Applying for a Fulbright

My alma mater, Pitzer College, has had the most Fulbright grant recipients (per capita) of any college in the U.S. for eight years in a row now. When I graduated in 2006 and was awarded a Fulbright to conduct my research in Mali (which then lead to the writing of To Timbuktu), I was one of 14 students out of a class of barely 300 to receive one.

Part of that is because of the global vision and unique talents of the students who apply for these fellowships--of course-- but it's also because Pitzer's faculty and staff do an amazing job of encouraging students to go after the grants and preparing them for the application process.

So I would like to pass on a few bits of advice I learned at Pitzer about the Fulbright application process since this year's application deadlines are right around the corner. Keep in mind, I'm talking about the research grant. There are other types of grants-- to teach, to study-- and to learn more about those, check out the Fulbright website.

  • You don't have a 4.0? That doesn't necessarily matter. The Fulbright folks are looking for well rounded, self-motived people who will be able to take care of themselves alone on the other side of the world.
  • You aren't in college anymore and afraid you missed your window? Not at all! You can still apply through your alma mater or "at large".
  • Feasibility is your best friend. The people who award these grants are looking for proposals that are realistic in their philosophical, geographic, and time scope. You are one person-- you will NOT be able to create a statistically relevant survey during your 10 months of an entire country's anything. Pick a topic that is large enough to be interesting and of use to the advancement of that country, but just narrow enough in scope to be do-able.
  • You WILL be able to change the course of your research as you go along. In fact, you probably should as you learn more things on the ground. So make sure that your proposal is also flexible.
  • Consider going somewhere not everyone else and their mother wants to go. Sure, France is wonderful. But a zillion other people think so too so your chances of getting that Fulbright are a lot more slim than say... Mali! With a little poking around, you can find application numbers and winners on the Fulbright website.
  • Look at what projects have already taken place in the country in the years before you. Don't propose to do something that someone did just last year! Also, a little birdie once told me that "hard science" research proposals appear much less frequently than sociology/anthropology/political science ones...
  • One of the goals of the Fulbright is to strengthen the relationship between the United States and the host country, so consider what issues are important to both of the countries. Those are the issues that the Fulbright committee will be happy to see you wanting to investigate.
  • Start contacting people in your proposed country to be your "affiliates" (basically your in-country sponsor which you need to apply) AS SOON AS POSSIBLE because a) it's a real biotch to contact people in other countries for the most part and b) the more solid your contact is, the better for your proposal.
  • And most importantly--propose doing something you are really and truly interested in, excited and inspired by, not just something you think the Fulbright people will want to hear, because at the end of the day that's going to be your life for a year.

So cruise the Fulbright website for more info, and feel free to hit me up with more questions if you've got 'em. The Fulbright is an absolutely amazing program that I think over all is really achieving its goal of cross cultural understanding and friendship.