Frequently asked questions
Do I need to have experience with policy or government?
No! You don’t have to be a policy expert or a political science major to be a great Fellow—all kinds of skills can translate to success in a community organization as long as you’re ready to work hard, exercise humility, and learn on the go. If you’ve been a leader on campus, gained skills at internships or jobs, and care about finding a career where you make a real impact day-to-day, you might be a great fit!
Can international residents apply?
Lead for America may only accept U.S. citizens, nationals, legal permanent residents, or a work visa for at least the next three years for admission into the Fellowship. However, DACA recipients are eligible for the fellowship.
Can I apply to be a Fellow if I already have a graduate degree or am in the middle of a graduate program?
Yes! Folks who have earned or are in the process of earning graduate degrees may apply for the Fellowship so long as they earned their bachelor’s degree no earlier than 2011, are between the ages of 21 and 30, and are legally authorized to work in the US.
The fellowship program is a full-time 40-hour commitment. While Fellows may choose to participate in a part-time graduate program simultaneously with the fellowship as long as the commitment does not conflict with their full-time fellowship role, applicants should understand that the fellowship program is intensive and it is not always possible for Fellows to balance both commitments simultaneously.
Those who are already enrolled in a full-time graduate program will be unable to participate in the fellowship unless their graduate program allows them to shift their studies to part time.
Please note: The default scholarship package is the same for all Fellows in a given location, regardless of whether or not they earned a graduate degree before beginning their Fellowship term.
Can I apply to work in a specific community even if it's not on the pre-confirmed site list?
For a majority of our placements, we first identify outstanding candidates who have a strong connection to a given community, and then if we select them as Endorsed Finalists, we work hand in hand with them and their proposed hosts in the community to co-create a project scope and handle all of the financing.
With regard to the work itself, fellowship roles are not meant to replace existing entry-level jobs, but rather are original and customized positions meant to address a complex and urgent problem facing the community that the community organization lacks the bandwidth to fully address. These roles will be structured around a small number of tangible project-oriented goals, where the Fellow will be expected to take on major project management responsibility, to think on their feet, and to innovate in collaboration with their team. The project scopes are co-created by the Fellow, the host, and LFA, so the project scopes are tailored both to the critical needs of the community and the unique skills and background of the Fellow. Fellows with particular interests are able to discuss their interests and background during the project scoping process, and in most cases, this background is incorporated into the ultimate position description.
To illustrate a bit more the type of work Fellows perform, current Fellows are developing and implementing an affordable housing and homelessness plan for the Oljato Chapter Tribal Council of the Navajo Nation, spearheading an initiative to attract new business partnerships and develop the Sawyer International Airport for Marquette County in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, managing philanthropic investments in marginalized and rural communities with the Southwest Initiative Foundation in Minnesota, and building the first universal pre-K system in Jackson, Mississippi.
Can I apply to work in a specific community even if it's not on the pre-confirmed site list?
Lead For America aims to cultivate outstanding recent graduates to be leaders in their hometowns or places they have strong personal connections. We believe this element of "place" is very important to help revitalize communities that struggle to retain talent because our Fellows serve as a role model for youth and others in the community to reframe the narrative of success from "leaving and never coming back" to one of serving home. For these reasons, our program generally focuses on service in local organizations (governments at the municipal, county, tribal, or COG level, or community-rooted non-profits or businesses).
However, if a candidate proposes a state-level role that has a compelling connection to a community they are strongly rooted in, exceptions may be possible.
Can I apply to multiple application cycles?
Yes! If you do not receive the fellowship during an earlier application cycle, you are welcome to apply again at a later deadline, but you must fill out the application again to signal that you would like to be reconsidered.
Can I only apply to serve a community where I grew up?
Lead For America works to build stronger communities for everyone by cultivating locally rooted transformational leaders. We believe that in order to enact transformational change, leaders must make a long-term commitment to the places they serve. That is why we look for Fellows who are passionate about a given place and can truly see themselves serving that community over the course of their career. While the place doesn't necessarily need to be where the applicant grew up (although this certainly contributes to a strong application), the applicant does need to make a compelling case for why they are profoundly connected to the community and why they see themselves serving that community in the longer term as well.
For example, a significant majority of current Fellows grew up in the community or nearby region where they serve, but some Fellows went to college or spent at least a few years living in their host community, and in rare cases, Fellows built a deeply rooted relationship with their host community through past internships or strong family ties. All Fellows have strong personal connections to their host community and plan to serve the community in the long term after their fellowship is completed.
Can I still apply if I am over the age of 30?
While typically our Fellows are between the ages of 21-30, this is a recommended age range, as instead of feeling the need to stick to firm boundaries, we rather are simply looking for young, dynamic, and passionate leaders who want to inject energy into and give back to communities where they already have strong ties. If this program sounds like a good fit for you and you are over the age of 30, feel free to apply, and you will have the opportunity during the selection process to share why you think you would still be an outstanding Fellow.
Can I apply for both the hometown fellowship and a state-based fellowship?
For those who have strong ties both to one of the states of our state affiliate programs as well as to another community somewhere else, we ask that, for the first round application, you choose just one fellowship track. However, if in later rounds you would like to switch your application preference to a different track, you may do so by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Can I apply to work in a specific community in a state based fellowship, even if the site is not pre-confirmed?
