It’s March!! (Wow 2020 is already going by so so fast!) So for March Madness, I’m bringing in some Fulbright Madness, which I believe accurately represents the entirety that is Fulbright. Specifically, the Fulbright application.
Yeah, Fulbright fellowships look shiny on college applications, and they should be because they are incredible and challenging, and competitive, but it’s also a bit of madness to get there.
I really wanted to focus this post on the Fulbright because, one, I have yet to write about it. And two, because almost exactly two years ago, I received my acceptance letter to do the Andorra Fulbright, so why not celebrate by encouraging others to embark on a similar journey. ?
Here is A Guide to the Fulbright Application and Fulbright Fellowship Process. Or in other words: A Fulbright Grant Who, What, Where, When, Why, and How. This guide is from my experience doing the Fulbright ETA application.
- What is the Fulbright Scholarship?
- Fulbright Fellowships Overview
- Fulbright Application Process Revealed
- How does the Fulbright Application Process Work?
- Fulbright Timeline
- Advice for the Fulbright Application Process
- Why I chose to be a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant
So, I talk about the Fulbright a lot, and its name is written all over my blog, but what exactly is it, how do you get it, and why should anyone care? What is a Fulbright scholar? And what makes it different from your run of the mill, gap year program?
Great questions! I’m excited to share. ?
When I was about to embark on my Fulbright grant to Andorra, the two questions most frequently posed to me were “You’re Doing What?” and “Why?” (along with “You’re going where?” But that could be a whole post in and of itself, so I’ll leave that one for later.)
I’ll start with the what first, give a few pointers for those of you who might find themselves considering a Fulbright scholarship of your own, and then talk about the big W (WHY?).
You’re doing what?
Sponsored by the U.S. Department of State, the U.S. Fulbright Student Program is a national fellowship that encourages and supports scholarship, education, and cultural exchange between Americans and foreign nations. Through a Fulbright grant, one can choose to do one of three things:
- Study : complete a master’s program at a foreign university
- Research : develop a research project to complete in a foreign country
- Teach English : teach English as a teacher’s assistant in a foreign country
Each grant lasts approximately one academic year (although it can be renewed) and is funded partly by the U.S. Department of State and partly by the Fulbright Commissions in each of the participating countries. While the specifics about the length and monetary value of the grant depends on the country to which you will go and the type of grant you choose, in general, it’s all expenses paid. So the grant will cover living expenses, your tuition, your research, your transportation to and from the country, supplementary health insurance, etc.
What does a Fulbright Scholar Do?
So if you don’t have to worry about making money, what do you do during the actual grant?
Great question! The answer is: It depends! So, each country and each type of grant will have a different answer, but in general, you are pursuing a master’s degree, completing a research project, or teaching English in classrooms, all in the one country to which you apply.
The U.S. Fulbright Student Program website has a great way of summarizing what the typical day to day may look like for a Fulbright grantee and what a grantee should gain from the experience:
“During their grants, Fulbrighters will meet, work, live with and learn from the people of the host country, sharing daily experiences. The program facilitates cultural exchange through direct interaction on an individual basis in the classroom, field, home, and in routine tasks, allowing the grantee to gain an appreciation of others’ viewpoints and beliefs, the way they do things, and the way they think. Through engagement in the community, the individual will interact with their hosts on a one-to-one basis in an atmosphere of openness, academic integrity, and intellectual freedom, thereby promoting mutual understanding.”
Who is a Fulbright Scholar?
That sounds awesome, so Who can participate?
Each country and each type of grant has it’s own specific requirements, but in general, you must have at least a bachelor’s degree by the starting date of your grant. People with bachelor’s degrees, with masters degrees, or who are doctoral candidates can participate. Even more, young professionals with up to 5 years of study and professional experience can also participate in the U.S. Fulbright Student Program.
Where do Fulbright Scholars go?
So once I’m eligible to participate, where can I go?
There are definitely a lot of choices. The U.S. Department of State has established Fulbright commissions all over the world. When you apply for the Fulbright, you apply to specific type of grant (study, research, teach) and a specific country. As long as the type of grant you want is available in the country you choice, you are golden!
