Advice for Potential UK Fulbright Applicants

I’ve had a few emails from people thinking of applying to the Postgraduate Fulbright Scholarship currently sponsoring my PhD here at the University of Missouri. I can’t recommend the organisation enough and would strongly encourage people to check it out and apply if you are even remotely interested in studying in America.
A few people have also asked for advice on the application process so I thought I would put here the sort of information I have passed on to them so others can also see it. But first, a warning: the system is changing quite dramatically this year. Whereas I applied for Fulbright and then they helped organise my applications to the US universities, from Sept 2012 new applicants will simultaneously apply for Fulbright *and* to US universities – i.e. you will have to independently do both sets of applications on your own.
Secondly, this advice is just my personal experience & ideas. I don’t have any particular insight into the application process, I’m not sitting on any interview panels, but these are things that helped me write my application, and they made the interview and going-away process somewhat less gruelling.  

  • Know why you want to go to the US – There are many reasons why people will want to study in the US; it could be to do with research opportunities, an extra-curricular opportunity you can’t get here, or an experience you wish to have that’s different to what UK universities offer. Just be ready to explain what it is.
  • Be clear on the benefit your scholarly activities will have for the UK – One condition of a Fulbright scholarship is the ‘2-year home rule’ meaning you must come back to the UK for a minimum two years after your programme ends before you can get another long-term visa for the US.  It is therefore worth being clear about what you will bring back to the UK, after all if Fulbright have invested in you they are expecting to see something good come from it in the future!
  • Show that you have ambassadorial qualities – An excellent explanation of this is given by Alistair Heffernan of the current Fulbright cohort.  All Fulbrighters I have met (from all across the world) exude a personality of curiosity, excitement and some form of ‘leadership’ whether scholarly or in another field (e.g. entrepreneurial). This personality has generally led to people taking part in several experiences: leading marathons, starting businesses, making inventions, solving health problems, etc. How you demonstrate this in your application and interview is down to you but it does seem to be a common factor and something you need to consider carefully. If you don’t feel you currently have enough evidence of these qualities I would consider giving yourself an extra year to apply.  Which neatly leads me to the next point…..
  • Give yourself time to complete the applications properly – The old Fulbright process was approximately 16 months long from application to leaving for the States. The new process looks shorter but given that you are now responsible for doing your US applications too you must start planning EARLY. This is particularly important if your move will involve a significant other, giving notice in your own job, etc.  I would recommend starting thinking about the application process at least six months before the application deadlines in the Autumn.  Some people will think this ludicrous and if you’re 21, straight out of uni with no responsibilities and you like to do everything last minute, then that’s fine. For everyone else – take six months at least and if there’s not enough time seriously consider waiting another year before you apply. This will give you time to shortlist appropriate universities, get your references and transcripts together, create statements for your applications, etc. It will also help the most annoying part of the process, the GRE.
  • Start revising for the GRE now  – GRE exams are required for entry onto most courses (and *all* courses in the field of Education).  They’re a bit like an English & Maths GCSE which doesn’t sound too difficult except it’s probably a while since you took those GCSEs and Americans do both differently. The Maths was particularly bizarre as they used square roots in calculations in a way I was *never* taught at school. So start revising pronto.  The Barons book is reasonably expensive but it’s useful and you can also download free online materials from the GRE website.
  • Book the GRE well in advance – Not only must you revise for the GRE but you must take it at an approved centre, it is four hours long and there is limited availability on weekends.  For someone – like me – who worked full-time in a job, and couldn’t easily take time off, the only slot I could get was four days from when I first looked. In the whole 8-week window I had left open that was the only weekend date I could get.  Don’t leave yourself with only 4 days revision time; book early.
  • Think very very carefully about where you want to be located.  If you can, visit in advance.  When applying for universities it can be easy to become excited by celebrity professors or research opportunities. As academic geeks this is natural and to be expected. But if your dream tutor works at a university in the middle of the desert are you prepared to deal with 100+ degrees for 4 months of the year?  If they are in a rural area and you hanker for the city lights, how will you cope?  And if your answer to both these is that you will go for one of the safe options – a nice Eastern city like Boston or New York – bear in mind that everyone else has had the same idea so the rental prices are often sky-high.  New York may be awesome fun, but can you afford it on what may be a reasonably limited scholarship?  If you’re doing a 1-year Masters then paying $1,200 a month for a Manhattan studio might be reasonable. If (like me) you’re staying for up to five years then a $600 massive house in a rural town is probably more do-able.
  • Think about your partner – Married partners are allowed to take their spouse, though there are some restrictions on work authorization in the few first months.  Cohabiting partners can also be brought over but the work regulations are even tougher in this case.  If the person you are with does not want to come out to the States be aware that you (the Fulbrighter) are only allowed out for a set number of days each year, and they will only be allowed 90 days visitation per year so you may need to think carefully about the way that will work. Many people who start the Fulbright application process don’t have partners and then by a year later, when they are leaving, they do. Just keep this advice in mind in order to avoid heartbreak
  • Finally, DO IT. So far I have found the whole Fulbright experience thrilling. The orientation day in London, moving out here, meeting Fulbrighters from across the world through the local Fulbright organizations; everything.  If you are curious and want to learn from another culture and some of the most incredible researchers, this is definitely one of the best ways to do it.

