Fulbright vs Boren: Tips for Applying

This post is a spin-off from my previous post about the differences between the Fulbright and Boren programs. Here I’m offering a few tips for applying for the Boren Fellowship and Fulbright Research Scholarship. This is a combination of advice from my professors and academic advisors, plus some things that, in hindsight, I wish I had known at the time of writing my applications or had done differently.

I also recommend checking out Kayden Bui’s website — he’s a former Boren Scholar and Fulbright English Teaching Assistant grantee. His website is a great resource for individuals applying to the Fulbright ETA grant.

General Tips

  • Relate what you’re doing to the United States. Cultural exchange is a big component, but even more important is why the cultural exchange is beneficial for the United States.
  • Make sure your grammar, spelling, and punctuation is correct.
  • Have at least three different people look over your application.
  • Use the same language/tone as on the Fulbright or Boren websites, blogs, interviews, scholar handbooks, etc. Show them you know what you’re doing and have your goals be somewhat aligned with theirs.
  • This isn’t possible for everyone, but if you have the chance, spend a few weeks over the summer in the country to which you are applying. Meet with potential affiliate organizations or project supervisors, or just get a feel for the country to know if you could really see yourself spending an entire semester or year there. This kind of experience really stands out on applications.

Fulbright Application Tips

  • If you have a great idea for a project but don’t have a particular country in mind, check out the Fulbright competition statistics by world region. Some countries just happen to be a a lot more competitive than others (eg. United Kingdom, Germany, Australia). If your research is not specific to one place, you may want to consider using the competition statistics to your advantage by applying to a country that’s less, err, competitive. Ever consider going to the Slovak Republic?
  • Look at past projects for the country to which you are applying. You don’t want to submit a research proposal that is really similar to what someone is currently doing/or recently did.
  • Look at projects (in all countries) that look similar to your proposed project, and Google those people. They got the scholarship, so they obviously did something right. Read about what they’re doing and you might get some good ideas.
  • The judges read a lot of applications, so make your project sound exciting, new or unique. You want to not only cover the who, where and why, but also try and generate some excitement.
  • Space is short so get straight to the point in your 1st sentence: throw a big problem + mandate in there, plus some statistics. Example:

    As a signatory to the Millennium Declaration, Tajikistan’s “Strategy 2020 Decision 23/CP.18” considers gender equality and women’s empowerment as a primary step towards ensuring more effective climate change policy, and wants to ensure that all women have access to income-generating initiatives by 2020.

  • Then go on to say what is known/what has been attempted (give a nod to previous/current efforts to show you’ve done your homework), the knowledge gap (show what’s missing in the current situation), how your project fills the knowledge gap (how will your project help?), and mention the significance of your project (why is what you’re proposing so important?). Example:

    In keeping with its international commitments, in April 2012 the Government of Tajikistan adopted an improved law on microfinance, including important provisions on licensing, protecting consumers, and standardizing practices by microfinance organizations. The new law creates a favorable framework for microfinance in the country and opens new opportunities for more than 230,000 microentrepreneurs. Despite adopting the progressive law, no public or private sector organizations have conducted a thorough gender analysis of the microfinance law’s effectiveness in improving the socioeconomic situation of women. This project helps fill the knowledge gap by bringing insights on women farmers’ narratives and perspectives, and may significantly improve understanding of constraints to women’s economic empowerment.

  • Have a strong data collection and/or analysis section. Are you doing quantitative research, qualitative research, or both? If qualitative research, how are you going to collect your data? (eg. personal interviews, reviewing documents, direct field observation).
  • Fulbright is all about enhancing cross-cultural communication, so you might want to say how you’re going to interact with local people through your project.
  • I need an in-country affiliate/collaborator! How the heck do I find a Climate Change Adaptation Specialist in Finland? I’d start with a Google search. You can search the Internet for universities or institutions, contact NGOs, contact faculty members. Remember, they’re just people, just like you and me. And you’re offering to do something for them for free, which they like.
  • Mention a professional journal, conference, or some way in which you will communicate your project/or results to an external audience. Don’t say outright that you’re going to “publish” an article (unless you actually are), but perhaps say you’re going to “submit a scholarly manuscript to…” (then name the target journal). Still sounds good; less presumptuous.

