October 12, 2007

Students flock to Fulbright

A record number U of C students applied this year to the State Department’s Fulbright Program, the flagship international exchange program that sends graduates to over 155 countries and finances them for an academic year. Applications were due the second Monday of autumn quarter, and a campus committee has been conducting interviews of the 67 candidates this week.

Last year, the University had 58 applicants to the Fulbright Program, and the year before, 24.

David Comp, Fulbright Program Adviser in the College, said the Fulbright has become “an animal unto itself.”

“We have a very globally minded undergraduate body,” he said.

In 2001, when Comp was first hired to advise the program, there were only six applicants from the College.

Comp attributes the rising numbers to better outreach by advisers, advertising, and information sessions.

“We’re starting to do information sessions for second-years to get them to start thinking about what they want to do. If you want an English Teaching Assistantship, then we recommend that you work for Neighborhood Schools Program or do some relevant coursework to demonstrate that you can be successful.”

University students also have a reputation for a high rate of acceptance. Of the 58 applicants last year, 17 students were awarded grants, with an additional three students receiving French teaching assistantships through a separate program.

Lauren Goldenberg, a fourth-year applicant, said she has always known about the Fulbright, but first started to think about it seriously last year. After studying abroad in South Africa, she knew she wanted to go back, and the Fulbright seemed like a reasonable way to do so.

She said she has a lot of friends applying but was still surprised by the number of applicants.

“I think more people know about the Fulbright,” Goldenberg said. “It also makes sense for people who aren’t sure what they’re interested in doing after college and are not quite ready to start working; this is a logical thing to do after college.”

Fourth-year Scott Wang is applying to attain funding for a Masters program at Cambridge University in England. He said that new programs like the Teaching Assistantships and the Language Acquisition Grants have increased the Fulbright’s reach.

“It may just signal more Chicago students wanting to take a gap year off before graduate school or jobs, and hence the attractive option of the Fulbright,” he added.

Wang said the hardest part of the application so far was crafting a research proposal.

“To the best of my knowledge, this is ultimately the single most important part of your application,” he said. Wang hopes to research how the educational thought of Italian Renaissance humanists influenced the education of elites.

Comp recommends that students interested in applying start thinking about the Fulbright during the winter or spring of their third year, in order to start asking for recommendations from faculty and begin getting in touch with organizations abroad.

After interviews this week, Comp will overnight all the applications to the National Screening Committee of faculty from around the United States. Applicants whose proposals have been selected to continue in the process will be notified by January 31, with final decisions from host countries coming in on a rolling basis during the spring.

He said the selection committee seeks validity and feasibility of research in the applications—whether a study can actually be accomplished in the proposed time—as well as what ambassadorial content and capacity it might have.

“The Fulbright Program was founded just after World War II, so the underlying principle is that of mutual understanding,” Comp said. “We don’t want you to be in the archives the whole time—you should be integrating into the country and the community.”