How to win a Fulbright: Student edition
GC mass communication alumna Janileyah Thompson is a finalist for the Fulbright English teaching assistantship in
Thompson will leave for South Korea on July 6 to teach English and American culture to students for 13 months.
James Schiffman, a professor of mass communication and former teacher of Thompson’s, said he believes that she will thrive there.
“It’s the perfect place for her to be and for her to go,” Schiffman said. “I couldn’t be happier about someone getting a Fulbright.”
The Fulbright Student Program has awarded approximately 1,900 grants annually in over 160 countries worldwide since its creation in 1946.
Step 1: Contact Anna Whiteside, GC’s national scholarships and fellowships coordinator.
Because there are so many scholarships and fellowships to apply for and many steps to complete for each one, the best place to start is contacting Anna Whiteside for guidance.
“The awards are very complex,” Whiteside said. “Looking at the Fulbright website, it is easy to get lost and overwhelmed. So that is a big part of what I do: help students take it apart, so they know what they are applying for.”
Thompson went to Whiteside after she had studied abroad in South Korea to find out how she could go back there, so Whiteside introduced her to this program.
“Anna Whiteside had previously spoken to me about applying, so with that in mind, it just seemed like an obvious thing to apply for,” Thompson said.
Step 2: Decide if you want to research and study or teach English.
For some students, like Thompson, this part of the process is a breeze because they already have a country in mind.
“Since I was in high school, my goal has always been to graduate early and go teach in South Korea, but my internship pretty much cemented for me that I could live there for a year or possibly more and be fine,” Thompson said.
For the students who aren’t so sure, though, Whiteside can help them decide if they want to either study and complete a research project or teach English as a second language.
“It really depends on what you’re wanting to get out of it and what your interests are,” Whiteside said. “They offer a lot of great opportunities, so it’s a good idea for those students to come and talk with me. Sometimes it’s easy, and sometimes it takes a little thought.”
Step 3: Decide what country to go to.
After the applicant decides if they would rather research or teach, they need to decide what country they should go to. Some applicants, like Thompson, have already made up their mind.
“It was actually a high school assignment to watch a Korean soap opera that brought the country to my awareness,” Thompson explained. “I loved how different their culture was from anything I’d learned about prior. From then on, I started teaching myself Korean and doing anything I could to get there one day, which culminated in my internship and now teaching there as a Fulbright recipient.”
However, if the applicant hasn’t already selected a country, Whiteside said they should seek counsel from the faculty in their department to help them narrow it down.
“I usually tell them to work with their faculty because they are really internationally connected,” Whiteside said. “Our faculty will often have a colleague in another country who is doing a research project related to what the student will be interested in, so they can set them up with their fellow researcher.
Step 4: Complete your application.
Because the Fulbright application is quite long, it must be started as soon as possible if the candidate wants it to be flawless.
“The application is very lengthy, but it is a great award for people to apply to,” said Whiteside. “The application involves a personal statement and a statement of grant purpose, where they talk about what they will do. If it is research, they outline their research project and what they are studying, and if it is teaching, they talk about what sorts of things they want to do in the classroom. Plus, some countries have a foreign language evaluation that is required.”
Since Thompson was exempt from the foreign language evaluation, she could focus on making sure her application was perfect through intensely editing her essays.
“My time was spent mostly revising essays and gathering letters of recommendation,” Thompson said.
Students are encouraged to bring their applications to Whiteside and other GC faculty to help them review and revise it.
“We have people on campus who are willing to help these applicants and give them feedback,” Whiteside said. “So, by the time they turn it in, in October, ideally lots of people will have seen it, and it’s looking really good.
Step 5: Send in your application.
Before you send in your application to Fulbright, you must first send it to GC’s National Scholarships Office at least one month before Fulbright’s deadline.
“This year’s application deadline is Oct. 9, but the school deadline is one month before Fulbright deadline because Fulbright requires us to do interviews with all students who are applying,” Whiteside said.
After the candidates send in their applications, they must wait until January to find out if they are a semi-finalist.
Fulbright then announces finalists sometime between March and May.
“I’d say that it takes determination, persistence and passion with an additive of believing in yourself and your abilities,” Thompson said. “It’s a very competitive national program, and if you’re doubting yourself from the start, then you’ve already shot yourself in the foot.”
If any graduated or graduating students are interested in applying for this position, Whiteside encourages them to visit her office.
“If anyone thinks they are interested in this, come talk to me,” Whiteside said. “I am a 12-month employee, so you can definitely shoot me an email or give me a phone call. Summers are a great time to work on these applications.”