What should I do if the program dates collide with school?

‍The Atlas Fellowship is an educational program with advanced academic content, and Atlas Fellows report that it has been helpful for their longer-term intellectual development. For this reason, we believe it’s typically worth missing two weeks of school if you’d otherwise be unable to participate. We are happy to provide an invitation letter that helps explain the relevance of the program to your educational success to your teachers, and we are happy to directly communicate with your school if helpful.

Do I need to participate in the program to receive the scholarship funding?

No, participating is not mandatory. In fact, we think you should only make time for the program if you’re feeling excited about the program contents and ideas.

Will you cover the cost of my flight and travel?

Yes, we will cover both domestic and international flights! We would love to have many international students join, so we will sponsor your flight and travel costs to the United States (in addition to accommodation and any other expenses), and will help you apply for an expedited visitor visa if required.

Do I need a visa to attend the program?

If you aren’t a U.S. citizen or permanent resident, you will either need an ESTA or a B-1/B-2 visitor visa to visit the United States. Our team will help you get a visa and cover all fees.

Most importantly, you will need a valid passport. If you do not have a passport that’s valid for the full duration of your trip plus 6 months, you should apply for one as soon as possible, as there can be delays.

To find out whether you qualify for an ESTA, please check the relevant U.S. government website. You can apply for an ESTA online in 30 minutes, and you will receive a decision within a few hours or days.

If you require a visitor visa, the Atlas Fellowship will provide you with an invitation letter and step-by-step directions for applying for a visa. If you live in a country with long visa appointment wait times (such as India), we will help you get an expedited appointment. We will cover all visa-related fees. In the past, over 90% of our international fellows who required a visitor visa have received an expedited appointment and were able to attend the Atlas Fellowship. That said, we do not control who is eligible for a visa or receives one, and it is possible that you won’t be able to participate in our in-person program for visa reasons.

How can my child travel to San Francisco from far away? Are parents allowed to travel to the program? 

We work with a travel agency that is experienced in arranging travel for minors. We book direct flights wherever possible and rely on airlines that provide adequate services for children. For stopovers, we ensure minors are accompanied by the airline’s staff if required. Our team will be in contact with the participants throughout the journey, and ready to provide support if needed. Upon arrival in San Francisco, each participant will be greeted by a member of the Atlas team and accompanied to their ground transport directly to the venue. This process has worked reliably for dozens of Atlas Fellows in the past, so we are confident we can offer a great travel experience to all Fellows traveling from outside North America.

We recommend that parents do not travel with students because it is our experience that the students have the best learning experience if they go on their own. That said, parents can accompany their child to San Francisco if they cover their own flights, lodging, and other expenses. Parents are welcome to drop off their child at the program venue, but will not be invited on-site.

What level of English language proficiency do you require?

For the application process, you are welcome to write responses in your native language if this helps you; our team will evaluate your responses using translation tools. We recommend using DeepL to translate the application. During the interview, we do not evaluate your English proficiency, but we need to understand your ideas and reasoning. We sometimes conduct interviews in foreign languages, and are sometimes able to have an interpreter on the video call if requested.

At the program, you should be able to follow lessons and hold conversations in English. E.g., if you can follow the content in this video, your English is strong enough. We offer free English tutoring prior to the program to students who request it, so if you’re not quite there yet, we still encourage you to apply.

What are you doing to ensure the health and safety of participants?

The health and safety of our participants is our top priority. Staff and leadership have previously run several programs and camps for minors. We screen our instructors carefully and train them in best practices for safeguarding minors, and we have qualified counselors on staff at all times. Finally, we conduct risk assessments for all activities, have emergency protocols in place, and have on-site security.

What Covid precautions are you taking?

We take Covid seriously. All instructors who attend the in-person summer program will be triple-vaccinated. Participants will need to be vaccinated or recovered from Covid. If a student isn’t vaccinated and hasn’t recovered from Covid before, they will not share rooms with other participants and will be asked to mask throughout the program.

Participants will be tested at the beginning of the program. We will provide N95 or better masks to all participants for air travel. Participants may be required to estimate their Covid risk in the weeks leading up to the program.

We expect to adjust our policies as the Covid situation evolves.


What is the acceptance rate?

Last year, we received over 7,000 applications and selected 128 fellows, out of which 111 attended our in-person program. But please don’t let this discourage you: if you’re genuinely excited about the ideas we discuss at Atlas, we estimate your chances of getting into the program at 10–50%!

“I applied to Atlas based on an expected value calculation: Let’s assume a probability of 10–50% (those are the numbers I took) of receiving the $10,000 scholarship. Given an approx. 10-hour application process, you should apply if your alternative options appear to be worth less than $100–500 per hour. Even if you only consider the direct financial benefits!”—Niclas (17), Atlas Fellow 2022

Can I apply if I have already started my first year of undergraduate studies? What if I’m on a gap year?

Students who have started college/university before July 2023 are not eligible to participate in the Atlas Fellowship program. If you have been accepted but haven’t started college (for example, you took a gap year, or you’re taking some university classes without having fully started your degree, e.g. as a Southern Hemisphere student), you are still eligible to apply. We might set up programs for undergraduate students in the future, so if you’re interested, please sign up for our newsletter.

What’s the minimum age?

Most fellows are aged 16–19. The minimum age to apply is 13, but we think it’ll be hard for people aged 14 or younger to get into the program—but you’re welcome to try!

Can I apply if I’m 20 or older?

