The Fulbright US Student Program is the largest US international exchange program providing opportunities for students to undertake year-long post-graduate advanced research, graduate degrees, arts projects, or teaching in one of more than 140 countries around the world. About 2,000 students are selected annually for Fulbrights. Read about last year’s UT-record 19 Fulbright selections, making UT a nationwide Fulbright “Top Producer”!
More than 360,000 Fulbrighters from the United States and other countries have participated in the program since its inception in 1946. The two main types of Fulbright awards are Study/Research grants (which include arts projects) and English Teaching Assistant (ETA) grants. An applicant may only apply for one of type of grant in one country per application cycle.
Students applying for Study/Research grants design their own projects and typically work with advisers at foreign universities. The Study/Research grant is available in 140 countries with field-specific opportunities in the Creative & Performing Arts, Business, Journalism & Communication, STEM & Public Health, as well as Graduate degrees. Applicants should ensure their project proposals be either country-specific or field-specific. Projects typically involve independent research, formal (i.e., classroom) study, or some combination thereof. In some cases, homestay familes are arranged for Study/Research grantees to accommodate for living arrangements. Specific program requirements will vary by country.
Students who receive an ETA grant are placed in a foreign classroom and assist teachers of English to non-native English speakers. Opportunities are available to teach ages and academic levels ranging from kindergarten to university. ETA recipients also serve as cultural ambassadors and typically take on a supplemental creative or research-based projects in their host community. Most ETAs will reside with a homestay family while living in the host country. Specific requirements of ETA grants also vary by country.
Roughly 20% of applicants are selected for a Fulbright, though this rate varies by country and award type. (See national Fulbright stats HERE.) UT’s selection rate in recent years has been better than the national rate. For example, in 2016-17, 10 of our 44 applicants were selected for a Fulbright; in 2017-18, 19 of our 52 applicants were selected.
As per the Fulbright website, applicants should have a strong interest in cultivating an “atmosphere of openness, academic integrity, and intellectual freedom, thereby promoting mutual understanding.” Applicants should be in good academic standing as well as in good health. Before applying, an applicant should have three (3) recommenders readily available, as well as one foreign language evaluator if required. For Study/Research grants, applicants are required to submit an official letter of affiliation from a university or research institute in the desired host country. Study/Research applicants are encouraged to begin the process of contacting their affiliates as soon as possible. Although the ONSF Pre-Application and First Drafts are submitted through the ONSF website, official Fulbright applications and all supplemental materials are ultimately submitted entirely online through the Fulbright’s Embark online system.
Plenty! ONSF is here to support and guide you throughout the application process; however, we are not your sole source of support. Check out AT LEAST one Fulbright webinar, which is a great way to hear straight from the Fulbright about what makes a competitive application. Refer over and over to the Application Components & Application Tips on the Fulbright website. MANY of your questions will be answered there! You might also visit UT’s Writing Center. Finally, work with faculty in your discipline—especially your recommenders—on your Statement of Grant Purpose. Oh, and don’t forget to follow us on Twitter @UTK_ONSF. We’ll provide additional tips and updates there throughout the application process.
Students who have a focused interest in the host country that could be pursued through study or research—often that builds on what you’re doing at UT—should consider a Study/Research grant. (Note: Fulbright is unlikely to provide you with your first-ever research experience.)
For ETAs, it is not necessary to have a long-term professional aspiration to teach, although that’s certainly OK. But ask yourself: 1) Do you have some teaching/tutoring/mentoring experience (even if it’s not ESL) that has been meaningful to you? 2) Do you have a sincere desire to attend to the needs of English-language learners in the host country? 3) Do you have loose or tentative creative or research interests in a particular country, but believe cultural immersion as an English teacher will help you better develop your ideas? If so, an ETA might be a good fit! ONSF is happy to weigh in on your decision, too.
You might begin by perusing the country pages of potential host countries. This will provide basic understanding of what different host countries are looking for in Fulbrighters (and, perhaps as importantly, what they’re not looking for). See what draws your attention. And don’t overlook some of the niche opportunities the Fulbright provides (e.g., Austria’s “Community-Based Combined Award” or a Partner award for a graduate degree in the Netherlands … there are others!); sometimes these receive relatively few applications but are terrific opportunities.
Relatedly, you might also consult the Fulbright’s application statistics, but don’t go overboard. This should be only one of your data points in selecting a country and award. Think first about those especially meaningful experiences you’ve had—studying a foreign language, doing research, working/interning, studying abroad, leading an initiative, doing service—and how you might build on them in a post-graduate year abroad. ONSF is here to help you think through your options and offer feedback. It is your decision to make, but we are happy to weigh in.
