By Deborah Vieyra
The process of applying for a fellowship abroad can often be so consuming that one may overlook a crucial component—choosing a well-suited host institution. Giving this careful consideration is a vital part of all phases of a fellowship abroad, starting from the success of your application and ending, if all goes well, with a lifelong affiliation with the institution you land up at.
Remember that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to choosing a suitable institution. Each candidate will find different criteria important.
Here are four pointers that may set you going in the direction that is right for you.
Align your choice with the rest of your application.
The selection committee for any fellowship will want to see you demonstrating a cohesive narrative about where you come from, why you want to apply, and what you hope to achieve. The institution you choose must be in line with the rest of your story. Do sufficient research to know that the institution or institutions you are proposing are interested in the kind of research you are setting out to do.
When it comes to your application, argue your case. Outline why the institution of your choice needs you as much as you need them. Explain how they will gain from having you in their department, transforming your fellowship experience into a mutually beneficial relationship.
Find the right fit.
While it may be tempting to propose institutions based on the prestige of their reputations, this may not be the most beneficial starting point. Of course, it will be useful to have an ivy league school sparkling from your professional resume, but not at the expense of finding an ideal fit for your specific area of research. It may be the case that the top universities are not necessarily appropriate for you and your work. A lesser-known university might be the home of ground-breaking research in your field. In addition to this, the competition to get into ivy league schools is so steep that you may be gambling with your chances for admission into any university if you put all your eggs into a basket decorated with ivy.
Reach out to faculty, alumni and advisors.
Ensure that the research you do into the institutions of your choice extends beyond basic Google searches. Before you apply, contact faculty members whose work excites you, to find out more about their departments. By setting up this relationship and illustrating your drive and initiative, you become more than just another applicant on the pile.
See if you can find a way to reach out to alumni as well. Getting personal accounts of their experiences will give you insights that you will not be able to find in any brochure. In addition to this, talk to advisors both at your potential host institutions and at the organization that runs the fellowship you are applying for. They have processed mountains of cases and are incredibly knowledgeable when it comes to finding the right fit.
Remember that the place will become your second home.
Finally, remember that it is not just an institution that you are going to. The town or city that houses your institution is going to become your second home. While it is not advisable to choose a host institution solely on this basis, it is important to consider what sort of environment will best support your fellowship experience. Taking on New York City, for example, may be challenging if you have never lived in a metropolis before. On the other hand, New York City might be the ideal fit if you are in an artistic field, as the whole city can become your classroom.
ProFellow has invaluable resources that will help you navigate your way towards finding the best institution for you. Once you have looked through these guides, close your eyes and imagine yourself arriving at your host institution for the first time. Where do you see yourself?
Deborah Vieyra is a Fulbright alumna from South Africa who completed her MA in Applied Theatre Arts at the University of Southern California. She now works as a writer, proofreader and performer in Vancouver, Canada.
© Victoria Johnson 2018, all rights reserved.