Selection as a White House Fellow is based on a combination of the following criteria:
- A record of remarkable professional achievement early in one’s career
- Evidence of leadership skills and the potential for further growth
- A demonstrated commitment to public service
- The skills to succeed at the highest levels of the Federal government, and the ability to work effectively as part of a team
All these qualities combined with the strength of one’s character, a positive attitude, and the ability to work well with others are taken into consideration when selecting a class of White House Fellows.
The Selection Process
The selection process is very competitive. The White House Fellows Program office processes the applications and former Fellows screen the applications to identify the most promising candidates. Approximately 100 of the most qualified applicants are selected to be Regional Finalists and are interviewed by eight to ten Regional Panels across the country.
Regional Finalists participate in an evening event, followed by a full day of interviews. The interviews are typically conducted in April each year in different cities across the country with 10 – 13 Finalists participating in each Regional Panel. Distinguished citizens from the city where each Regional Panel is held conduct the interviews. Based on the results of the interviews, the Regional Panels select approximately thirty candidates to proceed to the final round of interviews in June of each year, as National Finalists.
National Finalists participate in “Selection Weekend,” which includes three evenings and two days of interviews with members of the President’s Commission on White House Fellowships. After spending Selection Weekend interviewing, interacting with, and observing the National Finalists, the Commissioners recommend those individuals (between 11 and 19) it finds most qualified for the Fellowship to the President for appointment as White House Fellows.
Those selected as White House Fellows travel to Washington DC in July for “Placement Week” to interview with Principals in the White House, the Cabinet, and other government agencies. The Principals and Fellows indicate their desired preferences to the Program Director. The Director determines the placement of each Fellow’s work placement for the Fellowship year.
The White House Fellows undergo orientation and onboarding in mid-August, and begin their work placements in September.
- Applicants to the White House Fellows program must be U.S. citizens.
- Employees of the Federal government are not eligible unless they are career military personnel.
- Applicants must have completed their undergraduate education by the time they begin the application process.
- There are no formal age restrictions to becoming a White House Fellow. However, the Fellowship program was created to give selected Americans the experience of government service early in their careers.
The Written Application
The process to be selected as a White House Fellow is extremely competitive. A well-prepared application and carefully selected references are key components to a successful application. Developing a clear, comprehensive, and competitive application is estimated to take at least 25 hours, so the President’s Commission encourages you to start the process as soon as possible.
The application has six major sections:
1. Personal Information
The elements required in Sections 1, 3, 4, and 6 are fairly straightforward and probably similar to what you have seen with other job applications. Section 2: Recommendations, includes very specific guidance, and warrants close attention. Section 5: Essays are the critical component of the application to become a White House Fellow, and they are also the most difficult portion of the application. We will discuss the essays in detail.
The Essay Questions
The six essays that applicants must write are generally viewed as both the most difficult and most important element of the written application. The six essays, each with specific word limits, are as follows:
Current Employment: Provide a brief description of the work you currently perform. This should expand on, not repeat, the information provided in the resume section of the application. Please limit your narrative to 200 words.
Most Significant Achievement ‒ Professional: Describe in 200 words or fewer what you consider to be your most significant professional contribution.
Most Significant Achievement ‒ Community Service: Describe in 200 words or fewer what you consider to be your most significant voluntary contribution to your community.
Lifetime Goals: Describe in 300 words or fewer your life’s ambition, what you hope to accomplish or achieve in your lifetime, and what position you hope to attain.
Memorandum for the President: Write a memorandum for the President making a specific policy proposal. Explain why you think it is important, what issues it raises, and why you think the President should support your proposal. Please limit your memo to 500 words.
Motivation for Becoming a White House Fellow: Describe your motivation for applying to the White House Fellows program, what you consider to be your major strengths and qualifications for the program, and what benefits you feel are likely to result for society from your participation. Please limit your narrative to 300 words.
The on-line application will allow you to revise and save your work in draft form until you are ready to submit your final application prior to the deadline in January. We recommend that you polish and proof your essays carefully. During the selection process your essays will be studied closely. We urge you to make the most cogent and compelling arguments possible, and ensure your application is free of any typos or misspellings.
