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National Head Start Fellowship Program

Logo for National Head Start Fellowship Program.The National Head Start Fellowship Program (NHSFP) grows and supports early childhood leaders from diverse backgrounds. That includes a range of professional experiences, individual skills, and talents, and across communities. The NHSFP stands out from other fellowship programs because of its broad scope and support of the comprehensive Head Start approach.

The NHSFP offers intensive, paid work experience in federal program offices located in Washington, D.C., with reciprocal benefits for all involved. The Office of Head Start benefits from the diverse perspectives and experiences of its fellows. At the same time, the fellows learn directly from professionals working in the field and through hands-on involvement in new and innovative endeavors.

National Head Start Fellowships positions are highly competitive. Applicants who work in local Head Start programs, the field of early childhood, or children and family services are eligible. Fellowship awards have a term of one year.

The NHSFP is more than a national fellowship; it is often a transformational experience. The Fellowship provides leadership development that builds on formal education and training programs by offering real-world experience at the national level. This experience helps boost each fellow’s vision, self-confidence, contributions, independent thinking, and broader commitment to the early childhood field.

With such a transformational leadership development experience, it’s about more than benefits for individual fellows. The fellows' energy, fresh thinking, diverse backgrounds, and recent work in the field bring new ideas to the federal agencies where they work. NHSFP alumni have shown an impressive history of contributing to research and national perspectives; growing into leadership positions; making a difference in their respective fields, positions, and communities; and mentoring others.

About the NHSFP

The NHSFP is administered by the Office of Head Start, Administration for Children and Families, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. In 1994, the Head Start Quality and Expansion advisory committee envisioned a fellowship program that would create a new group of leaders in Head Start communities and child and family services. Congress approved the Head Start Fellowship Program leadership initiative as part of the bipartisan reauthorization of the Head Start Act in 1995. The NHSFP officially began in 1996, continued through 2012, and returned in 2023.

The purpose of the NHSFP is to enhance the ability of Head Start fellows to make significant contributions by providing opportunities to expand their knowledge and experience through exposure to activities, issues, resources, and new approaches, in the field of child development and family services (Sec. 648A(d)).

Across its history, the NHSFP has developed a large group of alumni who continue to influence and give back to Head Start communities and the broader early childhood field in service to children and families.

Watch this introductory webinar to learn more about NHSFP’s history and hear a panel of former fellows discuss their experiences and the program’s benefits.

2024–2025 NHSFP

The Office of Head Start currently provides funding for a cohort of five fellows receiving a $95,000 stipend for a 12-month Fellowship. This includes health insurance, a benefits package, and paid time off. A new cohort of fellows will begin in October 2024 in Washington, D.C., ending in September 2025. Relocation expenses are not covered. However, fellows will receive support to identify housing.

Core Program Components

There are three key components to the NHSFP, as described below.

Federal Work Experience

The NHSFP work experience component offers the opportunity to gain first-hand experience and a national perspective into the operations of the Office of Head Start and other federal programs serving children and families with the greatest need.

NHSFP work experience is multifaceted. Fellows spend their year working full-time while contributing their content expertise, special skills, and perspectives to support the administration’s initiatives and priorities. The fellows work with senior managers, federal policymakers, educators, and researchers. Their work contributions include:

  • Writing position papers and resources
  • Reviewing research and policies
  • Chairing meetings and workgroups
  • Analyzing data
  • Participating in strategic discussions about services to children and families

Successful work experience requires quick learning, initiative, flexibility, and a willingness to be a team player. Fellows receive support in their work assignments from their supervisor and other federal leaders.

At the end of the Fellowship year, fellows are more experienced in program planning, decision-making, and federal policy. They are also better positioned in leadership roles to provide comprehensive support to children and families with the greatest need.

Professional and Leadership Development

The NHSFP offers professional and leadership development components to assess, build, and support leadership skills. Weekly professional development and leadership growth activities enhance fellows’ work experience.

Fellows attend federal briefings, site visits, trainings, and meetings that allow them to come together as a group. They  discuss national issues affecting children and families with senior government officials, nationally recognized experts, community leaders, and innovative early childhood program practitioners. These opportunities allow fellows to connect current research and policy to various topics. Fellows  practice, refine, and expand their leadership skills and reflect on their professional growth.

At the end of the Fellowship year, each fellow presents a capstone project to highlight their experience, including work contributions, leadership development, and personal and professional growth.

Interpersonal and Networking Opportunities

The interpersonal component of the program creates a Fellowship class environment with both diversity and cohesiveness. This helps to create a strong leadership team among fellows from different backgrounds. Fellows spend time together and learn from each other’s lived experiences as an essential dimension of the program.

Each class of fellows is designed to include many dimensions of diversity. With a year of joint work experience and professional development opportunities, a setting for formal and informal dialogue provides rich knowledge and exposure to diverse ideas and perspectives among fellows.

Fellows have the chance to network with national early childhood leaders and NHSFP alumni. They gain valuable insight to maximize the fellowship experience and expand their professional network. Informal mentoring creates unique opportunities for fellows to build additional professional relationships.

Application Process

Through a multi-step competitive selection process, the Office of Head Start, School Readiness Consulting (SRC), and an independent volunteer commission identify five individuals with outstanding leadership potential, demonstrated career accomplishments, substantial content area expertise, passion for learning, and potential for high levels of contributions and professional achievement.

The selection process identifies the most qualified class of fellows representing diversity in geographic location, content area expertise, educational background, and a range of career experience. The process includes screening for eligibility and review of career and work experience, short essays responses, and  letter of recommendation. The top semi-finalist applicants are invited to participate in virtual presentations. A smaller group of national finalists are invited to participate in virtual interviews, a live writing sample, and collaborative group experiences with other finalists.


Head Start legislation requires that those selected be U.S. citizens working in child development and family services at the time of application. Federal employees and contractors are ineligible to apply, except for career military. There are no physical requirements or restrictions on race, creed, religion, sex, age, marital status, national origin, or sexual orientation.

Applicants must be able to complete the electronic application and submit all required parts, including written essay responses, resume submission, letters of recommendation, and employment verification. If selected, candidates must commit to a 12-month Fellowship and relocate to Washington, D.C., from October 2024 to September 2025.

Apply for the NHSFP.


Here is a timeline for NHSFP grants this year:

  • Jan. 25, 2024, from 1–2: p.m. ET: NHSFP Informational Webinar
  • Feb. 1, 2024: Application window opens.
  • March 14, 2024: Application must be submitted on or before this date to be considered.
  • Mid-April 2024: About 20 candidates are named as National Semifinalists and participate in virtual presentations.
  • Early May 2024: About 10 candidates are named as National Finalists and participate in two days of virtual interviews, writing sample and group experiences
  • Early June 2024: NHSFP fellows are selected.
  • Aug. 2024: Selected fellows travel to Washington, D.C. (with expenses paid at federal rates) for a housing search, pre-orientation, and networking opportunities.
  • Oct. 7, 2024: NHSFP starts.
  • Sept. 26, 2025: NHSFP ends.


The National Head Start Fellowship Program is managed by SRC on behalf of the Office of Head Start. Over the next four years, SRC will manage the NHSFP and continue the core components of the program. Check out our list of FAQs to learn more about applying for the program and how NHSFP is administered. For additional questions, please contact the SRC team at nhsfp at schoolreadinessconsulting dot com.