Because host sites and Fellows undergo simultaneous application processes, LFA will be informing our outreach to potential hosts based on the interests of our applicants. In other words, if you indicate your interest in serving a particular community when applying for a state based fellowship, we will attempt to engage that community, either during the Finalist or Endorsed Finalist stage of the application, regarding hosting a Fellow. However, this does not guarantee that that placement site will be a confirmed host.
What does the application process entail?
In the first round of the application, you will complete a two-page application with your demographic and academic information, a resume/CV, your geographic preferences, and a 250 word short answer response focused on your interest in or connection to the proposed host community.
In the Semifinalist round, you will submit a public narrative video (see
here for more details). If the candidate is named an Endorsed Finalist, this video will be sent to potential hosts given permission from the candidate.
In the Finalist round, you will be invited for a video interview and a chance to meet the LFA team. Finalists will also be asked to submit two recommendations and a personal bio.
Endorsed Finalists (All Fellowship Tracks Except for Lead For North Carolina)
After the Finalist interviews, LFA will announce the selection of LFA Endorsed Finalists. These Endorsed Finalists will have been given an unreserved endorsement by LFA. Pending a successful interview, funding, and confirmation by a host organization of interest, the Endorsed Finalist will be named a Fellow. The process of becoming a Fellow after being named an Endorsed Finalist varies slightly for our different tracks, but always includes an interview with a host partner before the placement can be fully confirmed.
For applicant-led Endorsed Finalists, we aim to empower these amazing leaders to the best of our ability in paving their own pathway back home. Endorsed Finalists will be introduced to potential hosts in their community, including to both LFA's pre-existing host relationships and other potential hosts that the Endorsed Finalists themselves identify as ideal placements. LFA will provide up to three pitches to potential hosts for each Endorsed Finalist, after which the Endorsed Finalist will follow up with those potential hosts or others that they identify to work to confirm the project scope and funding. If the match is confirmed on both sides and the host can contribute the funds to cover the fellowship cost, then the Endorsed Finalist can be officially named a Fellow. This process gives Endorsed Finalists the opportunity to be creative and entrepreneurial in their pursuit of a match, and in dozens of cases, Endorsed Finalists have found full-time job offers or other professional opportunities in their hometown, either as part of the fellowship or outside of it.
LFA will coordinate an interview between the Endorsed Finalists and the pre-confirmed host, and if the match is confirmed on both sides, then the Endorsed Finalist can be officially named a Fellow. Typically, 2-3 Endorsed Finalists are invited to interview for each pre-confirmed position.
Lead For North Carolina Endorsed Finalists
Endorsed Finalists will be invited to participate in one or multiple interviews with officials from pre-confirmed LFNC local governments, as well as with faculty and administrators from the UNC School of Government. Endorsed Finalists will generally be invited to interview with hosts from the region of North Carolina where they are from (western, central, or eastern), except in cases where the Endorsed Finalist has a particularly strong personal tie to another part of the state. Endorsed Finalists will have the opportunity to discuss and co-create their fellowship project scope with their host during and after their interview. Due to the volume of exceptional LFNC candidates, we anticipate that less than half of Endorsed Finalists will ultimately be matched with a host and confirmed as a Fellow.
What is the timeline for Lead For North Carolina selection, training, and placements?
Lead For North Carolina has three application deadlines: January 1st, February 1st, and March 15th. The first round, Semifinalist round, and Finalist round mirror the selection process for the Hometown Fellows and Lead For Minnesota programs; however, the Endorsed Finalist and confirmation process, as well as the training and placement timelines, differ in the following ways.
Endorsed Finalist Matching Days: April 23rd and 24th.
Those Finalists who are selected as Endorsed Finalists will be invited to participate in person in one or multiple interviews with officials from pre-confirmed LFNC local governments, as well as with faculty and administrators from the UNC School of Government. Endorsed Finalists will generally be invited to interview with hosts from the region of North Carolina where they are from (western, central, or eastern), except in cases where the Endorsed Finalist has a particularly strong personal tie to another part of the state. Endorsed Finalists will have the opportunity to discuss and co-create their fellowship project scope with their host during and after their interview. Due to the volume of exceptional LFNC candidates, less than half of Endorsed Finalists will ultimately be matched with a host and confirmed as a Fellow.
Fellowship Offers: May 1st.
On May 1st, LFNC will conditionally announce its second class of Lead For North Carolina Fellows. As LFNC anticipates confirming significant funding in May, these fellowships will likely not be officially confirmed until early June once full funding is in place.
Summer Training: Early June through late June (four weeks).
The first three weeks of summer training will take place at the UNC School of Government, and will include a graduate-level education in public administration and local governance. For the final week of June, Fellows will travel to the LFA Changemaker Summit to convene with the entire fellowship community and learn from entrepreneurs, public servants, and community changemakers about the greatest challenges facing our country, and how to make a transformational difference in local communities. Lodging, meals, and travel will be covered for every part of the summer training.
Placements Start: July 15th.
The one year fellowship placement will begin July 15th about two weeks after the Changemaker Summit concludes.
Are there certain communities that LFA prefers for Fellowship placements?
Because our mission is to ensure that our country's most outstanding leaders are working on our communities' toughest challenges, particularly in more distressed regions, we favor placing Fellows in communities that face major economic and social challenges and could most benefit from the cultivation of locally rooted leadership. This includes communities of all sizes — currently, we have Fellows serving in places as large as Los Angeles County and Detroit, as small as Boone County, West Virginia and Monument Valley, Utah, and everything in between. In their application, we ask that candidates describe their proposed community’s toughest challenges and make a compelling case for why the community could greatly benefit from young and dynamic leadership.
