Guest Blog Post Written By: Grace Betts, B.S., NICHD Postbaccalaureate IRTA Fellow, 2020-2021 Fulbright Study Award Recipient
Considering applying to Fulbright, but not sure where to begin? Here are a few tips and recommendations that will hopefully help you successfully navigate the process.
Program types. If you are a recent graduate from a bachelor’s program or a current Master’s or doctoral candidate, you will apply to the Fulbright US Student Program. If you have more than 5 years of experience or study (completion of a PhD) in the field to which you are applying, you will apply to the Fulbright US Scholar Program.
Selecting an award. As an NIH fellow, the Open Study/Research award, which allows grantees to propose and carry out their own research project or complete a degree in one of approximately 140 countries, will likely be the most relevant. There is also currently a special program called Fulbright-Fogarty Fellowships in Public Health that could be relevant for fellows. In addition to open study/research awards (but falling under the same award category), Fulbright has partnership awards for students applying to universities in certain countries. Australia and the United Kingdom are two countries with partnership programs; the UK has by far the most (almost 40), but several other countries offer partnerships, some with specific scientific focus areas. However, if you are interested in pursuing a degree, you can also apply to open study/research awards, which are offered in most countries. You can explore awards offered by each country here.
Strategize. Keep in mind that you can only apply to one award in one country, so it can help to have a strategy. Once you’ve determined the type of award you want to apply for and have narrowed down your list of options, head to the statistics page. Here you can search to see how many people applied to and were selected for each award over the past three years.
Apply through a home institution, if possible. You can apply to Fulbright “At-Large” or through a US institution. If you recently (usually within three years) graduated from undergrad or are currently attending a university, you can likely apply through them, and it is recommended that you do so. Institution deadlines can help you stay on track and at the end of the process, your institution includes a review/endorsement based on your application materials and campus interview. By working with my university, I was able to receive feedback on my statements from seasoned Fulbright advisors and experts in my field (during the campus interview process). The early deadline forced me to write several drafts of my statements, leaving time to seek feedback from multiple people. At the university deadline (about 4-6 weeks before the national deadline), you submit your application through the regular Fulbright portal and indicate your home institution. Your university is then able to access your application, and once they have reviewed it, they will open it back up to you for last-minute edits before your final submit. Campus interviews typically occur between these two deadlines. To find out if your university has a Fulbright team, which office manages the applications, and who the designated Fulbright Program Advisors are (including contact information) you can search here by institution or state. If your university has a team that works on Fulbright, applying through them will only strengthen your application. If not, you can still apply At-Large (see this page to get started), and Fulbright states that At-Large applicants are regularly selected for grants.
Affiliation letter. Fulbright only officially requires an affiliation letter if you are applying to do research, but they strongly recommend it for study awards. This can be tricky under any circumstances but is especially challenging because Fulbright applications are due months before university applications are due abroad. My suggestion is to get in touch with the director of your degree program or school. Professors whose research aligns with your own may also be able to write you a letter, but directors will likely have more freedom and authority to do so. The most direct route may be to reach out to the office of admissions or a general inquiries email because they should be able to connect you with the right person. Typically, once you’ve found someone willing to write you a letter, you will need to send them a draft or outline that they can adjust and sign. My university provided example affiliation letters, which were extremely helpful. If you don’t have an affiliation letter though, there is no need to panic. I heard from my advisors that many study award applicants struggle to obtain them. That being said, try your best to secure one because it will help to prove to Fulbright that your project is viable and that there should be a place for you at your chosen university.
If you are applying to a study award, don’t forget to apply to your host university. This may sound obvious, but with the huge window of time between the Fulbright application deadline and university deadlines, it can be easy to forget this crucial step. Fulbright study awards are “conditional upon acceptance by the chosen institution,” meaning that if you apply for a Fulbright to study at London School of Economics, you must also apply and be accepted to London School of Economics as a general applicant. For UK partnership awards, for example, Fulbright recommends that you apply to your host university by January 15th. If your university has rolling applications, once you are accepted you can send proof of your offer to Fulbright and they will add it to your application. I ended up waiting to apply until after I had heard if I was a Fulbright semi-finalist (which happened in late January), but this was only because I forgot about Fulbright’s recommended deadline. You might also be asking – What if I dedicate months applying to Fulbright, receive an award, and then am not admitted to my university of choice? Basically, what I was told is – don’t worry about this. The Fulbright award is likely more competitive than the university program itself and, depending on the award, you should also be fully funded through Fulbright, which looks good to any university.
Good luck! If you decide to apply, the site for the US Student program is full of resources, including recorded videos and tutorials and a calendar of live webinars. Beyond the main Fulbright site, there is a lively community of past and present applicants on Reddit where I found answers to several questions along the way. You can also find and connect with current and past Fulbright fellows via LinkedIn or by reaching out to your university. If you’re applying through your university, definitely check out their resources and attend information sessions. Lastly, most or all countries with Fulbright awards have an in-country commission (UK Commission, for example). This site may have more information on the awards being offered, as well as profiles for current and past Fulbrighters. Although the application process is lengthy and requires a great deal of effort, Fulbright is an incredible and rare opportunity to extend your research or studies outside the United States. If you decide to apply, I hope these tips help make the process a little easier.