The Regional Interviews
On the basis of the written applications the President’s Commission will select approximately 100 Regional Finalists. The Regional Finalists will typically interview in cities across the country, usually during the month of April. At each of the Regional Interviews about a dozen Regional Finalists will go through a day and a half of interviews.
The “Regionals” typically involve an introductory dinner the night before in which the finalists meet and get to know the other candidates and the regional panelists who will be interviewing them. The following day each of the Regional Finalists goes through a series of structured interviews. The interviews are 20 minutes each. Each interview normally involves one Regional Finalist, and two or three panelists. The panelists will have studied your written application in detail, and they will ask a series of questions about you, and about your application.
Typically the essays you write will generate the most questions. And of these, typically the Memorandum for the President will generate more questions than the other essays. For that reason, we recommend you place particular emphasis on this essay when you are composing your written application. Following the Regional Interviews the President’s Commission will select approximately 30 finalists to proceed to the final round of National Interviews, which are held in June.
The National Interviews
Typically, those selected as National Finalists will travel to the Washington, D.C. area in June for the final round of interviews. The National Interviews, often referred to as “Selection Weekend” involve a series of interviews with the members of the President’s Commission over the course of two-and-a-half days.
The elements of the interview process at “Nationals” are similar to those at “Regionals”. There will typically be a dinner on the evening prior and the interviews themselves will be 20 minutes each. The difference is there will be more of them. At “Regionals” people typically go through four (4) formal 20-minute interviews. At “Nationals” people typically go through at least ten (10) formal 20-minute interviews.
In addition to the formal interviews there are typically several meals and other activities at “Nationals” during which the Commissioners have the opportunity to evaluate the National Finalists in both formal and informal situations, as well as in both individual and group situations. Following the National Interviews the Commissioners will select from 11 to 19 of the finalists to become White House Fellows. The range of 11 to 19 is to give the Commissioners some numerical flexibility in the selection. In recent years the White House Fellows classes have averaged 14 to 16 people.
The Placement Interviews
Those selected as White House Fellows return to Washington, D.C. about a month after “Selection Weekend” for “Placement Week”. During “Placement Week” the new White House Fellows interview with various offices in the Executive Branch (including at various departments, agencies, and in the White House). The interviews are based on both the interests of the Fellows themselves, and the interests and needs of the Executive Branch offices.
In a typical year there will be about twice as many offices that wish to have a Fellow as there will be Fellows to place. Each Fellow will be asked to prioritize the list of potential assignments. In parallel, each office that wishes to have a Fellow will rank order the Fellows based on their backgrounds, capability, and expertise. Thus, during “Placement Week” each new Fellow will go through multiple placement interviews with various departments and agencies, some of which may have been on their preferred list, and others of which may have been at the request of the department or agency.
The Fellows may go to several follow-up interviews during “Placement Week” as well. Following the interviews, the Director of the President’s Commission on White House Fellowships, in consultation with White House, Department, and Agency officials, will determine the work placement for each Fellow.
- Fall/Winter – The Live Application Period: The online application goes “live” each year on November 1st. The application is submitted online and must be completed by early to mid-January (the date varies slightly year by year).
- Winter/Spring – Regional Finalist Selection and Interviews: Applicants are notified in March if they have been selected as Regional Finalists. If selected, they will be notified of the time and location for their Regional Interview. Regional Interviews typically occur in April of each year.
- May – National Finalists Notification: National Finalists selected from the Regional Interviews are notified in May of each year.
- June – Selection Weekend: National finalists are interviewed over a two-and-a-half day period by the members of the President’s Commission on White House Fellowships – typically in early June of each year. The Commission then recommends a class of Fellows to the President for approval.
- July – Placement Week: Fellows interview with principals in the White House and various government agencies during Placement Week. The principals and Fellows indicate their desired preferences to the Program Director. The Director determines each Fellow’s work placement.
- August to August: Inclusive dates of the Fellowship year.