Fulbright U.S. Student Program


Senator J. William Fulbright, PhD
Senator J. William Fulbright, PhD

The Fulbright U.S. Student Program offers opportunities for students and young professionals to undertake international graduate study, advanced research, university teaching, and primary and secondary school teaching worldwide. The program currently awards approximately 1,900 grants annually in all fields of study, and operates in more than 140 countries worldwide. Fulbright alumni populate a range of professions and include ambassadors, members of Congress, judges, heads of corporations, university presidents, journalists, artists, professors, and teachers. Bose Corporation founder Amar Bose, actor John Lithgow, composer Philip Glass, opera singer Renee Fleming and economist Joseph Stiglitz are among notable former grantees.

The Fulbright program for U.S. students offers outstanding opportunities for study abroad to graduate students in any program at any level. Fulbright fellows are immersed in the culture and daily life of the country of their choice. Successful applicants to this program will promote leadership, learning, and mutual understanding between cultures. Award benefits include round-trip transportation to the host country, a stipend to cover room, board, and living expenses, and accident and sickness health benefits. Some grants may include additional funding for study and research, including language study and full or partial tuition.

In considering your interest in applying for a Fulbright, please review the following advice to prospective CGU applicants.

The student Fulbright program is fundamentally a diplomatic initiative to improve relationships between the U.S. and other countries through citizen exchanges; the work students do in country is a means to that end, and every Fulbrighter is essentially a citizen deputized as a temporary, part-time U.S. ambassador. The Fulbright program is a series of bilateral partnerships between the U.S. State Department and the host countries, each of which has a different array of programs and types of Fulbright awards, with specific numbers of available scholarships, other eligibility requirements, specifications, arrival dates, acceptability of dependents, etc.

Fulbright grants are awarded in an annual competitive cycle. A Fulbright residency generally runs from September through June (a full academic term), and applications must be submitted during fall semester of the year before. The U.S. student program online applications (including reference letters) are generally due in mid-October, but the mandatory CGU deadline is several weeks before that, and applicants must be available in the week or two after the local deadline for an on-campus interview lasting about half an hour, preferably but not necessarily in person. For 2017-18 Fulbrights, the campus deadline for submitting online applications on the Embark portal was Sept. 20, 2016; the final national deadline was Oct. 11, 2016.  The Fulbright portal for 2018-19 will reopen in Spring 2017, with a similar sequence of final application deadlines in Fall 2017.

In general, spring semester of the submission year is a good time to begin exploring student Fulbright program opportunities. Most applicants are limited to applying to one specific country, except in two regions (Western Hemisphere and Eastern Europe) where certain paired- or multi-country applications may be accepted. So picking the country (or perhaps two or three) where you are interested in spending an academic year is a high priority, especially for research/study/creative grants, where you will usually have to contact and make documented arrangements in advance for affiliation with an in-country host institution. The other key early decision is which type of Fulbright grant to apply for; the main ones are English Teaching Assistant (ETA) in an overseas school and individual research, study, or creative projects abroad; then there are a few highly specialized ones.

Most CGU students — and most graduate students, in general — apply for the research/study/creative Fulbrights rather than the ETA program, but we have also had successful ETA applicants. The ETA application format is somewhat less demanding and is especially appealing to college seniors. Except for the ETA program, in most countries one needs to arrange and document in the application an affiliation with a host institution, usually a university. This is not that difficult to arrange, even without prior contacts in the country, but it takes time, and it will be your second priority after selecting the country. Selecting a host may require that you have done a lot of thinking about your project in order to select and adequately describe it to the prospective host’s satisfaction.

It is crucial that you take time early on to carefully study the Fulbright website information, including the Fulbright websites of the individual countries of interest, when selecting a country and host institution. You can readily navigate from the student Fulbright web portal to the general and then individual country program sites, general information for prospective applicants, statistics on recent rounds of applications, a searchable directory of scholars, as well as to the Embark application site — which opens each year on March 31 and closes on the final deadline in October — where your application will be uploaded and managed.

With the few regional exceptions, which are clearly identified — no Western European countries, for example, are exceptions — you may apply to one and only one country in any given round (year), and each country’s Fulbright program has its own unique requirements and features, so there are multiple issues to consider. In general, applicants other than ETA must have “proficiency in the written and spoken language of the host country sufficient to communicate with the people and to carry out the proposed study/research. This is especially important for projects in the social sciences and the humanities.” This is further specified by the individual countries; for example, in Austria:

Intermediate to advanced proficiency in spoken and written German is essential for all fields, including music and fine arts, even if research can be conducted in English. A basic knowledge of German at the time of application is acceptable if candidates document their plans to reach the required intermediate to advanced level of German competence before the starting date of the grant.

Of course, for this country, candidates who are already fluent will have an edge over those whose German is only “basic.”

The general statement of eligibility criteria and preferences for a student Fulbrighters include a requirement of U.S. citizenship and good health, and a preference for applicants who have not resided or studied extensively (for six months or longer) in the proposed host country. Specific host countries may state stronger or additional requirements or preferences, but if you can meet the linguistic and similar requirements and show your homework on host institutions and living arrangements, then having limited or no previous time in the country is not a disadvantage.

The Fulbright review process has multiple steps. CGU is required to review a complete draft of each Fulbright application, interview the candidate, and submit a brief evaluation form using uniform criteria. The U.S. Fulbright Commission empanels experts to review all applications (including the local evaluation form). Then the Commission makes selections among candidates for each host country, and forwards to each host country a short list of nominated applications, usually double or so the number of available awards; and the host country then reviews these applications and makes the final decisions. For most countries, it is required that research/study/creative applicants define and present a discrete training plan, project, or phase of a larger project that is clearly feasible to complete during a standard academic year. Studying issues that may be politically controversial in a host country is not forbidden, but keep that larger diplomatic objective of the Fulbright program in mind when framing your research topic and description.

A final note: “success rate” statistics in recent years reveal very different levels of competitive pressure by country, even among contiguous or culturally similar countries—from as low as one award per 20 applicants to as high as two awards per three applicants. This annually updated information can be found on the Fulbright website.