How to Get a Fulbright in 10 Easy Steps

Here I am, at AWP 2012 in Chicago! After 3 years away from the AWP loop, it’s nice to be back. And some of my very accomplished friends and I are giving a panel on Friday afternoon called “Finding the Time–and Money!–to Write.” So I’ve been thinking a lot about the Fulbright Fellowship experience, and decided I should offer a sneak preview/hyperlinked version of the talk we’re going to give tomorrow.

By the way, if you’re in Chicago right now and curious about the talk, it’s on Friday, March 2nd, at the Palmer Hilton House at 4:30 pm in the State Ballroom. That’s right folks; they gave us a ballroom! (Eeeeeeeek. Why did I who secretly fear public speaking think this would be a good idea?)

So happy AWP, happy March, and without further ado, here’s how to get a Fulbright Grant in 10 Easy Steps:

1. What the heck IS a Fulbright? Go to Fulbright.org for a quick overview of the “Student program,” or Fulbright Study & Research Grants for recent graduates, grad students, young professionals, and emerging artists. (Unless of course you are a professor or professional working in your field for several decades; in that case, check out the “Senior Scholar” program.)

2. Read the interview I gave last spring in this “Follow Your Bliss” magazine article for a take on how I put together my application, and to get an overview of the application process. A few highlights:

What are they looking for in an ideal candidate?
Ultimately, Fulbright looks for highly motivated people who can work intensely on individual projects without much supervision or structure.  They ask for our past experiences abroad and past work experience, and in our Project Proposals and Personal Statements, emphasis is put on who we are, what fuels us academically, and whether we seem ready and able to carry out the work we propose to do. I think that many Fulbrighters intend to enter academic fields or teach, so there is also an emphasis on being able to share our work with others in our fields when we return to America.

What materials do you need for the application process?

    • A Project Proposal that shows why you need to go to this country, as well as why your research is important and interesting;
    • A compelling Personal Statement that gives a portrait of you as a person, researcher, and potential representative of American academic researchers abroad;
    • 3 Recommendations from Professors/Employers who know you well and can attest to all of the above qualities;
    • A language evaluation that shows you can handle the language of the host country appropriate to the Fulbright Requirements and your project’s needs;
    • In my case, a Creative Writing Sample;
    • The rest of the Application– a more simple overview of personal information, work experience, publications, interests, and relevant activities.

In my Project Proposal, I considered what my main priorities for research would be, so I split my grant period up into three sections, which created an arc for my research to deepen and become more specific. This allowed me to think carefully about what I would do and how, and actually offered a good plan that I am still using. It’s a long and quite involved application. But by the end of it, I had successfully convinced myself that I could, and would, conduct this research project in this way.

3. Pick a country you want to go to, and know (decide) why you want to go there.

4. Decide: applying for a Research Grant Fellowship? Or an English Teaching Assistant Fellowship? Here’s the difference.

5. Gather recommendations, work on personal statements, project proposals, and solicit advice. Contact a professor, professional (or SOMEONE) in your destination country– to ask for help, advice, and if possible, a letter of invitation. The latter is best.

6. Learn the language. Let me rephrase: learn the language as well as you need to to complete your research project, or for the Fulbright requirements in that country. Or, better yet: learn the language as well as you freaking can!!!!! (because it’s never enough. Just trust me on this one.)

7. If you will be able to have steps 1-6 completed by the end of September, middle of October, or by your college or grad school’s “campus deadline” (at-large deadlines are usually the end of October), then prepare to apply this year. I recommend applying through whatever college or grad school you attended, since this institutional backing in the process is usually beneficial, but I’ve met many “at-large” Fulbrighters as well. If you are having trouble really conceptualizing your project, or any pieces missing from Step 5, consider waiting until next year. It’s a long process– so you want to do it right, and give it your best shot.

8. Great, you’ve decided to apply this year! Coerce Let no fewer than 2-4 people read your personal statement and project proposal. Seriously, I promise this helps and is very important. Copyedit. Spell check. Read your application materials ALOUD.

9. Send it in. Online. To your campus representative. If required, do the campus interview. (Stanford told me they didn’t want me to fly all the way out for it, so they would give me a “paper evaluation,” but every campus representative differs on this.) Then, and this is by far the hardest part of the whole process:

Try to forget about it.

You won’t find out till March or April at the earliest (unless you don’t make it to the 2nd round, in which case the rejection comes in January)– so, get a new job! Keep your old job! Save money. Start a new hobby. Make a new friend. Go on vacation. Try not to think about the chance that you will be going abroad in a year.

Look for other grants and fellowships to go to the country of your choosing, or other options. If I hadn’t gotten a Fulbright to go to Taiwan, I was planning to use my savings to go there anyway, and teach English while conducting my family history and Taiwanese political history research. Don’t worry too much; if you’re meant to go to this place, and you want it badly enough and plan hard enough, you will figure out a way to get there and go, somehow.

10. Get in! Thank your readers and recommenders, and get your immunizations! You are going abroad, baby.

Regarding the actual chances of getting a Fulbright for any specific country: it differs greatly depending on where you want to go. You can see the admission stats for every country on the Fulbright.org site– some of the more popular countries are quite competitive, while others seem “easier” to get into. Yet in the end, your proposal is judged against your profile and personal statement, and the committee tries to decide how plausible it is that you will be able to complete the project, or at least have a rewarding, productive, and enriching experience that will contribute to a fruitful future career.

In the end, your proposal is judged on its own terms, and you’re only really competing with yourself.

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7 Comments

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7 responses to “How to Get a Fulbright in 10 Easy Steps

  1. Rock that panel, Kimmers!

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  3. m

    Thanks for giving us a taste of your talk at the AWP conference. It’s great that you want to offer help to future Fulbrighters.

  4. Great tips. Thanks for sharing. I am considering applying for the Fulbright Program.

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