By: Kevin Lowenwirth
Poughkeepsie, N.Y. – Tuesday, October 13th marks the deadline for students submitting applications in hopes of participating in the Fulbright U.S. Student Program.
Commonly referred to as just, “the Fulbright,” the program offers fellowships for “U.S. graduating college seniors, graduate students, young professionals and artists to study, conduct research and/or teach English abroad,” according to its website.
After the deadline a National Screening Committee will review the applications, and announce the competition’s finalists in January. Finalists’ applications will be forwarded to the Fulbright Commission in each applicant’s potential host country.
By early April, applicants will become grantees, and those grantees will begin their Fulbright experience in January or February the following year.
The current sponsor of the Program, the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs identified Marist College as one of the schools producing the most 2014-2015 Fulbright Scholars after the grantees were announced in March.
Pat Taylor, Marist’s Graduate School and Fellowship Advisor, works with students applying for the Fulbright. This time of year is particularly busy for her as she continuously reviews applications to be submitted before the fast approaching deadline. She describes the Fulbright application’s looming deadline as “exhausting and invigorating.”
Taylor continues, “Many of the students in this applicant pool are bringing to bear significant and relevant experiences to their proposed projects, and some of the projects are, in fact, remarkably meaningful in terms of contributing to our wisdom about the world.”
The Fulbright was established in 1946 under legislation introduced by a former Senator of Arkansas, J. William Fulbright. He sought to allow students to further their educations in a profound and extensive manner.
This opportunity is often presented in the form of a research grant. It also gives students the chance to teach English abroad if they choose to apply for the Fulbright English Teaching Assistants (ETA) grant. These acts are meant to develop a mutual understanding among global citizens through an educational and cultural exchange.
Sen. Fulbright launched this idea after World War II ended, claiming it would be beneficial for the United States to develop a cohort of young Americans who are wiser about the cultures and worldviews of other countries to avoid the mistakes that brought us into and extended the war’s duration.
The research project is usually a smaller step in composing a larger, more comprehensive development. The Fulbright grant is typically awarded for 9 to 11 month periods; for this purpose your proposal should be obtainable in one academic year.
The benefits of any grant awarded include round-trip transportation to the host country, funding to cover room, board and the general cost of living in the host country, as well as accident and health benefits.
Critical Language Enhancement Awards are available before and during the grant period for grantees pursuing a Fulbright in countries where foreign languages are required.
The preferred applicants tend to be students who are graduating college. This year I, along with 10 other Marist College seniors, will be competing in this national fellowship competition in hopes of receiving a research grant to study internationally.
Candidates applying for the Fulbright must take on the responsibilities embedded in the application process. These responsibilities include:
- A statement of grant purpose outlining why your proposed research project can be appropriately and effectively carried out while gaining valuable experience relative to the your future.
- A personal statement, which is meant to provide those viewing your application with brief background information yourself.
- A letter of affiliation from an organization in your host country relevant to your studies to legitimize your proposed research project.
In particular, the letter of affiliation can be extremely tough because in many cases the applicant is requesting blind support for his or her proposal. Asking for support requires the applicant to contact numerous organizations, none of which are obligated to follow up with your request.
After continuously receiving polite rejections throughout the summer, I debated giving up. Yet, my persistence ultimately worked in my favor and I was able to ascertain a letter of affiliation through the Castan Centre for Human Rights Law at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia.
In my experience, since the Fulbright aims to enhance learning in cross-cultural environments gaining support to study human rights law from an Australian Human Rights Law research center was ideal. The application must be crafted very precisely to be successful and stand out amidst the countless applications to various countries.
The competitive nature of the application changes depending on the popularity of the country where the applicants apply. Nick Bayer, a political science major, is applying to teach English in Norway at the secondary and university levels.
Should he receive the grant, Bayer would take on the role of a mentor and “put the English language in a cultural context to help students in Norway become proficient in English.” Specifically, he would be assigned a placement at a secondary school and eventually be connected with a university’s faculty members.
However, the applicant will not find out his placement until he is accepted into the U.S. Fulbright Student Program and receives the Fulbright ETA grant. Unfortunately, this makes the process slightly ambiguous.
In the 2015-2016 set of applications, 8 of 33 applicants were accepted to teach English in Norway, yielding a 24% acceptance rate. While certain countries may yield a higher acceptance rate, others are more selective in regards to which applicants they accept.
Applying to conduct research in Australia has been more selective; in the 2015-2016 application round there were 8 successful candidates chosen from 98 applications, yielding roughly an 8% acceptance rate.
Surprisingly, some other countries are even more selective in picking their Fulbright Scholars.
Danielle Villa graduated from Marist in May 2015. She applied to the United Kingdom, a notoriously competitive country in Fulbright standards, and looked forward to examining Great Britain’s role in humanitarian intervention, a large factor in involved in international peacekeeping, in Sheffield, England.
She specifies her reasoning in applying to study at the University of Sheffield, “I needed to expand the scope of my research, and thought gaining an international perspective from a key state actor would allow me to better understand international relations in general.”
Of the 2,667 applicants applying to study in Europe through the 2015-2016 application round, 1,031 sought to carry out their studies in the United Kingdom. To put that in perspective, 39% of those applying for a grant in Europe applied to the United Kingdom. Moreover, only 36 candidates were awarded the grant then, which yields only a 3.5% acceptance rate among the applicants.
Villa was unsuccessful in her Fulbright pursuit, but is currently enrolled in Emory University’s doctoral program to work towards a degree in political science.
Frequently, the Fulbright can set students up to proceed with higher education if they wish. Many research projects can be conducted to fulfill coursework in pursuing a Masters degree, or along the pathway to a Ph.D as well.
Regardless, Taylor claims, “the caliber of students with whom I have worked over my eleven years at Marist has shifted dramatically.” Certainly, this correlates with the greater success rates Marist has seen recently. Perhaps it is because Taylor has, in essence, established herself within the school and continued to develop alongside it.
She says, “Marist and I have grown up together institutionally, and we have grown wiser about how to prepare our students for this unique opportunity.”
This explains why there are an increasing number of successful Fulbright applications coming from Marist. This has made the fellowship more appealing, and acts as somewhat of a confidence boost for students who are on the fence about applying.
As demanding and stressful as the application deadline can be, Taylor concludes, “I look forward to this time of year because, typically, the Fulbright application process allows me to observe the development of students with whom I’ve worked over many of their years at Marist.