The Fulbright Scholarship provides funds sufficient to complete a proposed research or study abroad project for one year. Applicants submit written documents detailing their research or study plans, which may include a year of graduate study, original dissertation research, a creative or performing arts project, or a teaching assistantship. Because the study is undertaken abroad, applicants must have sufficient maturity, character, and literacy to work within the host country.
The Fulbright Scholarship Selection Criteria
Criteria that selectors use to award Fulbright Scholarships include:
- likelihood of the candidate and project to help advance the program and promote mutual understanding among nations;
- sufficient written and spoken literacy in the host country’s language;
- feasibility and specificity of the proposed plan.
A final criterion is the ratio between the number of awards offered in the target country and the number of applications received—i.e., students applying to countries that receive fewer applications have a greater statistical chance of acceptance. Applicants can assess competition statistics and other details for a particular country by consulting the Fulbright website linked at the bottom of this page.
Composing a Personal Statement and Statement of Grant Purpose
The primary written portions of the Fulbright application are a one-page personal statement and two-page statement of grant purpose. As usual, the personal statement is your opportunity to discuss personal motivations, your experience and activities, and future goals. Though your examples should still be concrete, you have the room to reveal your personality—indeed many applicants view this as their chance to let the selectors know them as individually as possible, and they use lightly entertaining anecdotes to set themselves apart from other candidates. In plain terms, the goal is to write an essay that no other person could have written
In writing the statement of grant purpose, begin by making sure not to repeat material from other parts of the application unnecessarily, and present detail tailored as much as possible to the host country. If you can show that you have performed research on (or, better yet, in) the host country already and have made contacts with potential supervisors, you increase your odds of success dramatically.
The Fulbright website cautions writers against the use of discipline-specific jargon, and a good rule of thumb is to define any jargon that you do use in context, keeping the focus of your statement of grant purpose on addressing problems that will provide valuable contributions to society and within your field. Also, practicality and feasibility are principal concerns, so the best applicants provide a timeline, discuss their methodology and goals, and analyze such variables as the host country’s cultural and political climate and resources. Finally, of course, you must demonstrate as necessary your linguistic ability as it applies to the country and your proposed plan, especially if your primary goal is a teaching assistantship.
Evaluation of Written Materials from Two Sample Fulbright Applications
The first sample essays provided in the pdf link below do an excellent job of making the case for the writer’s personal and intellectual readiness for the proposed project. The personal statement focuses on the student’s experiences as inspired by his service-oriented grandparents—members of the Mennonite Church. These role models inspired the student to travel to Peru and contact the Mennonite Economic Development Associates (MEDA). As we learn in the student’s statement of grant purpose, he wishes to work on a grassroots project in Peru related to rice farming, and he shows that he has earned the support of the MEDA Consulting Group, underscoring the feasibility of his plan.
The two essays in the second set of samples are also neatly intertwined, and the writer opens the personal statement with a delightful anecdote about her family puzzling over why a woman would be interested in geological research. The student uses the essay to detail her science background and educational travel, including a month in Thailand, where she plans to do her proposed seismic research. To underscore the urgency of such research, she opens her statement of grant purpose with a poignant narrative and statistics about the devastating effects of a 1999 earthquake in Central Taiwan. Some readers might have valid concerns over whether the statement of grant purpose is too technical at times, and whether its sources should be cited internally, yet these essays remain impressive overall. Indeed, the writer was named as a scholarship alternate.
Click here to download a pdf of two sets of Fulbright Scholarship application essays by former students.
The Fulbright Scholarship program website is extensive, including everything from statistics on the previous year’s competition to advice about how to prepare your personal essay.
Visit the Fulbright Scholarship website.
Length: One single-spaced page
The Fulbright website provides the following description of the personal statement:
“This statement should be a narrative giving a picture of yourself as an individual. It should deal with your personal history, family background, influences on your intellectual development, the educational and cultural opportunities (or lack of them) to which you have been exposed, and the ways in which these experiences have affected you. Also include your special interests and abilities, career paths, and life goals, etc. It should not be a recording of facts already listed on the application or an elaboration of your statement of proposed study.”
