The Fellowships are intended exclusively for graduate study leading to a master's degree. James Madison Fellows may attend any accredited institution of higher education in the United States. Everyone entering the James Madison Fellowship Program will be expected to pursue and complete a master's degree in one of the following (listed in order of the Foundation's preference):
- Master of Arts (MA) in American history, political science, or government
- Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT) concentrating on either American Constitutional history (in a history department) or American government, political institutions, or political theory (in a political science department). MAT degrees without required constitutional coursework cannot be approved.
- Master of Education (MEd) or the Master of Arts or Master of Science in Education with a concentration in American history or American government, political institutions, and political theory
The number of Fellowships awarded is determined by the amount of funding (from government sources and private donations) available in any given year. It is, however, the goal of the Foundation to select annually, a James Madison Fellow from each state, the District of Columbia, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, and a single territorial entity (Guam, the U.S. Virgin Islands, American Samoa, and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands) from which at least two fully qualified applications meeting the minimum requirements are received.