How to Become a Fulbright Scholar: The Ultimate Guide — Shemmassian Academic Consulting (2022)

Everything you need to know to win a Fulbright Grant, including Fulbright personal statement examples

Part 1: What is a Fulbright Scholar?

Part 2: Fulbright Scholarship Requirements

Part 3: Fulbright Application Timeline

Part 4: How to Submit an Amazing Fulbright Application (includes a Fulbright personal statement example)

Part 1: What is a Fulbright Scholar?

Are you an American student who has dreamed of studying or teaching abroad? Your academic or creative passions may be able to get you there through a Fulbright grant. Whether you hope to conduct chemistry research in India, translate poetry in Germany, or teach English in Brazil, the Fulbright offers a wide range of possibilities that could allow you to spend a year pursuing your intellectual dreams—all while immersing yourself in the culture of a foreign country.

The Fulbright Program is well-known, prestigious, and includes many unique benefits. While potential applicants are often daunted by the long application process and low acceptance rate, with a thoughtfully planned and intellectually ambitious project, a Fulbright is within reach for you.

In this guide, we’ll help you understand everything you need to know in order to win a Fulbright, including the Fulbright Program mission, eligibility requirements, selection statistics, and more. We’ll also review how to write your application essays for the best possible chances of selection for a grant, complete with real life examples.

What types of Fulbright grants exist?

There are several different types of Fulbright grants, including awards for students, professionals, scholars, and teachers. There are also different grants for U.S. citizens hoping to go abroad and foreign citizens looking to study in the United States.

In this post, we’ll primarily discuss how to gain acceptance to the Fulbright U.S. Student Program. While we’ll go over specific eligibility requirements for this program in a bit, in short, the program is designed for U.S. citizens who are either recent college graduates, master’s or doctoral candidates, or young professionals with up to five years of experience in their field.

(If you don’t fit into any of these categories, you’ll most likely want to apply for a Fulbright through the Fulbright Scholar Program.)

Within the U.S. Student Program, there are a few different classes of grants you can apply for.

1. Open Study/Research Awards (general). These are the traditional Fulbright grants in which you propose a project of your own design and work with an advisor based at a foreign university or institution. Open Study/Research Awards may be granted for projects undertaken in around 140 different countries.

2. Open Study/Research Awards (specific fields). Some of these awards are specific to the arts, business, journalism and communications, and STEM and public health.

3. Graduate study abroad awards. There are some awards you can receive to pursue a graduate degree in a foreign country, e.g. creative writing in Ireland.

4. English Teaching Assistant Awards. In these programs, you work in English language classrooms abroad as an assistant to a local teacher. ETAs are available in approximately 80 countries around the world and appear to be the most common grants awarded.

The U.S. Student Program also administers two special programs, the Fulbright-Fogarty Awards in Public Health and the Fulbright-National Geographic Storytelling Fellowship. The Fulbright-Fogarty is designed for current medical students or graduate students interested in global health to undertake public health or clinical research in underserved nations. The Fulbright-National Geographic provides the opportunity for recipients to “participate in an academic year of storytelling on a globally significant theme.”

If you’re awarded a Fulbright student grant to certain countries, you can also apply to receive a supplemental Critical Language Enhancement Award, which provides three to six months of intensive language study on top of your research or study grant. More on that shortly.

What is the Fulbright Program’s mission?

The Fulbright Program was founded in 1946 through a congressional bill introduced by Senator J. William Fulbright, which proposed selling surplus war property in order to fund the “promotion of international good will through the exchange of students in the fields of education, culture, and science.” Today it remains the most prestigious international exchange program sponsored by the American government.

The Fulbright mission of intellectual exchange as a way to foster good will between countries is still in place today—and understanding this mission is key to developing a successful project proposal. Awarding around 1,900 grants to graduates of U.S. undergraduate and graduate schools each year, the Fulbright Program focuses on developing mutual understanding between citizens of the United States and the 160 other countries it operates in. The Fulbright philosophy emphasizes cultivating human connections and empathy, plus engaging and contributing to local communities abroad, in order to promote peaceful relations and cooperation around the world.

Why do a Fulbright?

The experience of living and studying or teaching abroad is enriching in and of itself. Plus, upon returning home many Fulbrighters find themselves continuing along the new paths they began overseas. Fulbright awardees go on to have bright careers across all sectors, including government, STEM, business, philanthropy, education, the creative arts, and more. If awarded a Fulbright, you’ll find yourself in good company. Notable Fulbright alumni include 37 heads of state, 60 Nobel Prize winners, 75 MacArthur Fellows, and 88 Pulitzer Prize winners.

