What to do while waiting for the Fulbright

Submitting your application is just the beginning of a long process. After the October application deadline, you may wait as long as six months for a final acceptance or rejection. If selected for the Fulbright, your departure date can be more than a year after you submitted the application.

The wait can be painful, and it may be difficult to make life decisions during the waiting period. We’ve heard questions and concerns from people in the waiting zone; here are our recommendations:

Deciding between grad school and the Fulbright

Many people apply to graduate school and Fulbright at the same time. Some of you will have to choose between the Fulbright and graduate school. Often the timeline of accepting one of your offers can conflict. If the grad program requires an acceptance before you know if you are a finalist for the Fulbright, ask the grad program for an extension. Also ask them what their policy is on deferring for a year.

If your graduate program does not allow deferral, consider the following:

  • The Fulbright can be a once-in-a-lifetime experience. It might even change your trajectory for what you want to study in graduate school. If you decline graduate school, you can always reapply and you will likely be a stronger candidate next time.

  • If you plan on going into teaching or international education, the English Teaching Assistant (ETA) award is great on-the-ground experience prior to graduate school. If you plan on doing any type of research while in graduate school, however, you may want to decline the ETA and consider applying for a Fulbright research award during or after grad school. If you accept the ETA and later want to do international research, you will be a “non-preferred” candidate for the Fulbright Research Award for the next three cycles. Having a research/study Fulbright while on a Masters (or immediately after one) could be more beneficial to your career and work later rather than an ETA now.

  • Getting full funding for a graduate program is often less obtainable than a Fulbright. If you decide on graduate school, you can always re-apply to the Fulbright and will likely be a stronger candidate.

Working while waiting to hear from Fulbright

If you get a new job while waiting to hear back from the Fulbright, it can be difficult to leave after a short period. If you choose to leave your job for a Fulbright, most companies will be understanding. You can make the transition easier on your company. As soon as you know you are a finalist, start writing a transition guide with clear notes for your successor. Give your company plenty of notice (about a month or two) so they can make a hiring plan.

Prepare for the Fulbright

While you are waiting, you can get better prepared for starting a Fulbright. You can study your target language to strengthen your skills. You can take classes (online ones if you are not currently enrolled) on research methods or your area of study, and read books, magazines, or blogs about your host country. That way you can hit the ground running when you start the Fulbright.

Continue with your life goals and stay engaged

A Fulbright is never guaranteed. Keep living your life and don’t put your goals on hold while waiting. Apply for jobs you are interested in, check out other fellowships and travel opportunities, and stay engaged in your community. Even if/after you are selected, there are always the unlikely but real possibilities of your having to decline the award because of a life event or the Fulbright program for your host country being suspended or cancelled due to political turbulence. It’s better to keep your options open in case the Fulbright doesn’t work out this cycle.

Lauren Valdez