With students knee-deep into their Fulbright applications, I thought I would share how to apply for a Fulbright Scholarship and some tips to make your application stand out! The application process is no joke, I remember my applying as if it was yesterday and the hours I spent revising and working my summer job. Between the Personal Statement, gathering Letters of Recommendation and maintaining your daily life, the process can be overwhelming so I’m here to help. I’ll be going over the English Teaching Assistant application process, not the research or arts grants because that’s the only one I know. I outlined my reasoning for doing a Fulbright as my gap year here and how to make the most of teaching here, if you care to know more! Let’s get to it.
Step 1: Find Out if Your University Has a Fulbright Program Adviser (FPA)
Before beginning on the application I found my FPA on campus. The FPA is a resource to use as you apply for Fulbright. FPAs normally have won Fulbright Grants and/or know what the Fulbright Foreign Scholarship Board (FFSB) that reads our applications is looking for in a Fulbright applicant. If your university has a FPA, schedule a meeting to discuss which countries are options for you, why you want to do a Fulbright, how Fulbright will help you with personal or carer goals, etc. Talking it out with someone is helpful in organizing your thoughts and where you choose to teach is crucial. The best thing my FPA told me to do was write down every experience (job, volunteer, summer camp, memorable class subjects, etc.) that I’ve ever had in my life. From there I narrowed down, draft after draft, what I wanted to include in my essays in order to best depict who I was and what I wanted to the FFSB. If your university doesn’t have a FPA, try reaching out to your Study Abroad or Fellowships Office, maybe even the English or Education departments since it’s a teaching scholarship.
Tip: Not having a FPA does not disqualify you from applying nor is it necessary. There are many resources online that offer amazing advice with applications. The Grad Cafe is a helpful resource to discuss application questions with people currently applying too, or even Fulbright alumni. Check the Fulbright website for specific information about At-Large candidacy.
Step 2: Ask for Recommendations and Foreign Language Evaluation (FLE)
Once you’ve decided to pursue Fulbright, begin to ask around for recommendations to complete your application. I would recommend choosing people who you’ve worked with in different capacities (ex. mentoring, teaching, research) to show your versatility and adaptability. I chose a university mentor, a professor and a teacher I worked alongside at a educational summer camp. I emailed all of my recommenders to ask them for a recommendation, unless they were on-campus, about a month ahead of time. A FLE isn’t always needed for every country, but should be done by a professor who knows your abilities in the language and also your journey/progress with the language over the years. Give them at least 2 or 3 weeks to complete the online paperwork.
Step 3: Begin Your Application
Where to begin? Start by brainstorming right after you meet with your FPA to get those creative juices flowing. Work with your FPA to establish your writing style and the best ways to brainstorm the story you will tell in your essays. This may be in a table format, classic roman numeral format, Venn Diagram, bullet points, etc. As I mentioned earlier, my FPA had me write every experience I’d ever had from preschool to college.
I would do this even if you don’t have a FPA. Once I had everything written, I expanded on them and wrote what I got from each experience. From there I divided any experiences into two categories. The first category included those experiences related to my Personal Statement because they shaped me as a person. The second category was for the experiences on my Statement Grant of Purpose because they dealt with teaching, mentoring, education, cross-cultural experience or anything that related to the “U.S. Cultural Ambassador” or “English Teaching Assistant” job titles.
Step 4: Write, Revise and Repeat
Writing and revising was the story of my life the summer before submitting my application. I revised each essay at least 7 or 8 times until I felt it was complete. I wrote on my break at work, after work; anywhere I had free time. Some people feel confidently instantly, but I wake up to re-work sentences (and even then I saw one or two minor typos on my final application). My FPA kept me accountable and set draft deadlines every few weeks. These came in handy once senior year started that fall and life got busier. Since the Fulbright deadline is early in the school year your essays just need minor tweaking, yet still schedule times to work on them between homework and classes. Planning ahead is key! Collect all the feedback from others who are helping you revise and continue writing.
Tip: Make sure your essays are in YOUR voice. It’s good to have other people check for grammar mistakes and sentence structure, but the content should be true and thus how you would say it. Also, you don’t have to take everyone’s advice and editing if you think it doesn’t flow well or changes important details. Your name is on the application, you decide.
Step 5: Check-In with the Recommenders and Foreign Language Evaluator
Keep up-to-date with your recommenders and FLE. Remind them once a week about the application if necessary. Just like you’re busy, they have lives too and can forget. The whole process is online through the Embark website and you will get a notification when a form has been submitted (at least I did when I applied). The recommendations can be time-consuming and while you want to give them the time, you also don’t want a recommendation to come between you and the possible next step of your future as a Fulbright. Be respectful, but persistent.
Step 6: Submit Application to Fulbright Selection Committee (FSC)
About 3 weeks to two months before the official Fulbright deadline for applications, if your university has a FPA and/or a university-based FSC, you will have to turn in your essays for their revisions. The FSC is different from the FFSB as they are presidentially-appointed. Your FSC is normally a group of professors who have received Fulbright Grants in the past or just really amazing educators who know a Fulbright-worthy application when they see one. Depending on the volume of Fulbright applicants at your university you may have an interview, I did not. The turnaround time for when my FSC returned my application was quick. I emailed my FPA to discuss his thoughts on their edits and we decided how to move forward. I think it’s a helpful advantage to have and I listened to some, but not all, of their advice.
Step 7: Final Revision, Biographical Data and Submit
Once you revise and clear all final edits with your FPA, you are free to submit! Don’t forget to fill out all the biographical data on the Embark website too. Take a few minutes to do a final check for punctation, commas, prepositions, etc. and click submit to send your Fulbright app off into their system. With the FLE and the recommendations all set too, you have officially applied to be a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant.
Step 8: Wait (And Try Not to Obsess)
This was my struggle! I am not the most patient person (though after working with 3 year olds this has gotten better), so I was not a fan of the long application process. After submitting in October, applicants have to wait until January to find out their application status. What happens between those months? From what I’ve researched, Fulbright applications are sent to various professors in a variety of disciplines around the U.S. and they rate each one. Then the semi-finalists are chosen and from February to June the finalists are chosen by the FFSB after our FSC recommends us. A few months later an email is sent with your Fulbright future inside.
Tip: Fellowships are becoming more and more common to do post-graduation as a way to get professional experience before grad school. Thus, I recommend having a backup plan, or three. Fulbright is competitive so don’t get cocky. I applied to three other fellowship/mission trip type programs in addition to Fulbright. Pro Fellow is an abundant resource for fellowship information. You don’t want to put all your eggs in one basket!
Fulbright is prestigious, but not the end of the world. After all this work there is the possibility of not winning. It’s a harsh reality. Acknowledge it as a reminder of what you’re working towards. I didn’t go to a university known for producing Fulbrighters, I didn’t have a perfect GPA and I wasn’t the best Spanish speaker in my cohort. I second-guessed myself every day as I entertained the “shoulda, coulda, wouldas;” they chose me anyway. Fulbright is not looking for perfection. They are looking for passion and drive to teach English, an ability to embrace and learn from another culture and evidence of a work ethic based on your volunteer, job and life experience. Whether you win or not, the process of applying will put your future into perspective and help you with all the other Personal Statements and Purpose Statements to come. Happy writing and good luck.
Disclaimer: This is not an official Department of State website or blog, and the views and information presented are my own and do not represent the Fulbright Program of the U.S. Department of State or any of its organizations and affiliates.
Thanks for reading! Pay it forward and PIN for a future Fulbrighter!