A Fulbright might be right for you if your natural interests lead you to want to immerse in another culture and geography, and if you’re comfortable and excited to live in another country for 10 or more months. It’s not a fellowship you should apply for just for a feather in your cap, since it involves truly committing to a life abroad for almost a year.

What benefits does the Fulbright come with?

In addition to the ability to undertake your own project or teaching work, if you have the good fortune of being selected for a Fulbright through the U.S. Student Program, you’ll receive the following benefits:

  • Round-trip transportation to and from your host country

  • Funding to cover your room, board, and incidental costs, based on the cost of living in your host country

  • Accident and sickness health benefits

  • A 24/7 support line for urgent and non-urgent situations

  • 12 months of non-competitive eligibility (NCE) hiring status within the federal government (NCE allows you to apply for federal jobs outside of the usual formal job application process, sometimes including jobs that are only open to existing federal employees)

Depending on which country and specific grant you apply for, your Fulbright may also include:

  • Funding for books and research

  • Mid-term enrichment activities such as seminars or field trips taken with other Fulbrighters

  • Full or partial tuition if you’re pursuing a graduate degree

  • Language study programs

  • Pre-departure and in-country orientations

Part 2: Fulbright Scholarship Requirements

Fulbright U.S. Student Program eligibility requirements

To be eligible for a Fulbright student grant, you must meet the following requirements:

  • Be a U.S. citizen or national

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  • Have earned a bachelor’s degree or the equivalent before the beginning of the scholarship period (note: applicants to creative and performing arts grants may substitute four years of professional training or experience)

  • Be able to meet the language requirements, if any, of the award/country you’re applying to and demonstrate “sufficient competency” to undertake your proposed project. Some countries have language requirements while others have none, so make sure to check the specific requirements for the country you’re interested in.

In addition to these eligibility requirements, Fulbright also notes that strong preference will be given to applicants whose undergraduate education was primarily completed in the United States and who haven’t previously resided or studied for more than six months in the country they are applying to (excluding college study abroad on both counts).

There are also some circumstances that will make you ineligible to receive a Fulbright:

  • You’ve completed or will complete a doctoral degree by the application deadline

  • You’re looking to enroll in a medical degree abroad through the Fulbright

  • You’ve lived abroad for at least five consecutive years during the six years preceding the application deadline

  • You’re a dual citizen of the United States and the country you want to apply to (note: this restriction only applies to certain countries such as Japan, so make sure to double-check the eligibility requirements for your country of interest)

  • You or someone in your immediate family works, or has worked within the past year, including as a board member, for any of the following organizations:

    • The U.S. Department of State or U.S. Agency for International Development, or organizations under contract to them (excluding internships)

    • Any organization that nominates or selects individuals for Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs exchange programs

    • A Fulbright commission

    • The J. William Fulbright Scholarship Board

Note: if your parent works for one of the above organizations, you’re still eligible to apply for a Fulbright so long as you are not their dependent, i.e. you’re financially self-supporting.

Despite being called the U.S. Student Program, it’s worth remembering that you don’t have to be a current student to be eligible to receive a scholarship. Young professionals with up to five years of experience in their field may also apply, and the program has no age limit.

How competitive is it to win a Fulbright student grant?

While acceptance rates change from year to year, Fulbright generally awards grants to around 20 percent of applicants to the U.S. Student Program.

That said, the competition can vary quite a bit depending on what country you’re applying to. For example, in the 2020–2021 award cycle, the United Kingdom granted Fulbrights to just 4 percent of its 1,029 applicants. On the other hand, 3 out of the 5 applicants to Oman, or 60 percent, received Fulbrights.

The competitiveness of any given country depends both on how many grants it awards and its popularity among applicants.

As an English-speaking nation with plenty of cultural crossover with the United States, the United Kingdom is far and away the most popular destination for Fulbright hopefuls to apply to. However, since it awards only a few dozen grants each year, its acceptance rate is exceptionally low.

Meanwhile, though Germany consistently receives a high number of applications—577 in the most recent cycle—it awards around 210 Fulbrights annually, the most of any country, and, therefore has a less frightening acceptance rate of 36 percent.

