the posted minimums may still apply, applications are not guaranteed to be reviewed.
Two letters of recommendation
Two letters of recommendation are required from individuals who are familiar with the applicant and the applicant’s work in an academic, professional or community service setting. Recommendations should directly address the applicant’s suitability for admission to the Obama Foundation Scholars program. Recommendations should not be written by family members or friends.
- 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 in New York City
- Air travel to and from home country and any program-related activities
For more information: