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Fewer Bowdoin applicants granted Fulbright awards than expected

May 6, 2021

The College saw fewer acceptances for the Fulbright Student Program this year than is typical, despite a record number of applicants, many of whom advanced to the semi-finalist stage.

Of the 62 applicants for the 2021-2022 program year, 39 were recommended to be semifinalists and eight students were selected for English Teaching Assistantship (ETA) programs, while five were selected for the study/research award—a 20 percent acceptance rate. The majority of students—52—applied for the ETA, compared to 10 who applied for the study/research award.

Assistant Director of the Center for Cocurricular Opportunities Kate Myall attributes the lower number of grantees to disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, including some countries downsizing or cancelling their ETA.

“In other years, I think that that would have yielded a higher percentage of selects,” Myall said in a Zoom interview with the Orient.

Applicants and the Office of Student Fellowships and Research were unaware of how the pandemic would affect success rates until students began receiving their results in January. For example, one student learned that they were not selected because the program they applied to was cancelled altogether.

“It’s their prerogative, but it certainly was a surprise to watch some really extraordinary applicants not get the news that, based on previous years, based on the quality of their applications and based on the fact [that] they were recommended, we expected,” Myall said.

In 2018 and 2019, Bowdoin averaged a 50 percent acceptance rate with Fulbrights, a big difference from the 20 percent seen this year.

Some seniors decided to apply for Fulbrights after their semesters abroad were cut short, Myall said.

Noelia Calcano ’21, who was awarded an ETA to Spain, traveled to Madrid for her study abroad during the spring of last year but was sent home early due to the pandemic.

“I was really excited to be able to return [for the Fulbright],” she said in a Zoom interview with the Orient.

During her time outside the classroom, Calcano hopes to intern for a legal organization that supports immigrants, a project that connects to her honors thesis about protections for refugees in the United States.

Audrée Grand Pierre ’21 also plans to build upon research she began at the College during her study/research grant to Australia. Grand Pierre will be pursuing a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology at the University of Queensland, where her research will focus on minority burnout, which is a state of psychological distress experienced by minority individuals who exist in predominantly white, straight and/or gender-conforming spaces.

Grand Pierre said during a Zoom interview with the Orient that the process of writing her application was in some ways made easier by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Everyone was used to Zoom and meeting remotely, and so, with [my Ph.D. advisor]—she’s based in Australia—it was really nice, just being able to Zoom whenever we needed to, as well as the Fulbright office at Bowdoin,” she said.

Eliza Jevon ’21, who was awarded an ETA to Taiwan, echoed this sentiment.

“It’s nice to have this long-term goal while we’re all stuck at home,” she said. “COVID[-19] also offered a time to reflect about what I want to do post grad. I think it actually helped in a weird way.”

Myall said that she was surprised by the number of students who were still enthusiastic about applying for a Fulbright amidst the pandemic.

“I would have been completely understanding, if the Class of ’21 was a little reticent to apply for an international experience, given how the world was in turmoil,” she said. “Instead, we had the greatest number of applicants to date.”

Myall explained that Bowdoin students tend to only apply once to Fulbright, while students from other schools are accustomed to applying several times.

“It’s not been the culture of Bowdoin to reapply in the same way that it is at other institutions,” she said. “But this cohort, especially, I really hope people consider reapplying because I think the outcomes this year reflect so much on the disruption of COVID[-19] rather than on the caliber of applicants.”


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