Beyond communities facing major challenges, we also give preference to communities with significant outmigration -- where the narrative of success looks like leaving and never coming back. This generally includes small towns, rural communities, and other places that score high on the Distressed Communities Index.
I have lived in many different places. Where should I apply to serve?
We completely understand that you have many places that you have strong personal connections. For us, we most want to support you in returning to a place that feels most like home to you, and where you see yourself serving in the long term. We also do give preference for those serving communities with significant challenges, especially when serving under-resourced or overlooked places. That being said, we have Fellows serving in large cities as well when there is a very strong personal connection and fit between the person, place, and project. Essentially, we would advise you to apply to serve the place where you believe you have the strongest personal tie and could make the biggest impact!
Do I need to have talked to my proposed host organization before submitting the first round application for the Hometown Fellows program?
If you are applying to be a Hometown Fellow, you are welcome to let proposed host community stakeholders know of your interest in serving them, but this is not required. You will be introduced to your potential host during the Endorsed Finalist stage.
If you would like to reach out to potential hosts at an earlier stage on your own terms, it is important to ask them what their most pressing needs are and their potential financial capacity to host a Fellow. You can share with them what LFA is and that we are here to serve as a pipeline to train young leaders interested in helping strengthen their local communities.
How do I know you received my application?
If you received the confirmation email, then we received your application. If you did not receive a confirmation email in your inbox or in your spam folder within 24 hours of submission, then email email@example.com letting us know.
What should I include in the writing sample?
The writing sample can include any previous work (personal, academic, or professional) that is representative of your ability as a writer. For this, we are not analyzing the topic of the sample, but rather the quality of the writing and the sophistication of thinking behind its content. As long as the writing sample is at least two pages, any length is acceptable.
How should I send my recommendations?
Recommendations are not requested until the Finalist round. At that time, we prefer that the recommendation be uploaded with the rest of your application. The recommendation need not be confidential. However, if your recommender prefers to keep the recommendation confidential, they can submit it directly to us via e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. We do not accept recommendations through the mail. All recommendations MUST be received before the Finalist interview.
If your recommender submits their recommendation directly, please make sure that they: (1) include your name in the subject line, and (2) state your full name and your school in the recommendation to help us match it to your file.
We strongly encourage you to submit the recommendation with the rest of your application. Well-intentioned as your professors and supervisors may be, they are also incredibly busy. While we do not seek to penalize applicants for circumstances beyond their control, it does not change the fact that, if your recommendation does not arrive on time, our application readers will not have access to a key component of your application. If you ask a recommender to submit a recommendation directly, you should do so understanding that we may not be able to consider the recommendation if it does not arrive before the application deadline.
What happens during the finalist interviews?
For both the State-Based Fellowships and the Hometown Fellowship, Finalists will take part in a 20-minute interview before a panel of LFA staff. The interview's intent is to more deeply understand the Finalists' background, relevant experiences, values, and connection to community. In all cases, the interviews will assess the Finalists' level of long-term commitment to their proposed community, region, state, or issue area.
Lead For America Finalist interviews will take place over Zoom, unless a state affiliate program chooses to make in-person interviews optional. In the case that in-person interviews are optional, the decision to attend online or in person will not affect the evaluation process in any way.
What happens if I am unable to attend the finalist interviews because of a conflict?
If you are selected as a Finalist but are unable to attend any of the interview sessions, you may request alternate arrangements at that time, but there is no guarantee that your and the interviewers' schedules can be matched previous to the group interviews. We strongly suggest that you block out the finalist interview dates when you begin the process.
When will I be notified if I was selected as an Endorsed Finalist?
Lead For America will notify all Finalists of their status within a week after their Finalist interviews. Those invited to be Endorsed Finalists will be asked to confirm that they would like to take part in the matching process within seven days of notification, but will not be asked to officially commit to the fellowship until they have been matched with a host.
Note that Endorsed Finalists are not guaranteed a fellowship until they are matched with a host partner that agrees to host them.
What does LFA look for in Fellows?
Our Fellows are catalysts for a much larger revitalization and are deeply committed to supporting their community’s flourishing. To be a Lead For America Fellow is to deeply commit to another way of moving through the world.
All backgrounds, experiences and skills can help Fellows be effective during their two years and beyond. That being said, there are a few things we look for in every Fellow. Integrity. Humility. A deep commitment to a life of selflessness and community service. A willingness to learn and co-create the fellowship experience. A genuine excitement for being part of a much larger movement.
Our Fellows are excited to address the root challenge of disconnection to community. Fellows are selected for their dedication, de-centering of self, and willingness to full-heartedly dive into a commitment to others. They become catalysts for place-based initiatives, entrepreneurial social ventures, and community hubs to broaden and deepen local connection.
Beyond the above characteristics, we look for candidates that can demonstrate outstanding leadership skills, a profound commitment to serving others, and a tremendous passion for a particular place they hope to serve long term.
LFA is committed to selecting a diverse cohort to: 1) ensure that underrepresented voices are being lifted up in community leadership positions to promote equitable decision-making; 2) strengthen the cohort experience by catalyzing profound learning from one another’s rich experiences and perspectives; 3) ensure that our fellowship is representative of the incredible heterogeneity of our country. Note that, while we strive for diversity in these ways, all Fellows must fully align with our values to join our community. Historically, fewer Asian American candidates, as well as candidates from moderate or conservative ideological orientations, have applied for the fellowship, and for the reasons above, we hope to encourage more candidates from these backgrounds to apply.
