6 Tips to Know Before Applying for Fulbright

by Sojourner

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Applying for Fulbright, and winning, changed the trajectory of my career path. Instead of keeping my dreams domestic, Fulbright introduced me to the world. I remember all the essay revisions and recommendation solicitation emails as if they were yesterday. However, I wish there were a few things someone would have told me beforehand. 

There are many tips on applying for Fulbright on the internet. But as an alum, you get all the insider details! 

Anyone who has applied for a Fulbright Fellowship will tell you it is not easy. There are very few international fellowships that are easy. The process is long, frustrating, tedious, and rewarding at the same time. My essays alone took months to get right. Inspired to pay it forward for future Fulbright fellowship applicants, I wanted to share some tips. These are things I wish I knew before applying for Fulbright many years ago. I know they will be beneficial for you on your Fulbright journey too.

Tips on Applying for Fulbright

Do an inventory of your skillset

Before you begin researching the award you want, do a professional skills inventory. Review your resume and/or CV. Then, determine which skills you possess align with the Fulbright award you want to pursue. For example, my prior interest in School Psychology led me to work with youth. I already had experience as an assistant teacher and working with students in English language learning classrooms. Those internships, classroom management, and teaching/facilitation skills prepared me to be an English Teaching Assistant. My skills aligned more with teaching than research, so that is the grant I applied for.  Make a list for yourself and do the same.

Research which award you want to pursue

Fulbright scholarships come in various types of awards. In addition to reviewing the eligibility requirements, do a deep dive into all of your options. Doing in-depth research helps you decide which Fulbright award is right for your career path. Do you want to go to grad school? Are you looking for professional experience? Let your goals guide you. Some of the Fulbright offerings  include the Nat-Geo Digital Storytelling Fellowship, Fulbright Research Awards, and Fulbright-Fogarty Fellowships in Public Health. Choose wisely.

All countries do not offer the same number of awards

International fellowships are highly-coveted and have the statistics to prove it. Fulbright is no different. When you research your options and align your skills, take a peek at the statistics. Fulbright collects data on their study/research grants and teaching assistantships. They divide it based on the country, type of award, etc. Knowing this information can dictate where you have a higher probability of winning. Additionally, if you are open to going anywhere, this can be a good tool to determine where you want to apply. Check the statistics!

Yet, do not obsess over this data because it can change without you knowing. In 2016 I won a Fulbright fellowship to Spain. At the time, Spain only offered 43 grants for their English Teaching Assistantships. I was unaware of these odds when applied. To be honest, I felt more nervous after discovering the statistics and my probability of winning. However, the grants that year changed from 43 to 123 awards. The odds were better than I knew but still, be better than me and research some of the competition.

Fluency in a foreign language is not mandatory

One of the tips on applying for Fulbright that gets overlooked is the language requirement. Many applicants assume they have to be fluent in the host country’s language. But, this is not the case. Fluency is not a requirement nor mandatory to apply. In fact, many commissions offer their grantees stipends or allowances to take language classes during their grant period. However, do double check to see if your host country requires a language evaluation. While those are not for fluency, some want you to have working knowledge of the language. 

Remember you will be working, not traveling

This is something I remind aspiring applicants all the time. As appealing as traveling for an overseas fellowship may seem, remember you are working. While you may be able to travel more than in your home country, your research or job is the priority. Fulbright is an international and intercultural exchange program. The main focus of that exchange is for you to work. Do not forget that when you are writing your application. Focus on the professional and personal development opportunities Fulbright can offer, not the number of countries you will visit.

Time is of the essence

Fulbright applications normally open in March and close in October. However, that time can pass you by in a flash. Map out who will write your letters of recommendation and give them ample time to complete them. If you need an affiliation letter for your study/research, start early. Research which universities in the country you chose are aligned with your interests. When you reach out to possible sponsors or even your recommenders, do so early in the semester or over the summer. Chances are they are not as busy during those times compared to mid-semester.  

To apply for Fulbright is to invest in your personal and professional development. My aspirations grew from living a life in the U.S. to learning from and living in another country. Now, as an International Social Worker, those lessons learned from applying and teaching abroad have come full circle. Fulbright has forever left its mark on me and my career, which all started with an application. Remember, even if you do not win, these tips can be applied to any international fellowship you seek. Take your time, do your research, and start writing. Stay positive and give the Fulbright committee and application they will not refuse.

Want more Fulbright scholarship tips? Check out more tips on applying for Fulbright here

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.

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Sylvia Yakubu March 10, 2021 - 10:10 am

Are there fellowships available to Nigerian Students? I’m very very confused as to where to start. Also about what CGPA is needed? Thank You!

Sojourner March 14, 2021 - 9:49 am

Hi! I have other blog posts with websites where you can find fellowships and learn more about the qualifications to see if Nigerian students can apply. Each fellowship varies. And GPA depends on the fellowship, but normally a 3.0 is the minimum.


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