President Harry Truman signs the Fulbright Program into law. Standing by (at center) is the bill's sponsor, Senator J. William Fulbright.
A Historic Legacy
The Fulbright Program was established by the United States Congress following World War II to 'enable the government of the United States to increase mutual understanding between the people of the United States and the people of other countries.' That tradition continues today with study opportunities available in more than 140 foreign nations.
The Fulbright Program offers a number of different opportunities, but most are full grants offered within academic fields and in writing and the creative and performing arts. Students generally receive awards to study or perform research in another country for one academic year. Typically, recipients of awards will have designed their own academic programs that may include university coursework, independent research and professional training.
To date, more than 47,000 U.S. students have taken advantage of Fullbright grants to further their education in foreign lands. Economist Joseph Stiglitz, singer Renee Fleming and composer Philip Glass are only a few of the notable figures to have participated in international exchanges through the program. Highly coveted by people of all academic disciplines, a Fulbright award is among the most prestigious honors a student can earn.
Applying for Fulbright Grants
So are you eligible to become a 'Fulbrighter'? Many award recipients are college seniors and recent bachelor's degree grads proposing projects at foreign institutions. Master's and doctoral candidates may conduct independent research abroad. Young professionals and artists can also apply, with experience in a given field or craft sufficing in lieu of an academic degree.
As mentioned above, the Fulbright application process can be quite competitive. Individuals who win awards typically prepare their applications well in advance and with great care. If you are affiliated with a university, you'll want to work with an academic adviser or mentor to prepare your application. It's important to at the very least communicate with the campus Fulbright Program Adviser about deadlines for submitting applications.
If you're applying for Fulbright grant, you must complete a Statement of Grant Purpose - a document of no more than two, single-spaced pages - that outlines the project you want to undertake and why it's worthy of consideration. It is in crafting this component of your application that an adviser can be especially helpful, particularly if the person is knowledgeable about the Fulbright and has background information about the country in which you hope to study.
Advisers can be also helpful in identifying a host institution with which you can be affiliated. All Fulbright applicants must be affiliated with a foreign institution - the most competitive candidates have documented invitations from universities in their application materials. An adviser can also be a sounding board for your personal statement, an application requirement consisting of no more than one single-spaced page.
In addition to preparing materials about your academic aspirations, you will be required to obtain letters of reference from individuals familiar with your academic work. Out of courtesy, it's important to request these letters well in advance of application deadlines. Depending on the country in which you plan to study, a foreign language evaluation may also be required.
The bottom line about the Fulbright application process: It is very competitive and requires thoughtful preparation on the part of candidates. The official website of the Fulbright Program states that students should begin applications at least two months before the application deadline; that recommendation, though, is provided with the additional advice that students begin as soon as possible.
Learn more about applying for Fulbright awards at the official Fulbright program website.