I received a message from a member of the LFA team about the Fellowship. How did you identify me as a candidate?
We have a team who are responsible for identifying thousands of candidates (either via nomination from universities and students, or through research of relevant professional experience) who we think would be a great fit for the Fellowship based off of a demonstrated commitment to both service and leadership. If you received a message from our team, that means that you were one of the most outstanding leaders we came across in our outreach process, and we believe that you would be a strong candidate for our program.
I received a recruitment message from the LFA team encouraging me to apply, but I wasn't ultimately selected. Why did this occur?
Lead For America only sends proactive recruitment messages to candidates who we believe would be highly competitive for our fellowship based on their academic, professional, and extracurricular experiences. That being said, our fellowship program has many fewer positions than outstanding candidates, and unfortunately, many truly tremendous potential leaders will not be selected each year. Because of this, we encourage those who are contacted by our team but not ultimately selected to consider applying again in the future!
What is the Hometown Fellows program? What is the difference from this program from the state affiliate programs?
The Hometown Fellows program is designed to help outstanding Fellows return to their hometown or another location that they have already invested in significantly, as opposed to starting their community leadership career in a fundamentally new location. We work with our partners to try and find placements in or around the region that Fellows propose. This program allows for Fellows to hit the ground running, to access a pre-existing social support structure, and to benefit and eventually transform the communities that gave them so much growing up.
Our state affiliate programs seek to build stronger communities through cultivating a dynamic network of outstanding leaders to serve distressed locations across a given state. In this case, Fellows do not always have a personal tie to the specific community they serve (although this is often the case), but in all cases state affiliate Fellows demonstrate a deep connection to the state and aspire to serve it over the course of their career.
What will I be doing during the fellowship?
The Fellowship is defined by three core components: your project scope, your community venture, and the multiplier effect.
Project Scope: Each Fellow's Project Scope is generated by the local community to address a complex and urgent problem and adapted to take advantage of the Fellow's unique skills, passions, and talents. Fellowship applicants can initiate project scope and hosting conversations with a potential host in their hometown, and therein co-design a unique project scope that activates the passions of the Fellow as well as respond to a significant challenge facing the community. In pre-confirmed placements, Fellows work on community challenges specifically crafted by the Host Community for the purpose of the fellowship, and is further refined through a joint Envisioning Meeting between the Host and Fellow.
These roles will be structured around a small number of tangible project-oriented goals, where the Fellow will be expected to take on major project management responsibility, think on their feet, and innovate in collaboration with their team.
To illustrate, current Fellows are developing and implementing an affordable housing and homelessness plan for the Oljato Chapter Tribal Council of the Navajo Nation, spearheading an initiative to attract new business partnerships and develop the Sawyer International Airport for Marquette County in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, managing philanthropic investments in marginalized and rural communities with the Southwest Initiative Foundation in Minnesota, and building the first universal pre-K system in Jackson, Mississippi.
Community Venture: Fellows conduct a Listening Tour of their community within the first quarter of their Fellowship, which inspires them to launch a Community Venture that is led by the Fellow and supported by community leaders. The Venture can be tangential to their Project Scope, or completely different. The Venture is an opportunity for the Fellows to serve their community beyond their project scope while leveraging their unique passion and talents. Throughout the process, Fellows receive mentorship, inspiration, and model play-books from the LFA network to kickstart, implement, finance, and sustain their own Venture. Though localized to specific contexts, every Venture is designed with the aim of building relational and civic capacity within their community. Examples have included: starting a local mentorship program for community youth, running for local elected office, and working with community harm-reduction groups to strengthen care for those struggling with substance abuse.
Multiplier Effect: By the end of their second year, each Fellow is expected to recruit an additional 5-10 young leaders to return, move to, or become activated to serve in their home community. This can look like attracting additional young leaders to apply for the Fellowship, get involved in your Community Venture, take on a full-time employment role in your community, bring their business to your town, etc.
What is the duration of the fellowship?
For Lead For North Carolina Fellows, the program is 13 months in total, including training. Training begins in early June, placements begin July 15th, and the placements conclude after 12 months of service.
For all other LFA Fellowship programs, the program is 25 months in total, including training. Training begins in late June, placements begin in late July or early August, and the placements conclude after 24 months of service.
All fellowships are full-time commitments — all Fellows have equivalent hour requirements to full-time employees within the host organization.
When does the fellowship start?
Our Fellowship begins with the Catalyst Institute, a four week leadership summit and public administration intensive which runs from early June to late June for Lead For North Carolina Fellows, and from late June to late July for all other Lead For America Fellows. Lead For North Carolina Fellows begin their placement projects on or around July 15th, and all other Lead For America Fellows begin their placement projects in early August.
How do you select what community organizations to work with?
We partner with forward-thinking organizations whose leaders are eager to find new ways to engage young talent in solving key local challenges and are serious about mentoring, empowering and investing in that talent. We collaborate closely with our Fellow hosts to identify meaningful, high-impact work for Fellows. All of our Fellow hosts invest significant money and time in our program and in our Fellows.
The placements will represent a mix of urban, suburban, and rural locations, and can be part of local governments, civically oriented non-profits, or even community-based businesses that engage deeply with public institutions. All placements, including those with non-profits and businesses, must involve working with public institutions, engaging meaningfully with the local community, and must be strictly non-partisan.
