The Fulbright Grant Program: Where oh Where Should I Go?

by G. Michael Schneider / Apr 30, 2012 / 0 comments

The “holy book” of the Fulbright Scholar Program is the Catalog of Awards, published online at around March 1, listing all awards for the coming year by discipline and country.  (The submission deadline for most proposals is August 1.)  The catalog includes about 600 grants in 140 countries, although the numbers fluctuate annually due to civil unrest or health concerns that may disqualify a country from participation in a given year.


The Fulbright application form allows you to apply for only a single award — no “plan B,” no “backups” – so the choice of which award to go after is critically important.  There are many factors that will influence your choice–academic specialization, dates you must be in country, and duration of the posting.  However, there is yet another factor influencing the choice, and it is a factor that has nothing to do with you, your availability, or the heft of your résumé; instead it has everything to do with where:  the number of people applying for each of the 600 or so grants in the catalog fluctuates wildly. In plain English, everyone wants to go to France and Italy; far fewer want to end up in Azerbaijan or the Sudan.  

The Fulbright Program does not publish statistics about the number of academics and professionals applying to each country, although they do for student awards—statistics for the number of student applicants to each country in the last award cycle are available at These numbers are quite revealing. For example, for the European Region in the 2011-12 academic year, 611 students applied for one of 30 grants to the UK, 378 students tried for a posting in Germany, and 202 sent applications to France.  By comparison, only 18 sent in proposals for one of the 4 grants to Bulgaria, 8 went after 2 awards in Latvia, and only 2 students completed applications for one grant to Kosovo. Anecdotal evidence indicates that applications from faculty and professionals would follow a similar distribution.

The identity of the most popular destinations comes as no surprise, but the scale of those differences indicates how carefully you must select your award destination. European countries such as England, France, Italy, Spain, Germany, and Switzerland are enormously popular; Asian/Pacific destinations such as China, Japan, and Australia are fiercely competitive; popular South American destinations like Chile, Brazil, and Argentina also have large numbers of applicants, typically twenty or more competing for each opening.  

There are approximately 140 countries in the awards catalog, and I have just named a dozen of the most competitive, with another twenty or thirty that could easily be added to that roster.  However, that still leaves a hundred potential destinations, many of which can offer the successful applicant a fascinating, once-in-a-lifetime (not to mention cost-free) professional and cultural experience in complete safety and comfort. For example, my four Fulbright awards have been to Mauritius, Malaysia, Nepal, and Mongolia, while friends and colleagues have received grants to live and work in Iceland, Sri Lanka, Malta, the Ukraine, and Zimbabwe. Not one of these was a destination anyone regretted having chosen. Best of all, grants to these countries are often far less competitive, with only 2, 3, or 4 individuals vying for each opening.  This produces a realistic, rather than remote, chance of success.

The lesson to take from these numbers is that when making that critical decision about your lone Fubright destination, temper those passions for the south of France, the Amalfi coast of Italy, or the beaches of Rio with the sober realization of how difficult it can be to receive an award to these immensely popular areas. Remember the "feast or famine" structure of the application process — if you don't get your first choice you get nothing at all. So, open your mind, as well as the awards catalog, to the possibility of a somewhat lesser known, but still safe, interesting, and inviting country. Give serious thought to destinations a little further afield that you may not have considered at the start of the application process but that, with a little reading and study, could become more and more attractive to your academic travel plans.


(Read about our Fulbright experiences in Mauritius, Malaysia, Nepal, and Mongolia in my travel book: On The Other Guys Dime.)




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.