Fulbright is one of the most prestigious fellowship programs in the world. It’s also one of the most competitive. You must have a strong application in order to be competitive. I was awarded a Fulbright ETA to Belarus for the 2019-2020 academic year. I loved it! I’m sharing my Fulbright ETA application tips so you can have a similar amazing experience.
When you sign up for my email list, you’ll have access to my successful Statement of Grant Purpose. It’ll be helpful to see how my Fulbright ETA application tips below translated into a final product. Sign up below!
1. Dig Deep Into Your Past Experiences
Start building your resume. Initially, mine was in a bullet-point format.
Write down every single thing you’ve done, accomplished, and experienced during college. It doesn’t matter if it directly relates to teaching or not. Fulbright wants well-rounded assistant teachers, so your unique experiences might actually make you more competitive. Plus, you can almost always find a relationship between your non-teaching experiences to teaching.
Don’t worry about your high school resume. Unless the high school experience 110% relates to your application and distinguishes you from the thousands of other applicants, then don’t worry about it.
The drafting process took me a month. None of my information was conveniently stored in one spot. I had to scroll through all my social media to find announcements. My parents and I went through my physical awards. Whenever random experiences came up in conversation, I wrote them down in a notepad.
Try to think of everything, no matter how big or small!
2. Pick A Country the Right Way
First, make a list of all the countries you could potentially see yourself living in. Check if you meet the requirements. Some countries have language requirements you might not meet.
Second, think about your connection to that country. Your essays will have to convince the Fulbright program, as well as that other country’s government, that there is no other place in the world you should be that year. Is there a compelling reason or connection you have to that country?
In the first step, I had narrowed my country options down to Kazakhstan and Belarus. I wanted to live in a post-Soviet country that still predominantly spoke Russian in order to expand my knowledge of the post-Soviet world and continue learning Russian. Those “filters” narrowed it down quickly for me!
P.S. I had already studied abroad in Russia and I wanted to go somewhere new.
For a solid month, I followed local news of both countries, learned more about their histories, and asked people about those countries. Facebook groups are a great way to get local insight!
Eventually, I chose to apply for Belarus because I thought I had a greater connection with Belarus. I would’ve happily been in either country for the year, so it came down to which country I could better sell to Fulbright.
Fulbright ETA Application Tip: Should You Bother with the Statistics?
Many applicants will look at the statistics page to see which countries give them the greatest statistical chance of being awarded a fellowship.
This may have some truth. Your chances are very low for countries such as Spain, Germany, or Malaysia, where nearly a thousand people apply annually for less than a hundred spots.
Applicants to Spain had a 23% chance of being accepted in my application year! Comparatively, I had a 66% chance of being awarded to Belarus.
However, applying for a country with low statistics isn’t the secret to a Fulbright award.
There were four ETAs to Belarus the year I went. One girl and I had applied directly to Belarus. The other two were on the waitlist for Russia!
We don’t know what happened to the other four applicants to Belarus, but they didn’t show up on arrival day.
The point is, you need a connection to your country and a strong argument as to why you need to be there. Statistics might help you break a tie between countries you’re considering applying to, but statistics won’t guarantee your application acceptance.
3. Answer All the QUestions
Fulbright dedicated a section of their website to help you write your application. They ask various questions to help you think through your essays. Brainstorm answers to each of the questions one-by-one. Refer to the resume you built from tip #1 to add stories and experiences that might add concrete details to your answers.
For example, one of the questions for the Statement of Grant Purpose asks, “why are you applying to this country?”
As I mentioned earlier, I chose Belarus because I wanted to be in a Russian-speaking country that wasn’t Russia. This is not a strong selling point, though.
In my further research from point #2, I had learned about Belarus’ education system and national parks. I talked to a friend, who shared insight into Belarus’ WWII history. These are all aspects of Belarusian culture that attracted me to the country.
Those are the details you need to add for an evidently vibrant connection between the host country and you.
Then, relate those reasons to your experiences. Here’s an example from my essay:
- Belarus’ education system- I have studied in various education systems around the world, such as when I studied abroad in Germany.
- National parks- I enjoy nature photography, hiking, conservation, and the outdoors.
- WWII history- I studied WWII history in three countries (USA, Germany, Russia) but never heard about Belarus’ role. My Belarusian friend shared some of Belarus’ story and I realized I needed to understand their country’s role to really understand WWII.
Not everything you mention will end up in the final essay. That’s okay. You’re still brainstorming. Write down as much as you possibly can to help you in the next step.
This process also took me about a month because I returned to the questions several times after realizing one experience related to multiple questions.
Bonus Tip: These questions should also be obviously answered in your essays, but in concise responses. When you join my email list, you’ll have access to my winning Statement of Grant Purpose. You can see the transformation of these draft notes into the final product and what I mean by concise, yet obvious, responses.
4. Find Your Story
Your essays should tell the story of your personal connection to that country and convince the panelists that there is nowhere else you should be.