As a Fellow, what will my training and support look like?
You will begin your fellowship with all the LFA Fellows at the Catalyst Institute, where you will learn alongside professionals, academics, and social sector leaders across a multitude of fields, and receive leadership development, equity, and character-building training. Last year, the training included over 60 speakers from all over the country, including Brookings Institution Centennial Scholar Bruce Katz, Nobel Peace Prize Nominee Amanda Nguyen, and the nationally renowned Mayor of Ithaca Svante Myrick.
The training is comprised of two parts — the Changemaker Summit, which will take place in late June, and place-based trainings, which will take place for three weeks at university partner sites in July.
The Changemaker Summit will convene all Fellows in one place to ground in the fellowship community, engage with prominent national, local and global leaders about the most significant challenges facing the 21st century, and engage with our convergent leadership curriculum.
The place-based trainings will dig deeper into the practices of community empowerment, public administration, leadership development, and self-care to equip each Fellow with the tools they need to become transformational community changemakers.
While we look for Fellows who are self-starters and who have personal connections to the communities in which they are serving, we understand that being the only Fellow in a community or region can be slightly daunting and overwhelming. As a result, we organize three retreats to bring Fellows back together and to continue the leadership and professional development process. In addition, we offer biweekly check-ins from our program staff to ensure that your experience is nourishing, engaging, and transformative.
What does LFA mean when they say that Fellows will serve 4 of their next 7 years in a role that centers their community’s wellbeing? What does the full fellowship timeline include?
At Lead For America, we believe that in order to enact transformational change, leaders must make a long-term commitment to the places they serve. That is why we look for Fellows who are passionate about a given place, and can truly see themselves serving that community over the course of their career, and at least spending 4 of their next 7 years in service to that community in some way, shape, or form.
The fellowship begins with a four week summer training, after which Fellows begin their placements in early August, and work in their position for the following two years. After these two years, the Fellows become alumni of the program, and LFA works to support them to the greatest degree possible to continue serving their community, whether in finding a new civic-oriented job in the community, starting their own non-profit or business, going to graduate school to build skills to bring back to their community, or even to run for office. We simply ask that Fellows commit to spending two of their following five years after their fellowship in service to their community or the region where their community is situated. For example, some of our current Fellows aim to receive a full time job in their local government, some plan to get an MPA or a law degree and use that knowledge to later benefit their community, some plan to serve as local elected officials, and some plan to advocate for federal policy changes that would directly benefit their local communities and identity groups.
To support these alumni pathways, LFA invests heavily in supporting all Fellow graduates, through seed funds for those running for office or starting an organization, graduate scholarships (such as a scholarship to the Carnegie Mellon Heinz School of Public Policy), one-on-one coaching and mentorship, professional development trainings, and job advocacy.
What benefits do Fellows receive? How much are they paid?
SCHOLARSHIP CALCULATION FORMULA -
VISTA Bi-Weekly Living Allowance for intended community of service x 26) + (
MIT Living Wage "Housing" Calculation) = Baseline Scholarship
For Fellows looking to serve in Austin, TX (Travis County) would receive a scholarship amount of (Travis County Bi-Weekly Living Allowance $587.30 x 26 or $15269.80) + (Travis County Housing Calculation $11,172.00) = $26,441.80
For Fellows looking to serve in Fall River, SD (Fall River County) would receive a scholarship amount of (Fall River County Bi-Weekly Living Allowance $513.94 x 26 or $13362.44) + (Fall River County Housing Calculation $5,640) = $19,002.44
NOTE: Scholarships typically range from $18-30,000. Lead For America strives to provide all Fellows with the funds needed to ensure that the program is sustainable for people of all incomes, and we are committed to working thoughtfully and compassionately with all candidates who need more support to see what is possible within the constraints of our financial scholarship fund.
FURTHER CONTEXT -
After consulting with dozens of peer service year programs, we have concluded that the AmeriCorps VISTA stipend, the required scholarship amount for federally funded VISTA programs, can be challenging for some young individuals to live on when they must also pay for housing and health care costs. To ensure that our program is financially accessible for young leaders of all income backgrounds, each year we provide the equivalent of the AmeriCorps VISTA stipend as a baseline scholarship, and also pay for the costs of housing and health care for those Fellows who are not able to cover those costs through in-kind support, such as living with family, parental health insurance, etc.
To calculate the baseline annual scholarship, we first take the equivalent of the AmeriCorps VISTA living stipend by county (we multiply the "VISTA Bi-Weekly Living Allowance (full 14 days of service)" from
this chart by 26). Then, for those Fellows who are unable to secure in-kind housing (e.g. from parents, their host, etc.), we add in the Housing amount estimated for that city on the
MIT Living Wage Calculator (if the city is not listed on the MIT Living Wage Calculator, we use the amount listed for the county where the city resides). For those Fellows who are not on parental or spousal insurance and need to pay for their own medical costs, medical expenses will be reimbursed up to the amount estimated for Medical Expenses for that city/county on the MIT Living Wage Calculator. For those with children, LFA will work with them to provide an additional financial scholarship based on that candidate's needs.
Because Fellows are paid scholarships and are not considered employees, no payroll taxes are taken from the scholarship disbursements. Thus, the total take-home pay for Fellows is roughly 18-25% higher than an equivalent amount would be if paid as a salary. For example, a scholarship of $23,894.45 for a Fellow who is single, serving in California, and with 0 withholdings would be equivalent to a $30,000 salary. This
website can be used to determine a scholarship's salary equivalent.