No, if you’re in your twenties at the time of submitting your application, you are not eligible. We might set up programs for undergraduate students in the future, so if you’re interested, please sign up for our newsletter.

Does being nominated improve my chances of becoming an Atlas Fellow?

No, being nominated does not affect your chances of becoming a fellow.

Can I apply if I’ve previously applied for the Atlas Fellowship?

Yes, if you’ve previously applied and were rejected or reached the Finalist stage, you may apply again. You must wait for at least 9 months before applying again.

Why was I rejected? Can you give feedback on my application?

We receive many wonderful applications, but we can only accommodate a small number of students to maintain a sufficiently small group size and low student-to-instructor ratio at our in-person program.

Because our program is very selective, there is nothing wrong with most of the applications that get turned down, so there isn’t much specific feedback we would be able to give you apart from ‘try to stand out even more on the criteria we list on our website.’ For this reason, we don’t provide specific application feedback. (Our reasoning and experience here is very similar to YC’s and RC’s.)

An application decision reflects only our guess about how good of a fit you would be for this particular program at this time, nothing more. If you get rejected, we’d love to get your application again next year!

Do you have any tips for applying?

Check out this blog post by one of our Fellows.

Will there be a dedicated application round for Indians, like in 2022?

No. For 2023, students from India can apply to the normal Atlas application.

Are applications reviewed anonymously?

In general, applications are reviewed anonymously. If anonymity is not possible (e.g., we need to see your resume), we will try to make sure that the person reviewing your application is someone you have never interacted with.


What can I spend the scholarship money on?

Scholarship money should be treated as educational and professional development funding for award winners. This means the funds could be spent on things like professional travel, textbooks, technology, college tuition, tutoring, supplementing unpaid internships, and more.

We don’t expect award winners to spend their scholarship money all at one time. Students will receive ongoing guidance to manage and effectively spend their scholarship funds.

When/how will I receive my scholarship funding?

Scholarship disbursements for finalists will happen at the end of 2023 due to operational capacity constraints, and will be paid out as lump-sum payments.

Disbursements for fellows will start in fall 2023 or earlier, and can be requested on a per-expense basis. Fellows will be able to request scholarship disbursements by completing a short form that states the amount they’d like to withdraw and what they intend to use the funds for. If the request is approved, the scholarship funds will be sent directly to the fellow’s bank account.

How does the Atlas Fund work?

As a fellow, you will have the option to apply to the Atlas Fund for grants to non-profit projects directly from the Atlas Fellowship, and investments in for-profit startups through a partnership with Metaplanet VC. Metaplanet is our partner for for-profit investments, with portfolio companies such as Anthropic AI, DeepMind, The Boring Company, Protocol Labs, Substack, and SpaceX.

Projects are selected based on whether they are likely to create social or economic value. We previously decided to fund new STEM olympiads in West Africa, equipment for research on neglected tropical diseases, and a drone delivery startup in India (the latter was ultimately not funded due to logistical issues). To be eligible, projects need to be run primarily by fellows.


How is the Atlas Fellowship funded?

The Atlas Fellowship is supported by Open Philanthropy, a large philanthropic organization in the United States. Previously, it also received funding from the Future Fund.

Why are you running this program? What are you inspired by?

The short answer:
We aim to transmit a culture inspired by scientific inquiry, with the ambition to tackle neglected global challenges. For instance, our staff strive for extreme intellectual honesty, emphasize probabilistic reasoning, and are interested in addressing large-scale issues such as potential risks from advanced artificial intelligence, future pandemics, or geopolitical instability. We are inspired by rationality and effective altruism, but see the Atlas community as an experiment in going beyond these communities.

The long answer:
Our staff and co-founders share an interest in building a culture characterized by uniquely careful reasoning, free questioning of each other’s beliefs, honesty about the true causes of our beliefs, quantifying uncertainty using probabilities and estimates, and self-awareness of the incentive structures we are operating under. Some staff have explored these ideas on LessWrong, but we hope to build a community that emphasizes ambitious practical projects over online discussion and deep expertise over amateur speculation.

Similarly, most of our staff and funders are motivated by wanting to have a large-scale positive impact on the world. Many participate in the effective altruism (EA) community—but we have reservations about the community’s discourse and culture, and want the Atlas Fellowship to remain independent from EA.

Many staff are worried about the potential risks from artificial general intelligence, and hope to empower fellows who are especially interested in this topic to address these risks.

We also draw inspiration from other intellectual communities and projects, such as Emergent Ventures, quantitative trading, progress studies, Our World in Data, RadicalXChange, entrepreneurship, futurism, biosecurity, evidence-based policy, and superforecasting, as well as a wide range of academic disciplines, such as artificial intelligence and machine learning (especially AI alignment), big history, development economics, priority-setting in global health, mathematical modeling, normative ethics, epistemology, international relations (especially US–China relations), and so on.

Our application selects fellows based on thoughtful discussion of these topics, not based on agreement with them. We strive to cultivate nuance instead of buying into ideologies or party lines.

Is the fellowship's name a reference to Atlas Shrugged?

No. We’re called the Atlas Fellowship because, like an atlas, we want to help you navigate the world.

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Atlas India Fellows join a community of thoughtful, ambitious peers who want to examine big, global changes in the next 50 years through a quantitative lens, and figure out how to act on these changes. Receive an ₹ 10 Lakh scholarship and a free 11-day program in Oxford, UK that helps you get started. 

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Are you interested in science, philosophy, and the future?