A Fulbright Failure: The Mistakes of My Application

There is another program that provides student visas with which individuals can teach English abroad that I haven’t mentioned yet: the Fulbright English Teaching Assistant (ETA) program. Applications are due right around now for the upcoming year, so if you’re interested you should start working now for the next application cycle (2018-2019).

(Fulbright also has another program in which individuals apply to do specific research at institutions all around the world, and my best friend Meera is currently blogging her way through one of these Study/Research Grants. Check out her blog for more information on that program and her tips for applying.)

The Fulbright programs are very prestigious with a very small admission percentage, though these vary by country. However, I decided to try my luck and apply to teach English in Andorra, a small country sandwiched between Spain and France. I figured that it couldn’t hurt my chances to apply for this in conjunction with the auxiliares program. However, as evidenced by my blog, it is the latter in which I am participating. I applied for the Fulbright and was recommended by my campus committee for continuation to evaluation by the national committee where I was unfortunately not selected. However, the process was definitely informative and I hope any of you readers looking to apply can learn from the mistakes I believe I made in my admission program. Also, who knows? I may decide to apply later on.

Below are listed the reasons I believe my application was not selected by the national committee:

  1. Didn’t start early enough– While the application deadline are listed on the Fulbright website, if you are in a university you are required to apply through your university. This means that they usually have their own earlier set of deadlines. At ASU, these were about a month earlier. Now, this doesn’t mean I blame ASU’s deadlines, but I didn’t have as much time as I thought I did to put together a good application. My friend put in dozens of hours on her application and had ample time to do so because she started much earlier than I did. I recommend starting as early as possible- a year out is standard. Check with your university’s office that handles Fulbright applications and work with the advisors as early as possible. It’s difficult to write in two pages a thorough and impressive explanation of who you are, where you want to go, why you want to go there, what you want to do there, what’s led you to this point, what you’ll bring to the classroom and what you’ll be like in the classroom. The program hasn’t attained its level of prestige by being easy and thus you should put the maximum amount of time and thought into your essays.
  2. Didn’t prioritize- I was also working while I was putting together my application. In contrast, my friend’s job essentially was working on her application. I think I should have made my essays more of a priority than they were. I was busy trying to work on my application, work on my thesis, go to my job, and do school. However, looking back has shown me that I could have definitely rearranged my time better to further develop my essays.
  3. Not seeking enough feedback- This goes along with not having begun the application early enough. ASU has an office dedicated to scholarship advisement and I should have sought the help of this office sooner in my application. I also should have taken the time way before applications were due to solicit advice from professors of mine in the TESOL department.
  4. Unspecific country selection- Part of the application process is selecting a country in which you want to teach and providing in your Statement of Grant Purpose a rich, concise reason for your selection. I chose Andorra because I am interested in multilingualism, and thought this would be interesting to learn more about in a country with three official languages. However, this mere interest did not get me far enough. As one of my professors put it: “Don’t just say you’re passionate about something. That doesn’t tell me anything.” Mere interest for an idea is not sufficient- I needed to have put more thought, justification and decision put into my country selection process that would fuel my academic drive while abroad that I could show in my application. Select a country for which you can mount an impressive explanation of your interest and what you will do to act upon these interests and use them to strengthen your position in a host country as a representative of the culture of the United States. Do not just select a country because it sounds interesting.
  5. Lack of experience -> Underdeveloped specifics- Because I applied for the program while in my senior year of college, I hadn’t had any classroom teaching experience. While I completed an internship with an ESL program, this did not include me acting as a classroom teacher. This meant that my explanation of my classroom pedagogy was limited to only what I’d decided worked from my classes and textbooks on Second Language Acquisition (SLA). I therefore couldn’t be as specific as I would have liked to have been in discussing what I would have been like as a teacher because I didn’t know. There is only so much you can decide from reading pedagogical theories about teaching and not actually been at the front of a classroom. My application hinged too much on can, will, should than on what I had actually accomplished, thought and had done.

Hopefully, with more experience I will have the opportunity to improve upon my weaknesses and provide a stronger application if I choose to apply again.

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