There are available Fulbrights in Oceania, Asia, Africa, Europe, South America, North America–every continent but Antartica. You can see the whole list of countries here. Each country has a set number of grants available and certain types of grants available (some countries offer all 3 types of grants while others only offer 1 or 2, and then some offer special grants). You just have to click on each country to see what’s available.
From starting your application to receiving your acceptance letter.
How does the Fulbright application process work?
Since I applied to the Fulbright while I was a student at a university, I went through the Fulbright committee on my campus to apply. So, the first step was finding the Fulbright advisor on my campus. The advisor was extremely helpful in helping me perfect my Fulbright application, preparing me for the campus interview, and reminding me of important dates. Even if you’ve already graduated, it’s worth it to contact the Fulbright advisor at your alma mater!
What’s Included in the Fulbright Application
Once I had the due date of the application, I went to work on completing the application. Apart from the general information, I needed to get a language evaluation from my last French instructor, obtain three letters of recommendation, upload my transcripts, and write two essays: a Statement of Grant Purpose and a Personal Statement.
The Statement of Grant Purpose focused on what I would be doing on the grant and how it would benefit me in the future while the Personal Statement focused on how my past experiences prepared to complete the grant. Each essay was one page, single spaced, which doesn’t seem like a lot, but it took a couple of months for me to get these essays right. I started writing these essays in June 2017, had a lot of readers and feedback, and finished about 5 or 6 different drafts before I submitted my final draft to the campus committee in mid August 2017.
Campus Interview for Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship Application
After that, I spent my time preparing for the campus interview. One of the major ways I prepared was by doing research on Andorra, the country to which I was applying. I read news articles from papers local to that country, reviewed blogs from past Fulbrighters, and researched online the country’s geography, history, demographics, government, and Catalan, the official Andorra language.
For the campus interview, I interviewed with three members of the campus Fulbright committee: one person with expertise in Andorra, the country to which I was applying, one person with expertise in the subject matter of the grant (teaching English or the subject of the masters degree or research project), and one person with expertise in the foreign language required for the grant. The campus interview is a chance for you to add anything that you may not have had room to express in your application and show the committee that you’ve done your research and are capable and prepared to carry out your grant.
Because I was applying for a Fulbright English teaching assistantship, I was asked questions about how I would handle various situations in a classroom and how I planned to conduct lessons. To show my language proficiency, I had a short conversation with the language expert in French about the grant. Then, at the end of the interview, the campus committee gave final suggestions for my application as a whole. After my interview, this committee filled out an evaluation form that was submitted to the Fulbright selection board with my final application.
My campus interview was mid September 2017, so I had about 2 weeks to revise my application based on the campus committee’s recommendations before I submitted my final application to the Fulbright selection board October 6, 2017.
The only thing left to do was wait (and pray)!
So I submitted my official application, recommendations, and the campus committee review in early October. It wasn’t until about 4 months later, on January 30, 2018, that I received an email from the Fulbright selection board that I had been recommended for an Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship to Andorra! Yay!
While this was great news, unfortunately, the waiting wasn’t over yet. This “recommendation” meant that my application would be sent to the Fulbright Commission in the country to which I applied to be reviewed. The Fulbright selection board usually sends twice as many applications as grants to the Fulbright Commissions in each country. So, by making it this far, I knew I had about a 50/50 chance of being offered the Fulbright Andorra grant.
There was a lot of prayer over the next few months as I waited for the final response from the Fulbright Commission. I distracted myself with what was senior year. The worst part about this waiting period was that there was no deadline. The final decisions come anywhere between mid March to late April (although they encourage countries to notify applicants before April 15). I stalked the internet trying to figure out when Andorra would respond, and so I had an idea that the response would come sometime in March, but there was never a guarantee.
Receiving the Acceptance Letter
So it’s Spring Break, March 15, 2018, and I’m waiting in line with my brother for one of the new Harry Potter rides at Universal Studios in Orlando, FL. There’s a 90 minute wait, it’s humid, and the line is moving at the pace of an escargot. Bored, I check my email and…
Boom! There it is! The final email from the Fulbright program that I had been awarded a Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship in Andorra for the 2018-2019 academic year!
Wow, that’s a loooooooong process!
Yes, but so so rewarding!
