Fulbright Reflection Series: Sean O’Rourke’s Letter to Potential Fulbright Applicants

Hello Fulbright Applicant,

UCCI’ve been asked to write a short reflection on my experience writing a Fulbright application and, honestly, I was unsure what to say. I was (and still am) surprised to receive the grant. Hopefully though, my experience will be of some use to you as you begin your application.

My first bit of advice is to start your application early. That’s not to say you should start immediately worrying if you haven’t started the application process well in advance. Many people have received Fulbrights without doing so. That said, starting the application well ahead of the deadline will give you a distinct advantage. It gives you time to draft and redraft your essays, figure out what works and doesn’t in your application, what should be emphasized more, what needs to be emphasized less. It allows you the space to coolly reflect on your application and find the little mistakes that you might overlook were you in a rush. Perhaps even more importantly, it gives you many chances to enlist the aid of others. Speaking of which…

You should try to get help from as many people as possible. Friends whose writerly instincts you trust, academics who know your strengths and weaknesses, people who have been involved in the Fulbright application process before: you might consider enlisting the aid of all of these people. My application changed drastically from its initial draft to the version I eventually submitted and that was mostly due to the feedback I received from others. Moreover, if your college forms committees that assist in the application process, take advantage of them. I was lucky enough to have access to such a committee and it proved invaluable to the success of my application. Even if you don’t have access to this resource, consult academics about your application. They have experience with this sort of thing and there’s a good chance some of them will even have experience with the Fulbright Commission.

RiverAlso, be specific in your application. In personal essays, if you discuss how your previous experiences make you a good candidate, make the connection between past and hopeful scholarly future explicit. If you are asked to do a research proposal, do not be too general. Take some time to think over specifically what you might like to research. If you do get the chance to work on that project, it will, of course, change in various ways as you do research. However, that does not mean your proposal should lack specificity in order to accommodate this future change. Show that you’ve thought deeply about your topic and how you can see your future research contributing to your field. I have little doubt you have something important to say, something that deserves the attention of academics as well as the time and resources to fully realize your vision. Now, be specific and explicit to convince the Fulbright Commission of this.

Lastly, I have two quick final thoughts. First, I urge you not to let the result of your Fulbright application become any sort of indication of your own worth. Getting rejected by the Fulbright Commission is a bummer. I’ve had personal experience with this, but dwelling on failure was not helpful to me and it will not be helpful for you. Second, I hope you’ll consider applying to the UCC MA in Irish Writing and Film. The program puts you in small classes taught by some of the leading Irish studies academics. Moreover, I have not met one academic in the program who has been unwilling to assist me in furthering my literary studies. In them and in my classmates, through seminars, essay writing, and scholarly blogging, I have found a supportive intellectual community and I know have benefitted from this organized, challenging, and friendly academic environment in ways I cannot yet fully comprehend.

With all that said, I wish you all the best in your Fulbright application and in your continued post-graduate endeavours!

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