At least a few different things go into why certain countries are popular among applicants. One is simply the knowledge that grants are available; countries that consistently give the most awards year after year also tend to receive many applications. In addition to Germany, Spain, India, Mexico, and South Korea are some of the countries that grant the most Fulbrights and receive plenty of applications (India’s most recent acceptance rate is 34 percent, while Spain, Mexico, and South Korea all admitted 23–24 percent of applicants).

Language requirements—or a lack thereof—are another reason why some countries receive lots of applications. Like the United Kingdom and India, countries where English is commonly spoken, such as Australia and South Africa, are also popular among potential Fulbrighters and have low acceptance rates (10 percent and 9 percent, respectively).

Countries that are simply popular tourist destinations also tend to receive healthy numbers of applications. For instance, France received 276 applications for 43 spots in the most recent cycle, giving it a below-average acceptance rate of 15 percent.

At this point, you may be thinking that getting a Fulbright in a less popular country ought to be less competitive, right? This can sometimes be true—think of our example of Oman above, or Malaysia, which awarded 105 out of 174 applicants Fulbrights in the 2020–2021 cycle, for a 60 percent acceptance rate.

Nevertheless, the competitiveness of countries that receive fewer applications still depends on how many awards are available, and less popular countries often tend to have many fewer spots to award. It’s also not unheard of for countries that receive just a handful of applications to not award any Fulbrights in a given year, simply because no proposal was strong enough.

While the statistics we’ve provided so far encompass both research and teaching grants, competitiveness will also vary according to what kind of Fulbright you’re seeking. Since each country has a different number of spots for research and teaching grants, the level of competition that you’ll face will be determined both by which country and which type of award you’re applying for.

To learn more about individual countries’ award rates, including a breakdown by award type, be sure to check out Fulbright’s acceptance and application statistics for every country in the U.S. Student Program.

Regardless of the competition you may find yourself up against, you’ll have the greatest chances of success with a well-conceived project and thoughtfully-written application materials—more on those in a bit.

What is Fulbright looking for?

As we’ve just seen, the competition to receive a Fulbright can be tough. This probably leaves you wondering exactly what Fulbright is looking for in candidates.

The criteria for selection vary according to the type of grant you’re applying for, so a research proposal will be evaluated differently than a teaching application. Similarly, each country’s embassy or Fulbright commission (Fulbright commissions are administrative foundations funded jointly by the governments of that country and the U.S.) has its own set of requirements and preferences. For example, some countries such as Taiwan prefer candidates who already hold advanced degrees, while some other countries have specific areas of research that they are most likely to accept.

Nevertheless, the following factors in Fulbright's selection process remain largely the same across all applications:

  • The quality and feasibility of your proposal (you’ll detail this in your Statement of Grant Purpose—more on that later)

  • Your academic or professional record

  • Your personal qualifications

  • How well you meet the language requirements of the award you’re applying to

  • How well you and your proposed project will help advance Fulbright’s mission of “promoting mutual understanding among nations through engagement in the host community, among other activities”

While academic merit is one basis for selection for a Fulbright, and many successful applicants undoubtedly possess strong academic records, your GPA and transcripts are actually not primary considerations. Similarly, there is no minimum GPA to get a Fulbright. This isn’t to say that if you’re currently in school you can afford to start slacking, but rather that your other application materials will take precedence.

The most important criteria for winning a Fulbright lie in the strength of your proposal, including how feasible it is and how well-prepared you are to complete it, and in your own personal qualities. Fulbright will be looking to see how both you and your project embody the Fulbright mission of cultural exchange. They’ll also be assessing whether or not you’ll be a strong cultural ambassador for the United States in an international setting.

This means demonstrating open-mindedness and a willingness to learn from other cultures rather than espousing the attitude that American culture is superior to others. Strong Fulbright candidates will also be able to show that they are comfortable acclimating to unfamiliar environments, that they are at ease with independence and self-direction, and that community engagement is important to them.

Part 3: Preparing to Submit the Fulbright Application

Types of applications to the U.S. Student Program

There are two different ways you can apply to the Fulbright U.S. Student Program: you can either apply through an educational institution or as an At-Large applicant.

The primary differences between the two are that, when applying through an institution, you’ll have the benefit of working with that school’s Fulbright Program Advisor and receiving valuable feedback on your application materials. You’ll also have an on-campus interview, which will give you more feedback to help you revise your application, as well as an earlier deadline by which you’ll need to hand in your application. This gives your school time to ensure that your application is complete, after which they’ll submit it on your behalf.

