Most people think that you need to be a 4.0 student to get a Fulbright. Not true. You don’t even have to be a student! (I was neither.) You just need to be passionate enough about 1) researching your cause and 2) being an ambassador for America to convince the Fulbright committee that 1) you are worth funding and 2) will make good use of your time abroad. In hopes of encouraging a more diverse group of people to apply, I offer up my top 10 tips for potential applicants. I only have a sample size of one, so take them with a grain of salt.
1) Pick a topic of great interest to both the US and Host governments.
-Grant writing 101: You are asking these governments for money. Pick something that they care about.
-I chose “The effect of Globalization on the Italian Textile and Fashion Industries.” Italy’s family textile businesses are getting decimated by low-cost, Asian imports. The Italian government wants to know how to make those businesses more competitive. Guess who else is worried about low-cost, Asian imports? You got it, Uncle Sam.
2) Pick a relevant and timely topic.
-It’s better work on something new and exciting than to pick a topic that’s been beaten to death.
-“Globalization” was about as hot as it gets in 2006. Another girl in my class studied “the Slow Food Movement.” The Italian Fulbright committee was basically asking for her autograph.
3) Pick a topic that is personally relevant.
-You need to convince the admissions committee that you are PASSIONATE about whatever it is you propose to study, be it textiles or sea snails. Since there are no deliverables attached to the funding, the committee needs to know that you are going to follow through on your work.
-I talked about seeing Italian textiles manufactured first hand by a family business while I studied abroad in Siena back in college. I also showed my commitment to the garment industry by working an internship at Dolce & Gabbana.
4) Pick a topic that leverages your unique skills.
-Are the skills you have particularly relevant for the task on which you propose to work? They should be.
-I studied industrial and competitive dynamics 80hrs a week for two years straight on Wall Street.
5) Bring skills that aren’t available in the host country.
-Similar to #4, except that not only are you qualified for the job at hand, no one else in the host country can tackle the problem.
-Italy doesn’t have a crazy culture of excessive work, so there are very few people there that have spent 80hrs a week trying to understand why some companies succeed and others fail.
6) Bring back unique skills that benefit the US.
-Uncle Sam is footing at least half the bill for you trip, so make sure he is getting something out of the deal (in addition to all of the good will you are going to create!)
-As mentioned in #1, I brought back a better understanding of how small and medium sized businesses can compete with low cost foreign competition. I’m putting it into practice right now by starting my own business.
7) Secure as many solid affiliations as possible.
-Nine months is NOT a lot of time to produce anything meaningful, especially when you are air dropped into a foreign culture/language you may know nothing about and may not function “efficiently” in the first place. Fulbright wants to know what you are going to hit the ground running. To do so you are going to need some support/infrastructure.
-Most people have some connections from their current university or with their professors from study abroad. I didn’t have either so I just cold emailed over 75 professors at business schools all over Italy. I included examples of my work and offered to work on their projects for free. I ended up with my own office (and wonderful secretary) in the best business school in the country.
8) Use every possible question, no matter how small, to convey the value you will bring. Every word counts.
-This is obvious.
-I think I wrote entire paragraphs in one line spaces.
9) Read everything on the website and talk to past grantees.
-You can learn a lot by looking at who has gotten grants for what in the past. Talking to past grantees will give you an idea of what to expect.
-I definitely got help from my buddy who was a Fulbright.
10) Stick it out.
-The application process can be boring and tedious and easy to blow off. Don’t blow it off. It’s worth it. You’ll thank me later. I promise.