Admissions Blog

Funding Your Graduate Studies with a Foreign Service Fellowship

By Angel Ornelas '24
Posted Sep 25 2023

What Are the Foreign Service Fellowships?

Are you looking to join the U.S. Foreign Service and fully fund your graduate studies at SIPA? Keep reading because you are in the right place! Since 1992, the Foreign Service across major federal agencies (such as USAID, State Department, Department of Agriculture, etc.) has actively worked to diversify its workforce by attracting underrepresented talent through fellowship programs. Currently, there are seven active Foreign Service fellowships: 

  1. Thomas R. Pickering Foreign Affairs Graduate Fellowship
  2. Charles B. Rangel International Affairs Fellowship Program
  3. Foreign Affairs Information Technology Fellowship (FAIT)
  4. William D. Clarke, Sr. Diplomatic Security Fellowship
  5. USAID Donald M. Payne International Development Fellowship
  6. USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service Foreign Service Fellowship
  7. Foreign Agricultural Service Diversity Fellowship Program

Although the specifics of each fellowship vary, the basic structure of each program is as follows:

  • Financial assistance for a two-year graduate program related to international affairs (including SIPA)
  • Two summer practicums, one domestic and one abroad
  • Mentoring and other professional development opportunities
  • Five-year work commitment
  • Contractual obligation to fulfill the requirements laid out in the fellowship agreement

These fellowships are the culmination of efforts by individuals in the Foreign Service who recognize that there is an urgent need to have a diplomatic corps that reflects America’s diversity. At Columbia University, Foreign Service fellows are valued members of the SIPA community and are provided support at SIPA. Once you receive an acceptance from one of the fellowships and SIPA, you can work with our Financial Aid office to manage funding and payment details. 

When Should I Apply?

Some of these fellowships have application deadlines as early as September for entry into the cohort the following year. In addition, fellowship applicants are required to apply to graduate programs at the same time. For example, I applied to SIPA at the same time as the USAID Payne Fellowship. Although I received my acceptance letter from Payne prior to being admitted to SIPA, the fellowship deadline is much sooner than most graduate schools. Check out the exact deadlines for each of the fellowships on their respective websites. Although all of this can be overwhelming, remind yourself of your passion for public service and why you want to pursue a career in the Foreign Service.

SIPA Student Testimonies

(See photos in the image gallery below!)


Angel Ornelas

Concentration: Urban/Social Policy

Specialization: International Organizations/UN Studies

This summer, I learned the important role international aid plays in the lives of LGBTQ+ people in Colombia. USAID has helped Colombian communities advance LGBTQ+ rights throughout Colombia. Moving forward, I hope to continue supporting community-led efforts at advancing LGBTQ+ rights. 




Leigh Mante

Concentration: Energy and Environment

Specialization: Leadership, Innovation, and Design

In addition to providing funding for graduate school, the Payne Fellowship provides unique opportunities for fellows to become well-acquainted with development activity co-design, implementation, and evaluation processes to best prepare for USAID’s foreign service. Through the fellowship, I have had the opportunity to further explore and refine my interests in international development through summer placements with the Congressional Research Service Global Affairs Team and USAID/Indonesia’s Environment Office in Jakarta. Coming into graduate school, I wanted to become a generalist development practitioner aiming to work on monitoring and evaluation at the intersection of health, environment, and education. However, after working on an environment portfolio this past summer, I discovered new passions and interests in climate adaptation, marine affairs, and energy access, ultimately redirecting my course load at SIPA to gain more technical skills in the environment field and join as an Environment technical officer. The Payne Fellowship has granted me a wonderful community of peers and future colleagues as well as a supportive network of individuals willing to provide guidance and advice about post-graduate school work-life balance and career trajectories.


Akaysha Palmer

Concentration: Urban/Social Policy

Specialization: Technology, Media, and Communications

My internship at the U.S. Embassy in Nassau was a transformative experience. Before becoming a Charles B. Rangel Graduate Fellow, I had never visited a U.S. Embassy and was unfamiliar with its daily operations. Now, preparing to join the U.S. Foreign Service in 2024 after completing my MPA at SIPA, I look back at my time in Nassau with immense gratitude. Upon arriving in Nassau, I was welcomed by the refreshing ocean breeze and the embassy staff. Throughout my internship, I formed connections with both local staff and U.S. Foreign Service Officers. Special moments included spending time with the Charge d’ Affairs, Usha Pitts, and being present during significant events like Vice Presidential visits, CARICOM meetings, and Independence Day celebrations for both the U.S. and The Bahamas. I handled a wide range of tasks, including drafting memos, cables, event highlights, and press releases for official visits and various embassy initiatives. Additionally, I supported embassy Pride Month activities, assisted with official visits, collaborated on projects across different sections, and provided event summaries. This included drafting press releases for annual reports such as the Trafficking in Persons Report, among others.

We hope to welcome you to SIPA in the near future as a future Foreign Service Officer! If you have any questions, please feel free to reach out to me through LinkedIn. Best of luck with your applications!