Hey, this is Daniel Sichmeller. I won a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant Grant to the Czech Republic, and I’m here to give you some tips about the Fulbright application process. My experience is of course limited to ETA applications.
Let me first make it clear how invaluable Zoe is in the application process. If you have problems with deadlines (like me) or paperwork (also me), you can’t afford not to be working closely with Zoe. She is a great editor, so I highly advise you to send her as many drafts of your personal statement and statement of grant purpose as possible. At one point, my personal statement existed in three completely separate versions, and she was willing to look at each one to determine which would be most appealing. If you don’t feel guilty about how much you are bothering her, then you are probably not talking to her enough.
Note: Be smart and start send Zoe those drafts super early.
The first major decision in the application process might be choosing which country to apply for. Go ahead and follow your heart or something because you want to make sure you end up in a country you actually like, but there are a few other things to consider. Check out http://us.fulbrightonline.org/statistics for award statistics for the different countries you are considering and compare the awards/applicants ratios. On top of that, consider your competition and how you measure up. For me the choice was between the Czech Republic and Spain. I knew my Spanish could not compete with over 400 applicants’ and even though I spoke no Czech, it is an uncommon enough language that I would not be competing with many fluent speakers. Consider all the information available and apply to the country for which you can write the most appealing application.
Do not forget about your references. I tutored for four different professors in my time at UCSD, so recommendations were easy. You should be building relationships with your professors already, but if you have been slacking, now is the time to start your office hour visits. Though I haven’t actually seen the recommendations my professors wrote for me, I can’t help but think that their recommendations did a better job of selling me than the rest of my application.
If you still feel like your application is weak then do something about it. I was worried about my lack of language skills and had only months to improve them. Instead though, I took a calculated risk and focused on strengthening my teaching experience. In the few months before the deadline, I got a job as a substitute teacher (which is very easy once you have your BA), then volunteered tutoring elementary school kids and teaching ESL to adults. By the time of the deadline, I had only added two months of experience to speak of, but I wrote it in anyway. When I go to the Czech Republic in August I will have a full year of experience teaching a wide variety of students and subjects, and that is what I sold them in my application.
Good luck and have fun.