Please note that, in places with especially high costs of living, the scholarship amount calculated using the above process provides a scholarship amount that double counts for the cost of housing (in these communities, the AmeriCorps VISTA stipend amount is significantly higher to account for housing costs beyond other living expenses). For this reason, if the scholarship calculated above is greater than $30,000, then the total scholarship will be recalibrated to equal the MIT Living Wage Calculator's Required Annual Income After Taxes.
Finally, Lead For America reserves a pool of funding for Fellow financial scholarships, which is used each year to cover financial scholarships for Fellows who need more than the typical scholarship amount for additional expenses. Lead For America strives to provide all Fellows with the funds needed to ensure that the program is sustainable for people of all incomes, and we are committed to working thoughtfully and compassionately with all candidates who need more support to see what is possible within the constraints of our financial scholarship fund.
On top of the scholarship, Fellows also receive an all expenses paid trip to a four week leadership and graduate-level public administration training, three complimentary all-Fellow retreats to locations across the nation, biweekly calls with an LFA staff member for professional and emotional support, a mentor tailored to their personal needs and aspirations, alumni opportunities including graduate scholarships and job opportunities (including a scholarship to the Carnegie Mellon Heinz School of Public Policy for all Fellow alumni), online trainings, complimentary attendance at relevant conferences, and a community of the most talented, passionate, and dynamic peers in the country.
NOTE: Lead For North Carolina Fellows receive $28,000/year as salaried employees, and paid time off for all state/national holidays along with three additional paid days off. The below information applies to all other Lead For America Fellows.
For specific questions about Fellow scholarships, please feel free to reach out to
Beyond the placement and scholarship, what are the benefits of the fellowship?
As a Fellow, you're going to be pushed and you're going to be challenged. But you're also going to have access to world-class training, a community of like-minded peers, a national network of public service leaders, and a staff that will be asking for your advice on how best to shape this program. Most importantly, you're going to be doing work that really matters. We're excited to meet you and create this experience together.
We want to make sure our Fellows are ready to contribute and make a positive impact from Day 1. But we also want Fellows to end the summer inspired and with a new set of friends and supporters. We try our best to do all of that at the Catalyst Institute. You'll spend four weeks living and working alongside your Fellow cohort, all while receiving all-expenses-paid training in public administration and leadership development, learning the skills you'll need to succeed, and developing the mindsets — and friendships — that you'll need to stay grounded along the way.
Beyond the summer training and scholarship, Fellows also receive three complimentary all-Fellow retreats to locations across the nation, biweekly calls with an LFA staff member for professional and emotional support, a mentor tailored to their personal needs and aspirations, online trainings, complimentary attendance at relevant conferences, and a community of the most talented, passionate, and dynamic peers in the country.
After the Fellowship concludes, we do everything we can to keep Fellows engaged in community change-making work, ideally in the community or state in which they served. This support includes seed money for Fellows wanting to start their own initiative, connections with a nationwide mentorship network, and relationships with graduate programs — including automatic scholarship money from partner organizations like the Carnegie Mellon Heinz School of Public Policy.
What is the difference between the applicant-led and pre-confirmed fellowships?
Lead For America has two different fellowship tracks: applicant-led and pre-confirmed. For applicant-led placements, candidates apply to serve any community in the country where they have a strong personal tie. If selected, we support those candidates in identifying and securing a placement in their home community. For pre-confirmed placements, LFA approves a placement first, and then candidates apply to work on the project scope for that specific placement.
How does LFA differ from other fellowship programs?
Like other fellowship programs, LFA strives to cultivate a unique leadership development experience by providing a meaningful professional experience combined with intensive training, mentorship, alumni networking, and an engaged community. What we believe makes LFA different is:
Our place-based focus. Each of our Fellows has a pre-existing personal tie to the community they serve, and because of this our Fellows are better equipped both to make a bigger impact in the short term and to stay rooted in their community in the long term.
Our intensive wraparound support. Each of our Fellows receives a one-month full-time pre-fellowship leadership training, biweekly support calls with a designated program manager (with a Fellow-to-program-manager ratio of 20:1), three weekend retreats throughout the two year program (including a graduation ceremony), individualized mentors that are current leaders in their fields, and enrichment funds to participate in conferences, workshops, etc. to promote leadership growth.
Our orientation toward building lifelong community leaders. We believe that what our Fellows do (and where they end up) after their two year fellowship is even more significant than what happens during the program. To this end, we look for candidates who are serious about committing to long-term service to a particular community. We invest significant resources — such as seed funding for running for local office, starting a local non-profit or business, or supporting community ventures, as well as graduate scholarships to MPA and MPP programs — into opportunities for our alumni to continue serving the places that they call home long after their fellowship.
All this being said, we understand that Lead For America’s fellowship program is not for everyone. In case we aren’t the right fit for you, we have compiled a
list of service fellowship programs from peer organizations for further reference.
Will I be working with other Fellows in my placement?
Currently, a majority of Fellows work in communities without other Fellows. However, we also have Fellow clusters in particular locations (for example, we have four Fellows serving in Jackson, MS), or within particular states for our state affiliate programs (we currently have 16 Fellows in North Carolina and 25 Fellows in Minnesota). As the Fellowship grows, we plan to have multiple Fellows in every fellowship site so that we can work to support a sustainable civic leadership infrastructure and pipeline for young homegrown talent.
Do I choose the organization that I will work with?
