Tufts and Harvard University this year tied as the top producers of Fulbright scholars in Massachusetts, as well as two of the leading contributors of students to the program nationally.
Tufts, Harvard and Johns Hopkins University tied for No. 12 among national research institutions that produced Fulbright scholars, according to a report released last month by the Chronicle of Higher Education.
The three institutions each produced 17 Fulbright scholars for the 2010−2011 year, though both Harvard and Johns Hopkins had more total applicants than Tufts. Boston College was right behind with 16 scholars.
The report separately ranked research institutions, Master’s institutions, Bachelor’s institutions, and other institutions, such as art schools.
The Fulbright Program, offered through the U.S. Department of State, provides nine− to 12−month foreign travel and research opportunities and English teaching assistantships for over 1,500 students.
For the 2010−2011 year, 63 Tufts students applied for the program. The program offered 18 students scholarships, but one recipient turned it down for another grant, according to Laura Doane, advising and scholarship director and Fulbright Program advisor at Tufts.
Whereas the national applicant−to−grant ratio is just under 10 percent, Tufts has seen a 20 to 30 percent average in recent years, according to a guidebook Doane compiled for Fulbright applicants.
“The number of Fulbrights is terrific visibility for the quality of a Tufts education,” Director of Public Relations Kim Thurler said. “The breadth of fields in which students excel is quite impressive.”
Graduating seniors and recent graduates, Doane said, are most successful in obtaining English teaching assistantships through the program, though a considerable number receive grants for research opportunities.
This year’s numbers reflect a recent trend of increased interest among Tufts students in the program. For the 2008−2009 academic year, Tufts had 36 applicants, of which 11 received grants. The 2009−2010 academic year saw 46 applicants and nine recipients, according to Doane.
The increased interest is not due to a conscious effort by the university to increase its number of Fulbright scholars, according to Doane, but rather a function of several different factors. Word−of−mouth, she said, is one of the biggest contributors to rising interest.
“Many students have heard about the program, even if they are not really sure what it is,” she said. “Students come to our information sessions, and even though not a huge percentage of students will apply, it still gets the word out.”
Though last year’s pool marked an increase in Tufts Fulbright applications, applications for this academic year fell, according to Doane.
“The general stress about people worrying about the job market had led to more people thinking about fellowship years, but some of that is receding a little bit,” she said.
Doane said her office has augmented its resources to accommodate the general increase in student interest in the program.
“We’ve expanded our committee and hired more graduate writing consultants to help with the two required essays,” Doane said. “They all receive special training specifically for Fulbright.
Her office also hired a temporary advisor to meet one−on−one with students, she said.
Laura Kaplan (LA ’10), one of this year’s Fulbright scholars, is currently in Bogota, Colombia working as an English teaching assistant at Universidad de la Salle and also as the director of international cooperation for Ahmsa, a nonprofit organization that facilitates social and economic development for Colombia’s displaced and marginalized populations.
Kaplan pointed to a more competitive job market as one reason for an increase in applications.
“University graduates want to have multiple options to pursue should potential job opportunities fall through,” Kaplan told the Daily in an e−mail.
Rising student interest in the program at Tufts, she believed, was less attributed to university−led efforts and more a reflection of individual student initiative.
“Truly, I do not think that this has to do with Tufts making increased efforts to publicize the program, as people who apply tend to be a self−selecting crowd who seek out information on the grant on their own,” Kaplan said. “I do believe that Tufts’ international focus contributes as well to our number of applicants, but I also know of schools that have even more applicants than Tufts that are not as internationally focused, like the Claremont schools in California.”
The Fulbright Program notified students of their grants early this summer after a nearly year−long process which included an application, interviews and reviews by a Tufts Fulbright committee, a national Fulbright committee and representatives of the individual countries, according to Doane.
Tufts differs from other schools in that it does not conduct a vetting process. As long as the student meets Tufts and Fulbright deadlines, Tufts will submit the application for review, according to Doane.
Doane said she is hesitant to place too much emphasis on the numbers alone as an indication that Tufts is moving up in prestige among schools in Massachusetts and the country.
“I don’t want to jump to conclusions about what it indicates about us in relation to other schools,” she said. “We have a talented school of potential applicants, and we are continuing to pay attention to that.”
Kaplan also does not believe that the increase in Fulbright scholars is necessarily indicative of Tufts becoming more of a “big−shot” school.
“If you look at the schools that receive the most grants, actually, many of them tend to be smaller ‘less impressive’ schools,” she said. “I truly believe that Fulbright chooses its grantees based on their experiences, qualifications, drive and commitment, and as long as they come from a decent university, the ‘ranking’ is not so important.”
Thurler believes that Tufts’ Fulbright scholars can only enhance the university’s reputation.
“We have extremely capable students who can compete with anybody when it comes to this type of prestigious award,” she said. “They are wonderful ambassadors for the university.”