Frequently Asked Questions

1.     What are the eligibility requirements?

Applicants must:

  • be U.S. citizens;
  • be 18 to 55 years of age
  • be seeking admission to enter graduate school in Fall 2024 for a two-year program at a U.S. university
  • have a cumulative grade point average of at least 3.2 on a 4.0 scale at the time of application

2.     GPA – I have a 3.1 cumulative GPA, with a 3.3 GPA in my major. Do I meet the Program's requirement for a 3.2 GPA?

No.  The 3.2 GPA requirement is for a cumulative GPA, which includes all courses taken at all institutions at a college/university level. The Program has no flexibility on the GPA requirement.

3.     Grad School Entry – I am already in graduate school. Can I apply for the Fellowship for my second year of graduate school?

No.  Applicants are eligible only if they are seeking admission to enter graduate school in the fall of 2022 for a two-year program.

4.      I already have a master's degree. Can I apply to the Payne Program if I want to pursue a second master's degree?

Yes.  As long as the applicant is seeking admission to enter graduate school in the fall of 2023 for a two-year program, it does not matter if he/she has a prior master's degree.

5.     Do I have to take the GRE?

No, applicants are no longer required to take the GRE for the Payne Fellowship.

6.      Is the program only open to Howard University graduates?

No. Students who meet the eligibility requirements can apply, no matter where they did their undergraduate studies. They are not required to be Howard University students.

7.     Does the Payne Program look for people with specific undergraduate majors?

The Payne Program welcomes applications from individuals with any undergraduate major. Common majors may include Economics, Political Science, Business, International Studies, English, Sociology, Communications, Languages, Regional Studies and others.  While there is no required course of study, the panel is interested in seeing challenging academic programs and coursework in areas such as Mathematics/Quantitative Courses or Sciences, English, Economics, Business or Management, Government/Political Science, and Foreign Languages or Studies. Coursework in these areas is not required but can be a useful indicator of success in the program and beyond.

8.      Can the fellowship only be used at Howard University?

No. The fellowship can be used to attend graduate programs throughout the United States, not just at Howard University. The fellow is expected to pursue a two-year degree in international affairs or another area of relevance to the work of the Foreign Service, such as international development, public administration, public policy, business administration, economics, political science, communications,  agriculture, environmental sciences, engineering, public/global health, or urban planning at a graduate or professional school approved by the Payne Program.   Applicants apply for graduate school at the same time they are applying for the Payne Fellowship. If selected for the fellowship, the Program will discuss the graduate school choices with individual fellows. The Payne Program, working with USAID, has final approval on the graduate program.

9.      Is there an approved list of schools at which the fellowship can be used?

There is no approved list of schools. However, Payne Fellows are expected to pursue graduate studies in a rigorous program that will prepare them for their Foreign Service careers. As noted above, applicants may apply to any program at a U.S. university; the Payne Program discusses selected Fellows' desired programs with them before giving final approval to a specific program.

10.  Will the fellowship support a one-year master's program or a program more than two years? How about JD or PhD programs?

No, the fellowship requires that fellows be a in a two-year program. JDs, PhD, and EdD programs are not eligible for the fellowship.

11.  How will I know if my package is complete?

Applicants can check the status of their applications, including whether recommendations have been submitted, in their online applications.

12.  How do I officially submit my online application?

Upon receiving all of an applicant's supplemental materials, the Payne Program staff will email him/her asking if he/she would like to officially submit the application, which includes the online component. At 11:59 p.m. EST on the application deadline no applicant will be able to access his/her online application.  At that time, his/her application will be considered submitted. The system does not send an automatic email noting it has been submitted, but all applications are submitted at the close of the application deadline.

13.  How do I submit an official statement of Financial Assistance if I have been out of school too long for my university/college to access my records?

Since the Payne Program takes into consideration an applicant's financial need, we ask that candidates request an official financial aid statement from their undergraduate university/college.  If the university/college no longer has the applicant's financial records, simply mailing in an unofficial statement from their own records will suffice.  Also, applicants should be sure to discuss, in detail, their financial need in the required statement in the online application.

14.  If I am living overseas, do I still have to come to Washington for an interview?

Yes. All applicants chosen as finalists must come to Washington for a one-day interview and writing session. There are no exceptions. The program staff will work closely with overseas applicants on arrangements if they are selected as finalists. The Payne Program will pay for travel segments within the United States and for accommodations in Washington. Applicants are responsible for arranging and funding international segments of their trip. Every year, the program has a number of overseas finalists, and we work closely with them - as we do with all finalists.

15.  When will I know if I get the fellowship?

The Program will select finalists by December and bring them for interviews in January. Fellowship offers generally come within a week after the interviews (by late January).

16.  Do I have to be accepted into graduate school to apply for the fellowship?

Applicants are generally applying for graduate school at the same time they are applying for the Payne Fellowship. Applicants should be in the process of applying to graduate school but do not have to be accepted.

17.  Can I use the fellowship to attend the London School of Economics or another international program?

No, the fellowship can only be used at a U.S. institution.

18.  What happens if my recommender tells me that he/she did not receive the email notification to submit my letter of recommendation?

Applicants should check their applications to make sure they added their recommenders' correct email addresses.   If they did, an email invitation should have been sent to the recommender.  However, based on the security settings of the recommender's email, automated notifications may get sent to “Junk Mailboxes” or “ Spam Folders”.  Your recommender can check these folders too.  Because applicants will be copied on all email notifications sent to their recommenders, applicants should check their own emails and junk mailboxes to see if they can find a copy of the email notification that they can forward it again to their recommenders. If applicants are unable to find the notification, please contact the Payne Program staff at


If you encounter any technical problems, please email the Payne Program at for assistance.