If you’re a current undergraduate or graduate student, you should plan on applying through your school. Ideally, the earlier in your college career that you begin planning your Fulbright application, the better. This will give you the maximum amount of time to make yourself the strongest possible candidate and to build relationships with your Fulbright Program Advisor and potential recommenders.

Institutions have their own internal Fulbright timelines, so if you do plan to apply through your school, make sure to check in with your campus’s Fulbright office to see when they recommend beginning the application process.

Even if you are not currently enrolled in a school, you may still be able to apply through an institution as an alumnus, depending on whether or not your alma mater takes on alumni candidates. It’s worth checking, as many colleges do, though sometimes alumni face restrictions such as needing to have graduated within, say, the past three years.

If you’re not able to apply through an institution, you’ll apply as an At-Large applicant. As an At-Large applicant, you won’t have the structured guidance and checkpoints that a Fulbright Program Advisor provides, but you will have more flexibility to complete your application on your own timeline.

Though the process to complete your application will differ, once it’s submitted, your application will be evaluated the same way regardless of whether you’ve applied through an institution or not.

Fulbright application components

The exact components of your Fulbright application will vary depending on which type of application you are submitting. Nevertheless, regardless of whether you are applying for a Study/Research or an English Teaching Assistant Award, you’ll need to submit the following as part of your Fulbright Online Application:

  • Biographical Data and Program Information, including a proposal abstract, description of how you plan to engage with your host country, and what you plan to do upon returning to the United States

  • Statement of Grant Purpose: a two-page proposal describing exactly what you would like to do during your Fulbright year

  • Personal Statement: a one-page biographical narrative describing who you are and how your personal history and life goals relate to the project you’ve proposed

  • Three letters of recommendation

  • Transcripts from all undergraduate and graduate institutions from which you’ve received degrees or studied for credit

  • Foreign Language Forms: a self-evaluation and evaluation to be completed by a language teacher (only for countries with foreign language requirements)

  • If you’re also applying for the Critical Language Enhancement Award Statement: two short statements describing your language studies thus far and how additional training will enhance your plans for the Fulbright and beyond (optional and available for select countries only—we’ll go over this in more detail below)

Fulbright application timeline

Let’s go over the right timeline to apply to the U.S. Student Program.

For the 2021-2022 cycle, Fulbright’s online application opens on March 31st, 2020, with a final deadline of 5:00 PM Eastern Standard Time on October 13th, 2020.

However, if you’re applying through an institution, you’ll need to submit your application by your campus deadline, which is usually 4–6 weeks prior to the October deadline.

(Note: for current undergraduates, you should ideally begin preparing to apply for the Fulbright by spring of your junior year to go abroad following graduation.)

Working backward from that timeline, here’s how you should be thinking about your application year:

  • March of your application year (or earlier):

    • Reach out to your school’s fellowship office to find out what internal timeline they have in place for Fulbright applications.

  • May of your application year:

    • Start brainstorming project ideas and possible countries you’d like to apply to.

    • Look through the Fulbright online application and make note of what documents you’ll need to apply. Start putting the wheels in motion by requesting transcripts and updating your resumé.

  • June of your application year:

    • Choose your country and the type of grant.

    • Come up with a clear paragraph-long blurb describing your project both for yourself and to explain to others.

    • Reach out to potential recommenders whom you know well and send that blurb.

    • Identify and reach out to possible institutions that can support you in your affiliation (if you’re applying for a research grant). Send them your resumé along with your affiliation request.

  • July of your application year:

    • Draft your Statement of Grant Purpose and Personal Statement.

    • Finalize recommenders and send them your Statement of Grant Purpose draft.

    • Secure an affiliate institution, send them your Statement of Grant Purpose draft, and request an Affiliate Letter. Aim to get your Affiliate Letter by September 1st.

    • Share your Statement of Grant Purpose and Personal Statement with any professors, mentors, friends, or Fulbright alumni you know who may be able to provide you with feedback.

  • August of your application year:

    • Finalize your Statement of Grant Purpose and your Personal Statement.

    • Reach out to your recommenders with a friendly reminder to submit their reference letters.

  • Early September of your application year:

    • Check in with your school’s fellowship office for input or feedback on your application if they offer fellowship review.

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  • September of your application year:

    • Submit your application to your school’s fellowship office (if you’re applying through your institution).

  • October of your application year:

    • Submit your application (if you’re applying as an At-Large candidate).