If you are applying for a non-pre-confirmed position, then you absolutely get the opportunity to choose the organization you want to work with. During the Finalist round, LFA will provide email introductions to the potential host organizations of the Finalist’s choice, and once selected as an Endorsed Finalist, LFA will work to confirm the match and funding with the potential host that is the best fit for the Fellow and for the scope of the fellowship. Our placements can be part of local governments, civically oriented non-profits, or even community-based businesses that engage deeply with public institutions.
Can my project scope be partisan?
LFA is a nonpartisan fellowship program, which means that we do not choose our placements or our Fellows to cater towards any partisan agenda. That being said, our Fellows are permitted to engage in political partisan activity on their own personal time when not officially representing Lead for America or their host placement. We also promote the International City/County Management Association Code of Ethics (though are not bound to it), which states that its members should "refrain from all political activities which undermine public confidence in professional administrators." While this tenet is targeted specifically at local government employees, particularly city/county managers, we welcome discussion with Fellows and their Hosts together about what honoring and interpreting this guideline would look like for each particular placement.
What city or town could I end up working in?
You may apply as a Hometown Fellow to work in any community in the country other than Minnesota or North Carolina. In the fall, Hometown Fellow applicants can apply to serve in any community where they have a strong personal tie, and in the spring to serve in preconfirmed placement sites that will be listed
Those who wish to serve in North Carolina or Minnesota apply to be part of the Lead For North Carolina or Lead For Minnesota programs by listing that preference on the LFA application. Those who wish to serve in Minnesota or North Carolina may also apply to one of the preconfirmed placement sites listed on the Lead For Minnesota website (leadforminnesota.org) or Lead For North Carolina website (https://lfnc.sog.unc.edu/) when those positions become available in spring 2021. When applying, all prospective Fellows should be prepared to share a compelling explanation of why they are committed to serving a particular community, region, or state.
For full selection timelines for all tracks, see
Can I have other employment during the fellowship?
Because the fellowship experience is very intensive and we hope that Fellows can focus as much of their time as possible on impacting their communities, Fellows are generally discouraged from holding simultaneous employment. The living scholarship, housing scholarship, and other Fellowship benefits are calibrated to cover all living costs during the Fellowship experience, and additional financial scholarships are also available in exceptional circumstances. However, we understand that each individual's context is unique, and we are open to making exceptions to this policy when needed to support the full nourishment and well-being of the Fellow.
Can I attend school during the fellowship?
Fellows may decide to complete additional certification programs or courses through one of our academic or strategic partners, or through other programs of their choosing. This may include working towards an online or part-time MPA program or any number of weekend part-time training courses. That being said, Fellows are expected to consult both their host government and LFA before making this decision.
Will any travel be required?
As part of the Fellowship experience, Fellows will take part in a four-week Catalyst Institute before beginning their fellowship, and three weekend retreats throughout the duration of the fellowship. All summer training and retreat travel will be paid for by LFA.
For summer training, all Fellows will attend the one-week Changemaker Summit in Boston, and then each track will attend three additional weeks with their respective cohort (cohorts include the Hometown Fellows program and each state affiliate program).
Fellows will also travel to several other locations across the country for Fellow retreats. The dates of the retreats are determined during the Fellowship year, in consultation with the Fellows. While most work placements are not expected to require substantial travel, Fellows will be expected to undertake travel appropriate to their jobs when and if requested by their work supervisors.
Do I get time off as a Fellow?
Yes. Fellows get a reasonable number of personal days similar to the number of days given to regular new employees of their city, town, or county (in addition to the 13 regular holidays). However, Fellows are expected to attend all Fellowship retreats, will be given opportunities to attend other conferences, and are thus expected to plan their time off accordingly. Fellows may not take time off during any part of the Summer Catalyst Institute or group retreats.
What if I need more than the baseline scholarship amount to participate in the fellowship?
LFA aims to meet demonstrated financial need to the greatest extent possible with the aspiration of making the fellowship fully accessible to people of all income backgrounds. While we know we may not attain this goal in all cases, we have designed a financial aid process based on the lived experiences of dozens of past Fellows.
Once selected as Endorsed Finalists, Fellows are expected before the matching process begins to share any outstanding financial concerns via a financial aid form. This form includes a line item annual budget and a budget narrative to describe financial need. Qualifying expenses may include, but are not limited to: necessary transportation costs, medical expenses (not including premiums), student loans, familial financial obligations (i.e. child support, care for a family member etc), and basic personal care costs. LFA will not provide a financial scholarship for housing costs beyond what is listed in the
MIT Living Wage Calculator for the Fellow’s community. For those Fellows who pay for their own health care premiums, these costs will solely be paid in the form of monthly reimbursements up to the amount listed in the MIT Living Wage Calculator for the Fellow’s community, and will not increase monthly scholarship payments.
The financial scholarship form will be reviewed by LFA staff, who will compare the form with current budgetary constraints. Based on this analysis, LFA staff will notify the Fellow of the new scholarship amount (if any change is to be made), LFA and the Fellow will sign a revised agreement acknowledging the changes, and the new scholarship amount will be requested from external stakeholders during the fundraising and budgeting process.
Upon the signing of the budget, Fellows agree to the budget and understand that this amount is what LFA commits to pay them over the course of two years. Any additional funding is very limited and happens only in exceptional circumstances.
