The Fulbright Grant Program: Sweating the Small Stuff

by G. Michael Schneider / May 29, 2012 / 0 comments

OK, you’ve thought long and hard and made the crucial decision discussed in my last post–selecting a country that gives you the best chance of success. You are now ready to fill out the Fulbright application. (Note:  Each award has a deadline that is "drop dead" fixed—ten minutes late and you might as well fold your tent and go home. Make sure to have everything completed and sent to Washington DC well in advance of the deadline, which is usually August 1, but double-check the award deadline included in the catalog listing.)

When preparing the proposal you won't be flying blind as there is a wealth of helpful information on-line at:, and I won't bother duplicating their excellent advice here. There are also helpful hints and suggestions at These pages contain information about all the steps in the application process, and you should read and digest them fully before putting fingers to keyboard. 

However, one of the most common errors made on the Fulbright application is not discussed on those Web pages, and this oversight can seriously dampen your chance of success. When describing their accomplishments, applicants will often downplay or even omit certain achievements that some high-level academics consider "trivial" and which they feel takes time away from the “real” work of scholars and university professors—grants, invited talks, research publications, Ph.D. students. In reality these grade-A achievements, while certainly impressive, can be among the least important items included on a Fulbright application, especially when applying to work in a developing nation whose teaching and consulting needs may be much more prosaic.

For example, during one Fulbright visit I discovered that what tipped the scales in my favor during final review was a line on my application stating that I had worked closely with high school teachers helping to design age-appropriate computer science course materials for grades 9-12. This turned out to be of great importance to my host school as they were in the process of developing pedagogical tools for high school technology courses. I did not mention that my some members of my department berated me for wasting time on this "silly high school stuff" and warning me it could hurt me at tenure and promotion time.  (It did not.)

Another Fulbright award came my way because I had authored an introductory college text (Invitation to Computer Science, 6th Ed., Thomson Course Technology). My host institution did not care about the content of the book or even want to use it in a course.  However, in their value system publishing a university-level textbook is a great honor and considered an achievement of great intellectual prowess.  Because of their interest in this topic I ended up presenting a well attended faculty workshop on textbook writing and publishing, even though, according to the standards of my previous school, the time spent on preparing an undergraduate book was not highly valued.

The moral of this story is that when preparing a Fulbright application, don't limit yourself to only the “usual cast of suspects”—papers published, invited talks given, grants received, membership in prestigious national academies. Of course you will include these but be creative and remind yourself of the many other contributions you have made to the discipline that could be of seminal importance to a Fulbright review committee.  These accomplishments could include such things as professional offices; local honors and awards; consulting with governments, primary/secondary schools, or businesses; books, software, and pedagogical materials authored; new courses developed, and work with underrepresented groups. Any of these seemingly minor contributions could become your ace in the hole. To paraphrase, but invert, the old saying, "Do sweat the small stuff."  

Non-academics should heed the same advice—don't limit your résumé to only the most prestigious of professional achievements: inventions, patents, promotions, awards, juried shows, and concert performances. In addition to these big successes be sure to include those  "smaller triumphs" such as designing a popular Web site, organizing and running professional meetings, bringing new products to market, or creating and implementing an improved management structure. Any one of these achievements could be of interest to a potential host country and tip the scales in your favor.





Michael Schneider is the Academic Travel Editor for Wandering Educators. You can read more of his work at, and learn more about his new book, entitled On the Other Guy's Dime: A Professional's Guide to Traveling without Paying.