How to Get a Fulbright Scholarship
The Fulbright Program is the United States’ flagship international educational exchange program. The program was founded in 1946 in the wake of a proposal by Arkansas senator J. William Fulbright to use surplus war property to fund “promotion of international good will through the exchange of students in the fields of education, culture, and science.” Fulbright fellowships now fund study and educational exchanges in over 155 countries. A diverse assortment of fellowship programs currently fund about 8,000 grants annually to 1,600 U.S. students, 4,000 foreign students, 1,200 U.S. scholars, and 900 visiting scholars, in addition to several hundred teachers and professionals. Fulbright Program fellowships are highly competitive, but with adequate preparation and effort you can make yourself a highly attractive candidate.
EditChoosing a Fellowship Program
- Understand your options. The Fulbright Program awards fellowships in a wide variety of fields and to a wide variety of populations. First, determine whether you’ll be applying as a Fulbright “student” to the U.S. Fulbright Student Program or as a Fulbright “scholar” to the range of programs administered by the Council for International Exchange of Scholars. You can then review program options to determine which fellowship matches your goals and interests.
- Consider the United States Fulbright Student Program if you are a student or a young professional. This collection of programs is intended for college seniors, recent bachelor’s degree graduates, master’s and doctoral students, and young professionals with five or fewer years of experience. The U.S. Fulbright Student Program includes the following collection of fellowship opportunities:
- The Fulbright Study/Research Grant is the most typical student opportunity. Candidates design a research proposal for a specific country.
- The Fulbright English Teaching Assistant Program places grantees in schools overseas to supplement local English instruction and share their expertise as native speakers.
- The J. William Fulbright-Hillary Rodham Clinton Fellowship selects fellows to serve in professional public-policy related roles in foreign government ministries or institutions. Grantees also undertake an academic research project.
- The Fulbright mtvU Awards are granted for research into an aspect of international musical culture, focusing especially upon contemporary or popular music as a form of cultural expression.
- The Fulbright-National Geographic Digital Storytelling Fellowship guides grantees in using new media platforms to build ties across cultures and enhance mutual understanding. Grantees work with National Geographic Society mentors.
- Fulbright Business Grants are available for study in Finland, Mexico, and Spain.
- Fulbright-Fogarty Fellowships are intended to promote the expansion of research in public health and clinical research in resource-limited environments.
- Fulbright Graduate Degree Grants are available for study in specific fields in Australia, Finland, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Mexico, the Netherlands, South Korea, Spain, Taiwan, and the United Kingdom.
- Fulbright Journalism and Communication Grants are available for study in Germany, Ireland, Spain, and Taiwan.
- Fulbright Grants in Science and Public Health are available for study in countries including Canada, Indonesia, and the Netherlands.
- Consider Fulbright Scholar Programs if you are an established American or international scholar. The Fulbright Scholar Programs administered by the Council for International Exchange of Scholars tend to be more specifically targeted than those of the U.S. Student Program, so conducting a search on the institution’s Web site is the best way to find programs geared specifically toward your expertise and interests. Broadly speaking, these programs fall into several categories:
- U.S. Scholars can apply to Core Fulbright U.S. Scholar Programs, the NEXUS Regional Scholar Program, Distinguished Chair Awards, Specialist Programs, the International Education Administrators Program, the Fulbright-Fogarty Postdoctoral Awards Program, the Fulbright Arctic Initiative, Postdoctoral Scholar Awards, and the Global Flex Award.
- International scholars seeking to visit the U.S. can apply for the NEXUS Regional Scholar Program, the Core Fulbright Visiting Scholar Program, the Outreach Lecturing Fund, Visiting Scholar Enrichment Programs, and the Fulbright Arctic Initiative.
- The stable of Fulbright programs also includes a collection of programs geared toward institutions rather than individuals. These include the Outreach Lecturing Fund, the Fulbright Scholar-in-Residence Program, and Junior Faculty Development Programs for Afghanistan, Egypt, Iraq, Lebanon, and Tunisia.
- Consider your passions. You’re most likely to be successful in your application if you’re genuinely thrilled about the project you’ll be undertaking.
- Which region(s) of the world do you find especially engaging or inspiring?
- What moves you?
- How do your educational background and research interests intersect with the previous two questions?
