Graduate fellowships make it possible for MIT to draw the best students in the world and for these young scholars to make progress in various fields of study.

Fellowships also make it possible for students to have intellectual freedom when choosing an advisor and also to fulfill their dreams of public service. Because graduate students often leave school with thousands of dollars in debt, they must often forego public service work for well-paying jobs. Fellowship support can make it possible for these young people to fulfill their dreams to help the world.

An endowed fellowship is a permanent source of support. When government priorities change or research funds go down, these funds remain available and support a long line of recipients, affecting generations of students.

“Graduate fellowships is an area MIT is behind its peers on,” says Steven Lerman, vice chancellor and dean for graduate education. “Our future success may depend crucially on fellowship support because of the growing competitive environment.

“We’re seeing more and more of our students getting offers from our peer institutions where fellowships are part of the package of financial support for graduate study. Sometimes their offers look financially better than ours. We need to be able to compete with them, and our ability to offer a first-year fellowship can be the difference between a student coming here and going elsewhere.”

The most prestigious of these grants are MIT Presidential Fellowships.

These are unrestricted tuition-and-stipend grants that are offered to the top students in nearly every field of study for the first year of graduate school. These students are then inducted into the Society of Presidential Fellows for the remainder of their MIT studies. Each year, more than 125 remarkable students are included in this society. Together, the students become a group of discerning thinkers who engage in cross-disciplinary collaboration. Nominated by faculty, their candidacy is approved by the president and provost. Seven times throughout the year, the Presidential Fellows attend lectures and dinners, where they come together for conversation and an exchange of ideas.

“Graduate students are the lifeblood of a great research university,” Lerman says. “Presidential Fellows are top students. You can’t stay world-class if you don’t have the best students in the world.”