Even if you aren’t awarded the Fulbright fellowship, you learn a lot about writing personal statements which is helpful for grad schools, other fellowships, jobs, interviews, etc. The best aspect about the Fulbright application process is that it forces you to seriously think about your career goals and verbalize them.
I’ve discovered a lot about myself, learned how to talk about the benefits of my past experiences, and researched different potential career paths sitting at the screen of the Fulbright application.
So if I am considering applying, what advice would you have?
1. Pick the right country and the right grant.
As I mentioned before there are lots of Fulbright grants available to many countries, but you can only apply to one grant in one country. Make sure to pick the grant and country that makes sense for you and your career goals; that way, it will be easy to make your case for being the best fit for that grant. (You can also see the acceptance rates for each country and grant here.) I had an entire spreadsheet of countries where I noted why I would or would not be a good fit for the grant in that country. In the end, I believe I chose the country for whose grant I was the most competitive.
2. Be yourself!!
I kept trying to write what I thought the committee wanted to hear, but that made my essays standard, vague, and unoriginal. As soon as I thought about what made me unique and how I could show that to the committee, my essays were a thousand times better.
3. Start early (like right now…)!
It takes several times to get those drafts right, and don’t be afraid to scrap drafts and keep writing!
4. Know that discouragement will come, but you can overcome it.
I got really discouraged after rewrites 1, 2, and 3. I’d sent my essay drafts to my Fulbright advisor and felt like my drafts were continually missing the mark. I overcame that feeling by just remembering that this, the Fulbright, is what I wanted to do. Also, the fact that I was getting progressively better was super encouraging. Even though the essays weren’t as good as I wanted them, they were better.
5. Use your Fulbright advisor and campus resources.
Don’t be afraid to ask questions to your Fulbright advisor, past Fulbright grantees, and other university staff with grant writing or study abroad experience. They are so helpful, and the success I had with the Fulbright grant was really because of the support of these individuals at my university.
If you’re still wondering about Fulbright fellowships or the Fulbright application, I’d be happy to answer more questions. Just leave a comment for me below! I also recommend absorbing all of the information available on the U.S. Fulbright Student Grant website.
1. I wanted to put off being an adult as long as possible.
You may be laughing but I’m 100% serious. From my business internships, I realized that once you start working, you don’t ever stop. There are bills to pay! So, after graduation, I looked into different opportunities that allowed me to get great experience without completely moving into adulthood (Peace Corps, Fulbright, Americorps, etc).
2. I just knew I wanted to do it.
The night before the first time I travelled outside the United States, I was 16 years old and up at 3 am in the morning packing. As soon as I shut my suitcase, I was in tears. I told my parents that I didn’t want to go to France without my family, that I was scared, and that I couldn’t do it. But looking back, I’m so glad I got on that plane because I learned the exact opposite—I can, while abroad, navigate a new culture, learn a new language, and have experiences that used to only be real in my dreams.
Since that first trip, I was hooked, but it wasn’t enough to just travel abroad. I wanted to live abroad—to be abroad. It’s a desire that I share with some and a desire that some of my friends and family can’t understand, and honestly, sometimes I can’t explain it.
But, I know that God placed this desire to live abroad within me and the first time I heard an advisor at USC talk just briefly about the Fulbright, I smiled and thought to myself, “I’m going to apply for that.” That was the beginning of my sophomore year, and then three years later, I was a Fulbright Grantee!
So in Summary…
You did what?
Taught English for a year in Europe.
Because God created me this way, and being an adult isn’t as glamorous as it seems.
Check out this post about my experience as a Fulbright ETA in Andorra. If you’re not sure if living abroad is for you, here’s two posts about the benefits of working abroad and studying abroad and the benefits of living abroad.
Comment below with any other questions or feel free to contact me here!
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Final Note: This site “Voyage by KJL” is not an official Fulbright Program site. The views expressed on this site are entirely those of its author “Kara J. Lovett” and do not represent the views of the Fulbright Program, the U.S. Department of State or any of its partner organizations.
Always verify deadline and eligibility information with the official U.S. Fulbright Student website.
Also, y’all, it’s April Fools Day! It ain’t March anymore. Y’all must’ve thought I was crazy…or didn’t have a calendar. ?