Boren Application Tips

The Boren application is very language/country specific — it demands a lot more detail than the Fulbright application. Many of the previously mentioned “Fulbright tips” are also applicable to the Boren application. Because it’s still fresh in my mind, here I’m sharing things that I think really helped my application and things I wish I had done differently.

What I think helped me:

  • A former Boren judge told me that everyone and their mom wants to be a Foreign Service Officer, so try and be creative on your application when you discuss your career goals and your plans to fulfill the federal service requirement.
  • I reviewed the list of Current Boren Fellows. I looked at all the different projects people are doing, what countries they’re in, what languages they’re studying, etc. When there was an existing project that resembled my own proposed project, I Google-searched those people to learn more about what they’re doing.
  • I studied the Boren Fellowships Statistical Summary. It’s not as robust as the Fulbright statistics by world region, but it shows the Top 5 Countries and Top 5 Languages (shows Recipients/Applicants).
  • My application mentioned 3 critical languages. I applied for the Boren Fellowship to Kyrgyzstan and my application mentioned Russian, Kyrgyz and Uzbek. I already arrived speaking Russian at a professional level, but hey, there’s always room for improvement. My main language of study was Kyrgyz, and I also studied Uzbek. I’m aware that studying multiple languages isn’t applicable to everyone, but if it works for you, you may want to consider mentioning more than one critical language to boost your application.
  • I included serious language study. I found out exactly where I could study my proposed languages, contacted the language school for scheduling and pricing options, and wrote a very detailed and informed language plan in my application.
  • I proposed an overseas program for a full academic year — Boren likes proposals for a minimum of six months of overseas study.
  • I asked several campus representatives and faculty advisers to review my application. Afterwards I gave them each a thank you card and a box of chocolate truffles.

What I wish I had done differently:

  • I wish I had attended the Boren information panel at my school. I don’t know how I missed it, I just didn’t know about it back then. I went out of curiousity a year later, after I was already awarded the fellowship, and I learned a lot of things that would have been great to know when I was putting together my application.
  • Webinars are probably useful. I didn’t attend any because I couldn’t make any of the times, but they probably would have been helpful.
  • ITEMIZED BUDGET. This probably sounds dumb to a lot of people, but I honestly didn’t know when I was writing my application that my award would be exactly what I proposed in my application. Reason #1 why it would have been useful to attend the info session at my school. The Boren application has an itemized budget section where you detail all your expected expenses during the course of your program including research, accommodation, airfare, local travel, food, etc. I did an honest job calculating how much I thought I would need for all my different expenses, and I budgeted on the frugal side because I thought asking for less money would increase my chances of getting the fellowship. DO NOT THINK LIKE THIS! Give yourself a pretty good-sized financial cushion because you will appreciate this later. Don’t be greedy but be realistic, and make sure you plan for everything to the best of your knowledge. This is my actual Itemized Expense Budget from my application to Kyrgyzstan.
  • AIRFARE. Another dum-dum: I didn’t filter for U.S. carriers. It’s such an obvious thing but I didn’t do it — don’t make the same mistake I did. When you are budgeting for airfare, make sure to filter your search for U.S. carriers. Depending on your destination, U.S. carriers can be a lot more expensive than other carriers, which can mean a difference of a couple thousand dollars. Also, online you can can usually only book a round-trip flight 10 months in advance. If you’re going to be overseas for at least 10 months, consider budgeting for two one-way flights on U.S. carriers.
  • One month after starting my language classes, my language school increased the price of tuition. They only increased the price by $1 per hour, which doesn’t sound like a lot, but I took hundreds of hours of language classes. In the end, my actual cost of language classes was almost $700 more than I originally budgeted. It’s tough to plan for things like this, so it’s good to know that you can submit a revised budget at any time during your program.

I hope this post was helpful! Feel free to comment or shoot me an email at sgentle@pedalingpictures.com with any questions.

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