The Obama Foundation Scholars Program at Columbia University is geared towards students undertaking a leadership development program. Through the opportunity, recipients will be granted a fully-funded scholarship in the hopes of bringing together rising leaders, both from the United States and around the world.

Over the course of an academic year at Columbia University, Obama Foundation Scholars shall be able to deepen their knowledge and skills and build new capacities and networks to accelerate their impact within their home countries.

Application deadline: December 22, 2021





Benefits of The Obama Foundation Scholars Program

Scholars of the program shall take part in an immersive program that brings together academic, skills-based, and experiential learning, designed by Columbia University in consultation with the Obama Foundation. Key components 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 movement, and climate change.
  • Personal and professional development workshops designed to strengthen practical skills to enhance scholars’ ability to lead. Previous workshop topics include conflict management and resolution, public speaking, data analysis and interpretation, and resilience.
  • 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 though leadership speaker series that introduces scholars to seasoned practitioners from the NGO community, philanthropy, government, and international organizations to expand scholars’ network 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.

Under the Obama Foundation Scholars Program at Columbia University, recipients will be able to receive the following benefits:

  • A monthly stipend to assist with living expenses in New York City
  • A furnished studio apartment within walking distance of Columbia University, if the program is able to convene in person
  • 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, if the program is able to convene in person
  • Air travel to and from home country and any program-related activities, if the program is able to convene in person.

Eligibility Criteria for Leadership Development Students

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

How to Apply at Columbia University

If you’re interested to pursue a slot in The Obama Foundation Scholars Program, please take note of the following materials and instructions:

Complete online application form

Complete the online application form by December 22 at 5 PM ET.


Resume/curriculum vitae

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;

OR

  • 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.

Minimum Scores

  • 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.


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