If you still have any questions feel free to write in the comments below or contact me using the details in the “About Me” page.  NOW GO APPLY!
My move to America has been made possible by the help and generosity of the US-UK Fulbright Commission, to whom I am extremely grateful. This is not an official US Department of State blog. The views and information presented here are my own and do not represent the Fulbright Programme or the US Department of State
Related Posts:
Meditating in Missouri
Surprises in the States

Surprises in the States

Things I Thought Would Bother Me About America, But Don’t:

  • Driving on the right
  • Guns
  • Republicans
  • The Food
  • The Peppiness
  • The Accent
  • Being asked if I know the Queen. Or Prince William. Or the Beatles.

Things I Didn’t Know Would Bother Me About America, But Do:

  • Fraternities & sororities
  • 15 year-olds driving SUVs
  • Drink-driving
  • FedEx
  • Walmart Food
  • The obsession with getting an ‘A’ in everything
  • Spider egg sacs

Meditating in Missouri

“Breathe in deeply…..then, breathe out….Breathe in! Breathe out……”
I have been in town for seven minutes. Unceremoniously dumped at the back of the campus I legged it to the student centre and managed to slide into the last available seat at the Sponsored Students Orientation seconds before it began. Somehow, we are now meditating.
“Imagine all the people you love at home. Go on, just…. imagine their faces. Put them clearly in your mind next to your home, maybe your town, and all the places you like to be”
What is this man trying to do to me?  I left home less than 24 hours ago and the leaving pains are raw.  Mum often explains how on my first day at school I ran inside without looking back while other children clung to their parent’s legs. Times have changed; I wasn’t clutching her leg when I left, but I might have done if no-one had been looking.
Luckily I’m not completely alone. Somewhere in the town my husband is trying to park an SUV (he’s usually a Ka driver) and move our many over-sized suitcases into a new apartment.  But I’m also aware that a quarter of the world away are all the people we love and hold dear, along with our beloved Stratford town, and the teaching job I left behind. Bringing them to mind is not helping with letting them go.
“Now I want you to imagine all those people and places melting away. See them fading away and becoming smaller.”
He’s killing me. I think my heart might explode.
“And in their place is Missouri. This beautiful campus, its fabulous people, this…family. We’re all here for you.”
All I’ve seen is a back staircase and a boy on a skateboard. It’s not exactly a fair trade.
“As you breathe in one last time I want you to think about the message you are bringing from your home nation. Think about what it means to you, what it means to the people at home, and as you breathe out I want you to breathe that message into our community and into our family.”
Dammit. I can’t think of anything. My mind is entirely blank.
Becoming a Fulbright scholar involves explaining very clearly why you will be a great ambassador for your country. I’ve spent hours writing statements about my messages, convincing people that I have the leadership qualities necessary to imbue this message on host nations and now, though I feel the weight of expectation bearing down like Atlas’ globe, I am suddenly like a psychic with stage fright: No messages are getting through.
Thankfully, we stop meditating and I hear some news that perks me up even though it’s not ‘good’.  More than 75% of the students at the University of Missouri are from within the state, and only approximately 5% hold passports (“Though even then that’s mostly to visit Cancun” quips the Director).  Of the 33,000 students here, less than 1% are from overseas.  The consequence of this becomes apparent in my first class on the History of US Education, when we are each invited to talk about our own schooling. The first half of the room have been entirely educated in Missouri. They are baffled when I begin describing my education. Bafflement turns to incredulity when explaining that most people at our school left at 16 and this becomes open-mouthed amazement at the idea that less than 20% went to university. But the thing that seems to shock most? The fact that I wore a tie to school. Uniforms are fairly rare in the US anyway, but the idea that a British girl would need to wear a tie throughout her education seemed genuinely brain-splattering.
That’s when I realised that whatever my intended “messages” were, the ones with the most importance will probably be entirely accidental. Fulbright’s purpose is to facilitate mutual cultural understanding and much of that true understanding is in the small things, in realising that someone’s background can be different in ways you didn’t even know possible – especially if you’ve lived all your life in one place surrounded by people who have never lived anywhere else either. In that same class I heard from a Taiwanese student, who described his experiences of nightly cram schools; I learned about the one-room schoolhouses that littered America and I thought carefully about why it is that in Britain we have traditionally segregated boys and girls, whereas US schools have segregated blacks and whites, and I pondered why it is that the UK still finds our form of segregation acceptable when the US quite clearly does not.
I left class a lot happier than after the meditation. Turns out the messages will come of their own accord, just so long as I keep breathing in and out.
My move to America has been made possible by the help and generosity of the US-UK Fulbright Commission, to whom I am extremely grateful. This is not an official US Department of State blog. The views and information presented here are my own and do not represent the Fulbright Programme or the US Department of State.