To do this, look at your draft from tip #3 and find connections throughout all or most of the questions. No aspect of the story you present should stand alone. Everything should connect.
When you read a book, every event relates to a past event or helps prepare the story for a future event.
The same should happen in your essays.
Every story you tell should tie to the other stories in your essay, while also reaffirming in the panelists’ minds that you’re the perfect candidate.
Anyone who reads your application should be able to list all the reasons you provided as to why you should teach in that country.
To find the connections in your story, look for particular experiences or interests that appear several times in questions throughout both essays.
Sometimes an experience seems insignificant to us, but it actually ties together our story more. I was shocked that being a horse camp counselor fit into my story so well, but it ended up making my essays a lot stronger.
In case you’re wondering, the country or language cannot be the interest or experience alone. You must add details and a story to make that work.
Saying you’ve already visited that country or studied that language doesn’t make your application stronger. In fact, it could make it weaker! I’ve heard the Fulbright program tries to award people who don’t have a lot of travel experience to give them the opportunity to travel.
I’ve traveled significantly, yet was awarded a Fulbright. How?
I demonstrated to the panelists in my application why they should care I have traveled a lot and why that would make me a better teacher.
Ultimately, they want to award Americans who they think will be amazing teachers and contribute to their host communities.
If you want to write about your experience in that country, you must also explain why your experience in that country is important. Did you learn something about yourself? Did it introduce you to a part of the history you’re now obsessed with? Why should the panelists care that you’ve visited that country?
This is probably the most important tip out of the Fulbright ETA application tips, so don’t worry about spending a lot of time on this step!
5. Think of the Essays As One
The panelists should be able to pick up either essay in any order and make sense of your story.
The individual essays should be powerful enough to stand-alone. They should have a strong introduction and conclusion.
However, the two essays are somewhat a continuation of one another.
This means you might occasionally have to reexplain something, but make it quick the second time.
When you read my Statement of Grant Purpose, you’ll notice I say, “As a former Rotary exchange student in Germany…”
The true introduction to my German study abroad experience was in my Personal Statement essay. I needed to reference it again in my Statement of Grant Purpose to tell my personal story as a learner. So, I quickly reintroduced my study abroad experience instead of assuming the reader had already read the other essay.
Also, ensure every single word in your essay matters.
Those eight words clarify how I learned all the things I later described. It’s also an intriguing statement because Rotary is a world-renowned nonprofit. By mentioning Rotary, I’m giving myself some authority, but without bragging.
6. Show Your Personality
Although this is a serious fellowship and your essays need to be professional, try to simultaneously express yourself and show your unique personality.
Here’s a quote from my Personal Statement:
I arrived in my new home with a few German phrases in my back pocket, too much luggage, and the willpower to learn the unknown. Without the comforts of home or my parents by my side, I learned a new language, developed friendships around the world, and learned how to pack more efficiently.~ Me
These couple of sentences are powerful for a few reasons:
- Overpacking is funny, eye roll-worthy, and relatable.
- I recognized a personal weakness, and also showed I had learned from it.
- This was in my opening paragraph because it shows off my light-hearted personality, while also demonstrating my experience as a language-learner (which I later argue would make me a better language teacher).
As you can see in my example, showing off your personality shouldn’t feel forced or take over your essay. A few expressions of your personality scattered throughout your essays will demonstrate to the panelists that you’re not a robot.
Be careful, though. While my expression of personality seems natural in my essays, it took a lot of revision to get to that point. It certainly wasn’t a natural process!
You have limited word count for these essays, so every single word must matter and move your argument forward (the argument being, you’re the best person for the job and there’s no other time but now that you should do it and no other place but your chosen country to teach).
7. Take Ownership
This is particularly a problem for women.
Women struggle to own their accomplishments.
When we’re complimented, we shrug it off, blush, and say it was a team effort.
Your Fulbright application is not the time to be overly humble. Take ownership of your accomplishments!
Do not say the words “we” or “team” at any point in your essay because they’re probably attached to a sentence that’s not 100% taking ownership of your accomplishments.
You are brilliant and awesome. Own that!
If you struggle to do that, I suggest watching this Ted Talk by fellow travel blogger Gabby Beckford about delusional confidence.
Always remember: You are worthy of the Fulbright fellowship.
Any Other Fulbright ETA Application Tips?
This post was a real throwback to a stressful summer spent on my laptop writing and revising for hours!
If that’s you right now, take a deep breath. Everything will be okay.
Give your essays your best shot. Don’t overthink it too much. Consistently work on it daily or every other day. Revise a lot of times.
Although I can’t give you individualized advice for your specific application (I’d have to have known you for years!), I hope these Fulbright ETA application tips did help you think of a starting point and where to focus your time and energy.
If you do have any other questions about these Fulbright ETA application tips, or the Fulbright program in general, leave them in the comments below! I guarantee you’re not the only one who has the question.
Good luck on your application! Please let me know if you are awarded the fellowship.