Study/Research projects should be tightly connected to the host country (i.e., Why do you need to do this research, on the ground, in country X?), while ETA applicants should offer a compelling reason for their interest in the host country. In addition, applicants should demonstrate some understanding of the host country’s culture and possess requisite language skills (see individual country pages for language requirements, which vary by country). Note that a “strong desire” to visit the country or a “passion” for the culture or commitment to “broadening your horizons” is great but, unto itself, insufficient; you’ll need to dig deeper than that—into your interests, story/background, trajectory, motivations—to get reviewers’ attention. This is where the Personal Statement comes into play!
This is a 1-page statement that introduces you to readers. Remember, in most instances, you will not be interviewed for a Fulbright; all readers have is what is before them on paper. Thus, the Personal Statement needs to go beyond a simple summary of your resume/CV.
Details/stories/examples are key to the success of your application and your Personal Statement—rely on nouns and verbs more than adjectives and adverbs—as is conveying first what this experience would mean for YOU, not humanity. Please be careful with sweeping commentary and save-the-world rhetoric. They don’t impress readers; authenticity, perspective, and humility do. Try to connect the dots of your own personal timeline to explain what has lead you to this moment of applying. For more detailed guidance from ONSF on personal statements, CLICK HERE.
In addition, the Application Components & Application Tips on the Fulbright website are crucial resources. This is where you’ll find the nuts-and-bolts explanation of what goes into a Fulbright application, from content to formatting and so forth.
The Application Components & Application Tips on the Fulbright website are crucial resources. This is where you’ll find the nuts-and-bolts explanation of what goes into a Fulbright application, from content to formatting and so forth.
For ETA: In this 1-page, single-spaced grant statement, focus on your strategies for engaging your language learners, which you’ll want to back up with CONCRETE, relevant examples (needn’t strictly be classroom teaching) of past experiences. The purpose and country of your ETA grant should be clear within the first sentence or two. This may seem inelegant, but remember: reviewers will read a stack of applications and need to be quickly oriented to your plan. It is important that you focus on WHY this particular country is the country for you … and how you will be an effective cultural ambassador as an ETA.
Along the way, make clear to readers what you think the relevant skills are to be an effective teacher; demonstrate that you have said skills; and note how you acquired those skills. While some ETA awards will come with summer teaching workshops and others will not, it’s important to focus equally on your pedagogical methods as well as what you uniquely bring to the classroom. In other words, what makes YOU a more engaging English teacher than the next person? What about your own hobbies, interests, personal and academic background can you transform into interesting teaching material? Highlight concrete teaching and communication skills, but also consider ways to demonstrate your creativity and resilience—after all, being an ETA will be a terrific experience, but not an not easy one. Showing yourself to be highly adaptable and capable of bouncing back from setbacks is important.
Your “Supplementary Project,” meanwhile, need not be grandiose—taking courses or tutoring underprivileged students, for example, can be an excellent side projects for an ETA. Proposing informal research or artistic projects specific to your host country is also a great idea. The key is that plans are representative of your interests and will allow you to get further embedded in your host community. Other options are joining some sort of affinity/interest/community group or volunteering your time. This area of the grant statement can also be a great place to show what else intrigues you about your proposed country. Is there a particular population or cultural phenomenon you’d like to engage with while there?
Study/Research: This is a 2-page grant statement, not an academic paper. Let readers know from the outset what you plan to do. The purpose and proposed site/location of your research grant should be clear within the first, say, 1 – 3 sentences. Your first paragraph or two should NOT be a slow-burning introduction in which you provide copious background on your study; rather, it should quickly “hook” your readers (who will spend ~10 mins on your app) with compelling details about what you plan to do and why it’s important. Then dive into the more fine-grained detail of methods and timeline.
Structurally, there are many viable ways to approach this statement, but keep in mind the following: 1) The Fulbright does not expect to see citations. It is fine to acknowledge the source of a key idea, but do this narratively rather than using formal citations. 2) It is fine to use headings, although most applicants do not. If you use headings, we suggest headings that narrate your timeline rather than a classical research paper approach (i.e., we suggest avoiding Introduction, Methods, etc.). 3) Along the way, you’ll want to reference, briefly, examples/details on how you acquired the relevant skills to carry out your project (e.g., research methods, data analysis, language, etc.). FEASIBILITY is the name of the game here. Readers must be convinced that you can pull off this proposed study/research plan.
Finally, be sure to address how you’ll engage with your host community—the Fulbright doesn’t want you stuck in a lab all day and night for a year! Typically, these plans are noted in the last paragraph or two, but they could be sprinkled in elsewhere, should you deem that appropriate. Plans could include taking language classes, joining some sort of affinity/interest/community group, or volunteering your time. The plans need not be grandiose; the key is that they are representative of your interests and will allow you to get further embedded in your host community.