In cases of dramatic changes to a Fellows’ financial circumstances, LFA may be able to offer scholarship funding to help a Fellow get back on their feet and live sustainably. In these cases, LFA prioritizes support for 1) Fellows who are from low-income backgrounds and have additional financial obligations (i.e. are taking care of family members) and 2) would be unable to continue the fellowship without help.
In these cases LFA may be able to support through a financial scholarship up to $3k over the course of several months. This scholarship is intended to support Fellows with immediate costs to help them get back to a place of financial sustainability. If a Fellow requires a longer-term adjustment to their stipend, LFA will have another conversation prior to the end of the scholarship period to determine long term financial need and discuss possible routes forward given organizational financial constraints, limited fundraising capacity, etc.
What is life like after the fellowship?
In order to cultivate transformational community leaders in the long term, Lead For America believes that making a deep, sustained investment in the development of our alumni will reap exponential change for our leaders, their communities, and society more broadly. Beyond building a burgeoning alumni community that includes graduate scholarships (including to Carnegie Mellon's Heinz School of Public Policy), professional development trainings, systematized network building and job advocacy, regional alumni chapters, and national alumni interest groups, we also plan to provide an average of at least $5,000 to all new alumni to catalyze public service work (e.g. starting a local business or non-profit, leading a community initiative, running for local office, etc.). Alumni, like Fellows, are also encouraged to participate in the strategic decision-making of Lead For America, both within regional affiliates and at the national level.
We view our fellowship as the first step in a lifelong commitment to and participation in the Lead For America community, and strive to build a thick culture of connection, inspiration, and empowerment for alumni across all cohorts.
Does the Lead For America Fellowship program qualify for Public Service Loan Forgiveness?
Lead For America Fellows who participate in one of Lead For America’s AmeriCorps programs qualify for Public Service Loan Forgiveness. To date, that has only included the Lead For Minnesota program, but starting with the 2020/2021 cohort, each of Lead For America’s other programs are also applying for AmeriCorps grants, which if received, would qualify new Fellows for the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program as well. Lead For America will receive a decision on all AmeriCorps grants by May 2021.
What is the culture within the LFA community?
LFA aims to foster a celebratory culture that uplifts Fellow victories, provides a support oasis for Fellows in challenging times, and allows for development of meaningful relationships. This culture is cultivated both organically and programmatically via grounding in a shared vision for the world and the participation in operationalizing that vision. Fellows are encouraged to partake community-wide social events and frequently visit each other’s placement on their own accord.
How does LFA receive its funds?
100% of the cost of the fellowship program is covered by contributions from host contracts (~70%), federal AmeriCorps grants (~20%), and community philanthropy in the places where we serve (~10%). Beyond the direct fellowship costs, Lead For America has raised national philanthropy dollars to support costs for staff, management, growth, and new initiatives in line with our mission.
Is LFA an AmeriCorps program? How does this affect its programming?
In spring of 2020, Lead For America was awarded an AmeriCorps State/National grant to place 20 Fellows as part of the Lead For Minnesota program. In the future, Lead For America may be awarded additional AmeriCorps grants. These funds support Lead For America’s ability to serve communities across the nation, especially in smaller and more distressed communities. Fellows who are placed via AmeriCorps funding have an identical fellowship experience, including the training, scholarship, alumni support, and all other enrichment opportunities, to other Fellows.
What other opportunities from LFA are there for over the summer?
The LFA Summer Internship is an opportunity to work directly with the LFA team to learn about the mechanics of a growing non-profit, and to help us expand our impact nationwide. See the website for further details.
The LFA Summer Fellowship places outstanding undergraduates in their hometown local governments for an opportunity to learn about the inner workings of their local public institutions. See the website for further details.
What is the LFA Corps Membership?
The LFA Corps Membership program is for those candidates who are selected as Endorsed Finalists for the fellowship, but due to circumstances outside of their control (e.g. their placement is unable to afford the full cost, the project description falls outside the scope of the fellowship, etc.), they are not named a Fellow. Corps Members commit to serving a community with which they have a strong personal connection through completing a listening tour of their community and spearheading a project of their own design. Corps Member projects in the past have included building a network of civically engaged Latinx youth in Atlanta and building grassroots awareness of local politics in Chicago. Corps Members are also invited to attend the Changemaker Summit, the first week of the LFA Fellowship Summer Training, completely free of charge (room, board, and travel included). During the Changemaker Summit, they will hear from prominent national, local and global leaders about the most significant challenges facing the 21st century, and develop their leadership skills alongside the fellowship cohort.
How is the fellowship program affected by the ongoing COVID-19 Pandemic?
Because of the COVID-19 outbreak, our training opportunities for the 2021 cohort may adapt to a virtual environment given public health considerations at that time. Even if our training must be partially or fully online, we commit to providing a minimum of one month of intensive leadership and professional development training throughout the course of the program year, as we have done for our 2020 cohort. We also commit to working closely with our hosts to ensure that all project scopes can be accomplished virtually to make them less vulnerable to future outbreaks. All other aspects of the fellowship experience remain the same.
How many Fellows do you plan to accept?
In our first two years, we accepted 104 Fellows, and plan to accept approximately 100 Fellows for our third cohort with roughly 75 being placed with five state affiliate programs, including Lead for Minnesota, Lead for North Carolina, and three new state affiliates that will launch this fall. The other ~25 Fellows will be placed with the National Hometown Fellows program in placements across the country. We give preference to applicants who want to return to their hometown, home state, or home region, particularly if it is an area that struggles to attract and retain talent.