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Alumnae reflect on the value of applying for fellowships

I first knew about the Fulbright as a first year: A senior in my house had just gotten back from a year of JYA in Spain and was longing for a way to go back. From the application through the acceptance, she encouraged me to keep the Fulbright in the back of my head when I went JYA. With that in mind, after a few months of JYA in Budapest, Hungary, I knew I wanted to go back there on the Fulbright. So in the spring before I returned to the States, I made sure I had in hand a completed foreign language evaluation form, a letter of sponsorship, and a general research proposal idea. While I had been successful in my Boren application, the Fulbright seemed completely foreign to me. With his no non-sense attitude, Don Andrew really helped the application process much more navigable. Three lessons really stood out from those couple months of labor:

First, Don had invited Greg White from the government department to lead an information session on the mechanics of writing an application. It was at that meeting that I learned the importance of presentation. When reviewers have to read as many applications as they have to, it always helps to have a proposal well-organized into three distinct sections: objective, rationale, and methodology. While such formats may not be the prettiest in prose, it does, however, communicate quickly and efficiently to the reviewers (1) what is the objective of your research; (2) why your research is important; and (3) how you expect to do your research. Such formats also force you (as the applicant) to be clear in each sub-section. By no means is this format Fulbright-specific. I have used this template as well for grant applications in both the non-profit sector and in graduate school–and have done relatively well.

Second, Don had gotten several faculty members across different disciplines to work with me on the proposal. While I knew I wanted to do something on the European Union, I wasn't quite sure what exactly. I juggled back and forth between several ideas. From my countless meetings with Don and four faculty members, I came to realize that it wasn't enough just to have a good idea. The good idea had to be pitched well. You have to keep in mind who is your audience and who is competition. I knew the State Department and the Fulbright Commission in Hungary would be less interested in funding a project that was considered taboo; I also knew my probability of getting the Fulbright would decrease if my application proposal was viewed as "another one on [insert topic]." At the end of the day, I proposed to examine Hungary's agriculture sector vis-à-vis the country's membership in the European Union–and was even able to make an argument why it mattered for American interests!

Third, the Fulbright application is due almost twelve months before your expected departure date. Twelve months is a long time to improve your qualifications and credentials. Classes that you take your senior year, the honors thesis that you will frantically work on in the spring, and even the summer after you graduate are all opportunities that you can use to your advantage to strengthen your application. I continued with Hungarian language study through the Five College Independent Language Program both semesters of my senior year; I focused on another regional organization's (NATO) impact in Eastern Europe for my honors thesis; and I supplemented my weak economics training by taking two classes during the summer at Tufts.

I know the success of my Fulbright application would not have happened without the tireless efforts of Don Andrew and the various faculty members. I was very touched–and still am–by their faith in my application. While faculty wisdom and guidance matters, an application can only happen with the student's initiative. I was very fortunate that I had an early start. Having said that, I encourage those of you about to depart for lands unknown (or are already in a land unknown) to start your application process early. The proposal and the personal statement will take many, many revisions (I wrote eight drafts at the end). And for those of you who have just come back from JYA and are looking to go back, Fulbright is your ticket! Good luck!

- 2002 Graduate


I have been really proud of Smith's participation in fellowships and in study abroad since I graduated. I think my year in West Africa was a pivotal time for me and helped me shape my own career goals and interests in a way that I could not have foreseen when I stepped off the runway in Dakar. I also think that applying for fellowships is a good process regardless of the outcome because it forces you to think about your goals in a more strategic manner because you have to ask yourself "So what is it I am getting at? What am I trying to do?"

When I was applying for these fellowships and even for graduate school in public policy, no-one at Smith knew about some of these programs (Pickering and IIPP) or they were fairly new (NSEP), even though these are pretty sizable awards. Also one thing to keep in mind for programs that have graduate studies in public policy attached to them is that faculty are more in touch with traditional disciplines like political science and economics. All those econ, government, sociology, etc. students need to know that there is more out there than business and law school.

- 2000 Graduate