- Picture yourself in-country. What would you like to be spending your time doing? Careful consideration of this question will help you determine what type of fellowship is right for you.
- Evaluate possible programs. Research statistics from previous years to get an idea of how competitive various programs might be. Don’t let pragmatism overrule your passion, but if you’re seriously considering three countries, for example, you might evaluate how much competition you’ll be facing in each country. You could then narrow your focus to the country where you’ll suspect you’ll have the strongest chance of winning an award.
- Assess your eligibility. U.S. Student Program applicants, for example, must be U.S. citizens at the time of their application. They must also have completed a bachelor’s degree or equivalent by the time their grant begins. Eligibility requirements differ for other awards. Carefully review the eligibility requirements for your chosen program before proceeding.
EditBecoming a Strong Candidate
- Devote yourself to your studies. Successful Fulbright candidates come from a wide variety of sociocultural and educational backgrounds. You need not attend an elite institution — in fact, one of the many goals of the Fulbright program is to ensure candidates come from a wide array of institutions and geographic regions. Demonstrating your dedication as a scholar, however, is vital.
- If you are a student, take challenging classes in the field you intend to pursue.
- If you are a professional, maintain active involvement in your field of research interest.
- If you anticipate applying as a teaching fellow, ensure your record demonstrates your enthusiasm for cross-cultural education.
- Learn the language of the region you hope to visit. Language proficiency is vital to a successful Fulbright application. Critical Language Enhancement Awards are available to U.S. students pursuing fellowships in a few host countries, but in most cases your Fulbright application will require you to demonstrate you have the necessary language skills to successfully complete the project you’re proposing.
- Prepare academically for your project proposal. Pay special attention to coursework or research that will help you deepen your understanding of the subject you hope to research. Undergraduates should consider taking at least one course during spring semester of their junior year or fall semester of their senior year that specifically relates to their project interests. If you hope to research maternal health policy in India, for example, you might consider taking a sociology course focused upon South Asia, a development economics class, or an Indian history course — or possibly, all three.
EditCrafting a Strong Application
- Determine your timeline. The online application period for most U.S. Student Program awards begins in mid-spring and ends in mid-fall, although the mtvU Awards schedule runs a little later. The National Screening Committee meets in November and December, and candidates are notified by the end of January whether they’ve been recommended for final consideration. Notification of awards begins in March and continues through the spring. Actual grant dates typically conform to the academic calendar of the country you will be visiting. Application deadlines vary for other Fulbright Program awards, so be sure to consult the specific timeline for the grant you’re pursuing.
- Start early. Most Fulbright applications involve extensive essay-writing and subsequent editing. Plan to spend about as much time on your application as you would on a standard college course.
- The Fulbright Study/Research Grants that form the core of the U.S. Student Program require you to find an in-country mentor with whom you’ll work. This can be a lengthy process, so plan to start your search as soon as you’ve determined your geographic area and your general research topic.
- Address each element of your application carefully. Application requirements differ depending upon your specific program. Be sure you understand what the Fulbright Program is looking for in terms of length, content, and components. To apply for the U.S. Student Program’s Study/Research Grants, for example, you’ll need to submit the following information via the Embark Fulbright Online Application:
- Biographical data and a project title.
- A Statement of Purpose outlining the who, what, when, where, why, and how of your grant proposal. Familiarize yourself with your chosen country’s program summary to ensure your proposal is relevant. Length requirements for this statement are quite specific: two pages, single-spaced, in Times New Roman font, with one-inch margins. You can access samples of winning statements from Brown University.
- An affiliation letter from the institution or individual in the host country with whom you plan to work. This letter should be written in (or translated to) English, on official letterhead, and signed by the author. Emailed correspondence is not acceptable.
- A Personal Statement introducing yourself to the selection committee and explaining how your background has led you to this point in your academic journey. Again, length requirements are specific: one page, single-spaced, in Times New Roman font, with one-inch margins.
- Foreign language forms — if a language is among the requirements for an application to your chosen country. If needed, you’ll submit a Language Self Evaluation and a Foreign Language Evaluation Form. The latter is completed by a professional language instructor.