Although it varies by country, most students pursuing Study/Research Grants will need a letter of affiliation … or are at least strongly recommended to get one (ETAs do not need these letters). Most Fulbrighters undertaking Study/Research grants will affiliate with universities, although in some countries it is possible to affiliate with other types of organizations such as research institutes or NGOs. Some students will even have multiple affiliations. The Letter of Affiliation (more here) should come from the individual in the host country with whom the applicant is proposing to work. The nature of an affiliation can vary considerably from project to project and from country to country; consequently, the letters can, too. Be sure you are referring to your country page to see what is expected of an affiliate and who can and cannot serve as an affiliation.
In general, here are the things you can share with your contact(s) as you work on getting a host country letter of affiliation, which should be:
• printed on institutional letterhead, addressed to The Fulbright Commission, signed by the author;
• indicate who your host is, what they do, and where;
• indicate at least basic knowledge of your project and its aims;
• explain the nature of the connection between you and the host—that is, the support being offered (e.g., access to facilities and/or courses at the institution, consulting/advising on research methods, supervision and/or mentorship, help with networking); Note: These are some common examples, but this is negotiable with your host.
• comment on the feasibility of the project (e.g., in terms of resources, your and/or their relevant technical expertise, project timeline, and, if relevant, local political/cultural sensitivities); and
• show enthusiasm for your project and its value, and for the proposed working relationship.
These letters needn’t be lengthy and don’t often exceed a page. Scanned versions of the original hardcopy letters with hand-written signatures will be uploaded by you into Embark; a printed out e-mail will not suffice. Affiliation letters written in a foreign language must be translated into English; both the original letter and the translation must be uploaded into the application.
Don’t be afraid to initially cast a wide net in trying to secure an affiliation; you might be surprised how far a friendly, succinct introductory e-mail will get you—the Fulbright is well-known throughout the world. One primary way to find an affiliation is to ask the faculty/advisors whom you know right here on campus, as many of them have contacts and collaborators overseas.
In addition, you might try the following:
• Reach out to past Fulbrighters in your country; use the Grantee Directory to help facilitate this.
• Scour the references list of research papers you are reading in your field; it would make for a compelling application if you were affiliating with someone who’s writing what you’re reading!
• Discuss with ONSF. This is not as difficult as it might seem; it just requires some planning.
1. The Fulbright’s mission is to promote cultural understanding through educational exchange; don’t lose sight of that. Your views on cultural exchange should be evident in your application.
2. Do NOT leave the Biographical Data portion of the Embark application (which includes some short answer questions) to the last second. It will be the first thing readers see; leave yourself time for this important task.
3. Language proficiency requirements vary by country: some require it, some prefer it, and some have no pre-reqs at all (though it’s advantageous for community engagement purposes to have some proficiency in the host country language). If you have little/no background in the language, please consider working language study into your proposal and start learning the language now. Basic self-study or a campus language partner will help and demonstrate commitment.
4. Enjoy the process. Annual surveys of our candidates suggest that it’s a highly valued and meaningful experience unto itself. We genuinely admire what you’re doing in pursuing this competitive award and look forward to working with you!
Fulbright Eligibility Criteria
- Have a baccalaureate degree by the start of the grant, be a current graduate student or professional degree student (without a PhD), or be an alumni who holds at least a bachelor’s degree but does not have a PhD
- A US citizen at the time of application
- Possess language skills for proposed project (certainly this varies widely)
- For grant applicants in the Creative & Performing Arts: 4 years of professional training and/or experience
- Please note that some countries hold specific standards of ineligibility — such as dual citizenship or extensive recent experiences in the host country.
Students must submit a complete application through the Fulbright’s Embark system by the UT campus deadline. Fulbright applications are submitted entirely online. A complete application will consist of the following:
- Biographical Data (basic resume information)
- Statement of Grant Purpose (1 to 2-page grant proposal)
- Personal Statement (1-page personal narrative essay)
- Reference Letters for the Study/Research Grant (3); Reference Forms for the ETA (3).
- Transcripts for all undergraduate and graduate institutions from which you received degrees, as well as any significant coursework that is not reflected on your degree transcripts.
Depending on the type of grant and the requirements of the host country, applicants may also need to submit the following:
- Affiliation Letter (for Study/Research Grants — this is proof of agreement from host institution/advisor)
- Foreign Language Evaluation(s)
- Supplementary Materials (for students in the creative and performing arts)
All UT undergraduate students, graduate students, and alumni interested in applying for a Fulbright must work with ONSF throughout the application process — from the Pre-Application to the Campus Deadline and Interview. You may contact us at any time throughout the process! https://onsf.utk.edu/first-steps/