If you’re an ambitious and curious high school student fascinated by what makes the world go round, then we highly recommend you check out the Atlas Fellowship. This multidisciplinary scholarship hopes to identify thoughtful young people who can recognize the roots of today’s problems and find solutions for a better tomorrow.
Being selected for this scholarship will not only help cover your college fees and add prestige to your college application but also single you out as a future changemaker who thinks independently and strategically.
What is the Atlas Fellowship all about?
Open Philanthropy, one of the country’s largest philanthropic organizations, funds the Atlas Fellowship. The program was founded in 2022 and, through a unique selection process that prizes “fresh and weird arguments, analytical thinking, and solutions to fun arguments,” aims to develop big-picture thinking among successful candidates. If selected, you win a scholarship of $10,000 and get to attend an 11-day, all-expense-paid program in the U.S. where you focus on topics like philosophy, technology & AI, epistemology, and personal growth.
Is the program prestigious?
The Atlas Fellowship is highly selective and prestigious. The program is relatively new — it launched only in 2022 and selected 128 fellows out of over 7,000 applicants, giving it an acceptance rate of 1.8%.
Who can apply for the program?
The Atlas Fellowship is open to all high school students aged 13-19 worldwide. You do not need to be enrolled in a high school — you can apply even if you’re in a gap year!
Atlas encourages students who have non-traditional academic backgrounds and those who have previously worked on challenging projects excelled in Olympiads and other competitions, or researched thought-provoking and intellectual topics to apply.
What do I receive by becoming an Atlas Fellow?
If selected, you receive:
A $10,000 scholarship, which you can use toward tuition, housing, self-improvement courses, etc.
An all-expense paid trip to the U.S. where you participate in an 11-day program to further critical thinking
Access to a community of past and present Atlas Fellows
Access to the Atlas Fund, which can help fund an important idea or launch a project you may have
Access to mentors who can help guide you with your chosen career path and help you with your college applications to top universities in the U.S. and U.K.
Access to the Atlas Library, which gives you free hardcover books
Additionally, up to 100 finalists receive a $1,000 scholarship and a free book from the Altas Library.
How do I apply?
The application process is split into three stages:
Preliminary application. You answer a series of online questions designed to test your mental aptitude. This takes approximately 30-60 minutes. A sample question from last year’s application is as follows: Aisha is analyzing Brett’s genes, Brett is analyzing Carmen’s genes, and Carmen is analyzing Darius’s genes. Brett has the gene A, but Aisha and Darius don’t. We don’t know about Carmen’s genes. Is anyone who has gene A analyzing the genes of anyone who doesn’t?
Written application. You’ll answer a series of given prompts modeled on the Atlas in-person program. Sample questions can include: Are aliens more likely to enjoy the taste of our food or the sound of our music?
Interview. If you pass the first two stages, you’ll be invited for a 30-minute individual interview, which could be followed by additional individual or group interviews. Atlas says you do not need to prepare for the interview.
When do applications for the program open?
Tentatively, applications for the 2024 cohort will open in mid-May and fellowship winners will be announced by mid-June.
How does Atlas select its fellows?
Atlas has a list of pre-determined traits it looks for in its fellows — you don’t need to have all, but successful applicants tend to have at least three out of four, though this list is not exhaustive:
Intellectual ability: you’ve won STEM Olympiad medals, scored highly in competitive exams (PSAT 1420+, SAT 1500+, ACT 34+, etc), won debating, coding, and other competitions, and/or are able to solve the problems in the Atlas application.
Agency: you’re able to problem solve, think independently, and effectively tackle challenges that come your way. An example of this is if you’ve undertaken any projects on your own.
An affinity for truth: you enjoy learning and are able to update your beliefs when faced with evidence that contradicts your own opinions.
Intellectual curiosity: you have a deep knowledge of a particular topic and/or you continually question why things are a certain way.
If you need inspiration, take a look at some of the previous years’ fellowship winners: Jason, from Singapore, helped develop a proposal for a global AI verification agency. Julia, from Boston, says Atlas changed her outlook on economics and made her realize the possibility of integrating computer science into the discipline.
Tips to win an Atlas Fellowship
There is no one way to become an Atlas Fellow. That being said, curiosity is key. We think these tips could help you become a part of their next cohort:
Focus on your test scores. The Atlas fellowship places special importance on competitive exams that test your ability to think independently and critically. PSATs, SATs, and ACTs are a good measure of such criteria. Atlas uses the following scores as a benchmark: PSAT 1420+, SAT 1500+, and ACT 34+.
Train for and participate in Olympiads. Competitions like math Olympiads are a great way to showcase your problem-solving skills and an analytical mindset — characteristics that Atlas values. Doing well in an Olympiad also proves that you have good foundational knowledge in a subject. Atlas mentions excelling in STEM Olympiads as an important measure of intellectual ability.
Focus on quantitative reasoning. Previous Atlas fellows say doing well in the quantitative questions can go a long way toward securing the fellowship, but caution against trying to “goodheart it,” i.e. don’t consider quant as the only way to succeed.
Consider conducting independent research. Choose a topic you’re interested in and dive deeper. Atlas values curious minds who are knowledgeable about subjects they’re interested in. For example, if you enjoy history, you could extensively research a region and a particular time period, turning your findings into a term paper. You can check out Lumiere Research Scholar Programs or Veritas AI for tech projects!
Show that you’re collaborative. A highlight of becoming an Atlas Fellow is getting to attend the in-person program. Previous fellows say that while classes conducted were unique and interesting, Atlas heavily emphasized interacting with other fellows from across the world to understand different opinions on a subject. You could highlight your collaborative nature if you make it through to the interview rounds of the application process.
Have an idea for a project you want to implement. Atlas highly values agency and intellectual curiosity. Having an outline for a project you think can effect change could be extremely useful, especially since you could have access to the Atlas Fund. A great internship can be another way of developing this idea and some tangible skills/experience - we highly recommend you check out Ladder Internships!
Take a cue from past participants. If you’re unsure what kind of fellows Atlas looks for, check out the previous years’ cohorts. Most of them are deeply interested in a particular subject, be it computer science and AI, economics, literature, etc.
Practice writing. Dedicate yourself to clearly expressing your opinions through your writing as concisely as possible. This will be very important for the written component of the application process.
Think out of the box. Questions part of the preliminary application are left-field and are designed to see if you think differently. Atlas fellows say your interpretation of vague phrasing should be so unusual that no one expects it.
And finally, be yourself. Previous Atlas fellows heavily emphasize that there are no real strategies to apply for the program; the selection committee is interested in who you are as an individual and what makes you tick.
The Atlas Fellowship is a one-of-a-kind program that brings together ambitious and curious young minds from across the globe, giving them the tools to potentially solve some of the world’s problems and create a more equitable future. Being a part of the program would not only add prestige to your college application but also help shape how you grow!
Bonus — the Lumiere Research Scholar Program
If you are interested in doing university-level research, then you could also consider applying to the Lumiere Research Scholar Program, a selective online high school program for students founded with researchers at Harvard and Oxford. Last year, over 4000 students applied for 500 spots in the program! You can find the application form here.
Also check out the Lumiere Research Inclusion Foundation, a non-profit research program for talented, low-income students.
Kieran Lobo is a freelance writer from India, who currently teaches English in Spain.
Image Source: Atlas Fellowship logo