- Three reference letters. These letters should be professional rather than simply character references. Provide your referees with a copy of your Statement of Purpose so they are prepared to speak to your fitness to undertake this specific project. If not originally composed in English, a translation must be provided. Reference letters are uploaded directly by the referees so they remain confidential. This means you will not personally be able to provide any needed translations.
- Transcripts from all institutions of higher education that you have attended.
- Focus your Statement of Purpose. The Statement of Purpose does exactly what its name suggests: it tells the committee what your purpose is in pursuing a Fulbright scholarship. A solid SoP has four sections:
- The thesis paragraph. This paragraph explains where and what you wish to study, along with your methodology (how) and your objectives (why). Think of this as a “preview” for your larger project: what do readers need to know to get a clear, general sense of your goal?
- Background and contextual information. This is similar to a literature review in a research essay, but much shorter. You need to give the sense that you know how your project fits into the larger field in which you wish to study. You should also present a compelling case for why your project is important and deserves study — consider it the answer to the “So what?” question.
- Methodology. This provides the specific nitty-gritty on how you will conduct your project. What will you do? How will you measure it? What is your timeline? How will you know whether you have succeeded in your aims? What will you take away from this project, and why will it be valuable? Even if you are applying as a creative student or scholar, you should have a clear idea of the “takeaway.”
- Defense. This is where you can address potential trouble sources or questions your reviewers might have. What issues might arise during your study? Will you be able to access the resources you need? What will you do if you run into problems? How flexible is your approach? This is where you target your weak spots and provide a sense of how you will address them.
- Make your Personal Statement compelling. Remember that your audience is a group of intelligent, well-read non-specialists who will be reading hundreds, if not thousands, of statements. Your Personal Statement should be a biography that tells reviewers who you are and why you’re a good candidate for a Fulbright. Set yourself apart by doing the following:
- Use concrete examples rather than generalities. Do not say “I enjoy interacting with people from other cultures.” Instead, say “I actively seek out cultural experiences different from my own, such as going to Diwali celebrations with my friend Kavya and learning how to make authentic Chinese dumplings from my friend Shao.” If you have study abroad or travel experience, talk about it. However, be wary of discussing high school mission trips, which have an unfortunate reputation as “charity tourism” among many reviewers.
- Do not focus on religious experiences or themes. While these may or may not be important to you, the Fulbright Commission is a government agency and thus cannot use religious information in their decision-making process.
- Illustrate leadership experience. Emphasize qualities and experiences that show you are self-motivated, flexible, and capable of leadership.
- Explain how this experience will prepare you for graduate school and your future career.
- Use clear, effective language. Don’t bog down your writing with SAT words to sound smart or use unexplained jargon. Most Fulbright review panels have reviewers from a variety of fields, so you can’t count on having only scientists read your science proposal, or only musicians read your music proposal. Make sure that you communicate clearly enough that a well-read non-specialist understands your goals.
- Avoid overly complicated sentence structures. Use the free Hemingway app if you know you have a tendency toward verbosity.
- Be declarative and assertive. Do not say things like “I will attempt to examine…” or “I hope to find….” Instead, say “I will study…” or “I expect to find…”
- Avoid the cliche. Don’t use statements such as “I have known since I was 6 that I wanted to be a scientist.” Many applicants will use such statements, and they will not distinguish you. If you have the space, use a meaningful example or anecdote to explain your passion instead.
- Edit, edit, and edit some more. Don’t become discouraged by the application-writing process; it will take time for your application to evolve into its final form. Make a list of the experiences you’ve had that might relate to the grant you’re applying for. Be sure to address why you need to go where you’re proposing to go.
- If you are a student, attend any fellowship-writing workshops your college might offer. Paying a visit to your college scholarship office is also a good idea.
- Don’t be shy about asking for help. Consult colleagues, professors, and friends for editing feedback and guidance on refining your project proposal. Outside readers are especially helpful in letting you know whether you have clearly explained your project and its aims.
- Many universities post examples of successful Fulbright fellowship essays for student reference. Perform a quick Web search and spend some time reading essays written by successful candidates. Pay special attention to projects or geographic regions that are relevant to your own project proposal.
- Remember the Fulbright Program’s central aims. A successful proposal will clearly demonstrate how you’ll advance the program’s aim of “promoting mutual understanding among nations through engagement in the host community.” Highlight how your work will contribute to this goal.
EditSources and Citations
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