The Fulbright personal statement is an opportunity for you to share with the committee information about yourself that is not available in other parts of the application. In it you can provide the committee with a sense of your personality and your interests. Ideally, your personal statement will complement your written proposal in some way. For example, if you are proposing a research project, you might discuss the origin and development of your interest in that field of research.
There is no one format or approach that will work well for every application. Some applicants choose to write an intellectual autobiography highlighting the key moments in their academic development. Others discuss their passion for travel, the topic of their proposal, or the host country, detailing the origins of their interest and how it evolved. Many students give an overview of significant experiences and reflections, while others tell one particular story as an example of a larger point about who they are.
Keep in mind that engagement with the community in the host county is an important criterion in selection as the primary purpose of the Fulbright Program is to encourage mutual understanding between people from the U.S. and people from other countries. Your application should indicate how you expect to become involved in the local community, whether through volunteer work, extra-curricular activities, and/or simply pursuing a hobby—sports, music, cooking, etc.—in the host country. The personal statement is the best place to include this information.
Writing a personal statement is an exercise in self-reflection. To write a good statement, you will first need to think about your accomplishments and past experiences. These can be personal, academic, or extracurricular, including any significant insights or experiences that relate to your interest in international exchange, the host country in which you hope to do your work, or the specific project or area of study you plan to pursue. Your goal in this personal statement is to give the committee a sense of who you are and how you became interested in applying for this particular project in the context of an international exchange.
A free writing process will help you sort through your experiences and narrow your focus to two or three central issues or experiences you can use to frame and anchor your essay. Consider the following questions:
- What problems or questions intrigue you? How did you become
- What sorts of things have you done outside of the classroom? What have you learned from your extracurricular or work experiences, and how have those experiences contributed to your growth?
- Have you had to overcome any unusual obstacles or hardships (for example, economic, familial, or physical) in your life? If so, what were these obstacles and how did you face them?
- What might be unique, special, or distinctive about your life story or past experiences?
You are encouraged to work with a writing proctor even at this early stage. Talking over your experiences and reviewing your initial thoughts with someone else can help you narrow your focus and determine what you really want to discuss in your personal statement.
Your personal statement should not be a narrative version of your resume, listing events, activities, and accomplishments one after the other. Rather, it should provide the committee with a snapshot of yourself that connects to why you want to pursue this particular Fulbright in the country you have chosen. Doing this in one page is no small feat. The best statements undergo multiple drafts and revisions over a period of time. Give yourself plenty of time to write your statement, and allow it to evolve along with your understanding of why you want to pursue the project you are proposing.
In general, your personal statement will contain the following three sections:
- The opening paragraph will contain a statement, example, or anecdote that grabs the readers’ attention right away, while providing a solid frame for your essay as a whole. This is the most important part of your statement, and it will likely be one of the hardest parts for you to write. When drafting, don’t get stuck on the opening paragraph. You will revise it many times as you revise the essay as a whole.
- The body presents more specific detail, building on the framework you have established. The rule of thumb here is to use concrete examples to illustrate your points. Show, don’t tell. Rather than simply telling the committee “I am curious,” “I love science,” “I am patient and dependable,” etc., consider using one or two anecdotes that can help you focus and bring specificity to the discussion.
- The concluding paragraph can address your future goals and how your work/experiences as a Fulbright scholar fit into your future plans. Your personal statement should not repeat information already represented in your proposal; thus, you should not conclude your personal statement by making an argument for why you need a Fulbright to conduct your study. Instead, you should discuss more generally how your proposed Fulbright year relates to your future goals and aspirations. The scholarship committees want to award Fulbright awards to people who will use their Fulbright experiences as bridges from where they are now to where they are going. Students have a tendency to be too general and rely on abstractions or clichéd phrases when describing their experiences and interests. Show your passion for neuroscience through the experiences you’ve had and the skills you’ve developed, show them you believe in the value of being open-minded through a specific example, show them that you care about issues facing developing nations by talking about your experiences helping to develop new irrigation techniques in El Salvador one summer, etc. The more specific and concrete you can be about illustrating your interests, the better.