Readers of this blog should know that I am deeply grateful for the opportunity to represent Marywood University as a Fulbright-Schuman student research grantee. I cannot fully put into words the honor and gratitude I feel for this life-changing experience, and I encourage everyone who is interested to apply.
Having been on the applicant and reviewer side of the application process (the latter just a few weeks ago), I understand the key steps that are necessary to submit a comprehensive, strong application to this very competitive process. Here are the 12 things that I think are most important to do before you apply for a Fulbright grant:
- Research the full range of Fulbright grants. There are many types of grants, and with each, there are different eligibility requirements. Visit the Fulbright U.S. Student Program website to review the types of grants. Some are English Teaching Assistant grants, and some are research grants. Some have strict language requirements, and others do not. Also, some host countries pay for dependent support, and others do not.
- Make thoughtful choices. Some countries are extremely competitive in terms of the number of applicants versus the number of grants that are awarded for those countries. By choosing a country that has fewer applicants, your chances of being a finalist will improve.
- Create a strong resume. If you aren’t already involved in community/campus clubs and organizations, get involved! Even if you don’t get selected as a Fulbright finalist, you’ll improve your college life, meet new people, possibly learn new skills, and add valuable experience to your resume.
- Learn language(s) as needed. If you’d like to apply for a country in which the main language is not English, you’ll be subject to a foreign language fluency exam as part of your Fulbright applications. Some applicants make the mistake of stating in their application that, if they are selected, they will take lessons to learn the language of that country. Applicants who already speak the language will be given preference. Give yourself a competitive edge.
- Do your cultural research. Fulbright grantees are viewed as cultural ambassadors who will share American culture and embrace the culture of other countries. Think creatively about how you will share American culture with the people you’ll meet. Will you play American games? Host a Thanksgiving party to share traditions of the United States? Share news media, music, or television shows? And how will you adapt to the culture of your host country? Know the answers to these questions before you begin writing your application.
- Propose a meaningful, relevant research project. (This doesn’t apply to those who are seeking English Teaching Assistant positions.) If you’re applying for a research grant, conduct a thorough literature review on the project you’re proposing. Personally, I spent two weeks on the literature review and tertiary data collection, then spent another three weeks writing and revising my application.
- Be respectful of application requirements. The Fulbright program will not accept incomplete or late applications. As with all professional documents, be sure your application doesn’t have spelling or grammatical errors.
- Customize your application with personal anecdotes. Be sure the readers of your application will clearly see your enthusiasm for participation and the meaning this experience will have for you personally. Show that your involvement will benefit all parties.
- Make contacts in your select host country as soon as possible. Your ideal contact depends on your personal and academic background, as well as the type of experience you hope to have in your host country. Marywood University’s Fulbright Advisor will help you narrow the types of contacts that would be most beneficial. Establishing contacts is easier than you might think! Check LinkedIn using select search terms, ask Marywood University’s Fulbright Committee members for recommendations, and/or write to researchers whose work you’ve recently read. Those are three great ways to start.
- Talk with Marywood University’s Fulbright Advisor, Dr. Alexander Vari, as soon as you’ve given thought to applying. While the application period for most grants isn’t until fall (usually early or mid-October), it’s important to get the process started as early as possible. Now is not too soon!
- Ensure you have family support. For some people, being away from family and friends for an extended time is difficult. Before you apply, know that you’ll have support from the people you love in the U.S., and plan ways to stay in touch with them. With tech options like international calling plans, Skype, WhatsApp, Zoom, and Facebook, it’s easy to maintain regular contact with the people at home.
- Stay positive. The waiting is the hardest part (trust me; I know). And remember that even if you aren’t chosen as a Fulbright finalist, you now have a stronger, updated resume, as well as contacts in a new country. You’re well positioned to apply again another year or submit your application for other grant programs.
When I applied for my grant, I was terribly nervous. My good friend Maria asked why. I said, “It’s a Fulbright-Schuman research grant to the EU! They are only awarding four in the whole U.S.!” Maria didn’t skip a beat, shrugging and responding, “Why do you care if there are four? You only want one.”
Go for it! Good luck!
Photo credit: Kevin Service
Tricia Richards-Service is an adjunct faculty member of the Communication Arts Department at Marywood University and a doctoral candidate in health promotion. A 2017-2018 Fulbright-Schuman student research grantee, she is now in Europe, where she is conducting research on breast cancer in Ireland and Romania.