    • Send thank you notes to your recommenders and make sure to let them know your application status when you hear back in the spring.

All candidates will be notified by email on January 31st as to whether or not their application has made it to the semi-finalist round of consideration.

Then, if you’ve made it that far, you’ll receive word between March 1st and May 31st, depending on which country you’ve applied to, as to whether you’ve been selected for a Fulbright, designated as an alternate, or if your application has been declined. Each country has their own notification date, which is why the window to hear back is so wide.

If you are awarded a Fulbright, the period of your grant will typically align with your host country’s academic calendar, beginning no later than March 31st of the award period (e.g. March 31st, 2022 for the 2021–2022 cycle).

Nailing the Fulbright Affiliation Letter

Below, we’re going to discuss the Personal Statement and Statement of Grant Purpose, but before that, it’s important to cover the Affiliation Letter.

If you’re applying for a Study/Research grant, you’ll also need to submit an Affiliation Letter from the person or institution that will be sponsoring you in your host country. The Affiliation Letter is a letter of support stating that the letter writer is willing to work with you on your proposed project. It should also address the quality and value of your project, how feasible it is to complete, and any resources the letter writer can provide to assist you in your work.

Affiliation letters must be printed on institutional letterhead and signed by the author. You’ll upload a scanned copy of the letter into your online application, so you can have your letter writer either send you a hard copy or scan it themselves and send the scan to you via email.

Affiliation letters also need to either be written in English or submitted alongside a translation into English. However, translations do not need to be “official” (i.e. signed or printed on letterhead).

Getting this affiliation letter is often one of the more daunting components of assembling an application. For some applicants, it makes the most sense to affiliate with a local university or college. If you’re not sure what institutions are respected in the country to which you’re applying, get advice from your professors and look at the Fulbright website to determine what people have used as affiliate institutions before. In other cases, there might be a non-university or non-governmental research body (for instance, in Mumbai, the Tata Institute for Social Sciences or, in Germany, the Max Planck Institutes, that are open to providing research resources and mentorship.)

When you write to your potential affiliate organization, try to get what’s called a “warm” intro—meaning, have someone who knows you and knows the organization (often a professor from your university) arrange the introduction. If that’s not possible, don’t worry, and just write an email that looks like the following:

Dear Dr. Golubeva,

I hope this note finds you well. I am a senior at Northwestern University in Chicago, USA, where I am studying sociology and Russian. I first read your research on gender equality in Russia for a course on contemporary Russian politics and referred to it when I spent last quarter doing research on the nation’s human rights conflicts, where I worked with Professor Irving Halloway.

I wanted to reach out because I am applying for a Fulbright Research Grant to study how resources are allocated to survivors of domestic violence in Russia, particularly among minority populations, and I was hoping I might be able to affiliate with your department. As you may know, the Fulbright Fellowship would fund me for a year in Moscow, so I would just ask for your help with being connected to local resources and leaders in the human rights community.

If you are able to discuss this possibility, I would love to send you my Statement of Grant Purpose and would be happy to Skype to let you know more about my plans for the year. I have also attached my resumé so that you can learn a bit about me in the meanwhile.

It would be an honor to learn more about your research, as well.

I appreciate your consideration.

Many thanks,

Ruth Peterson

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Part 4: How to Submit an Amazing Fulbright Application

As noted above, the Fulbright Online Application has many different components. In this section, we’ll go over how to complete the essay and long answer portions of the application, including questions in the Program Information section, the Statement of Grant Purpose, the Personal Statement, and the Critical Language Enhancement Award Statements.

Meeting our applicants

To see how these essays work, we’ll follow three aspiring Fulbrighters through their application processes. Let’s meet our applicants:

Applicant #1: Kyle: Kyle has been working at an after-school tutoring center since graduating from college two years ago with a degree in history and a minor in dance. Kyle also studied Spanish in college and spent a semester abroad in Barcelona during his junior year, so he is comfortably conversational in Spanish, though not entirely fluent. Though he’s been unsure of what his career goals are since graduating, he’s considering going back to school to become a teacher. He’s applying for an English Teaching Assistant fellowship in Argentina.

Applicant #2: Pia: Pia is a current college senior who hopes to work as a journalist. As an English major, she’s spent much of her college career working or interning in college and professional journalistic settings. She also has a vast travel resumé and experience reporting abroad. While she doesn’t have any formal training in psychology or healthcare, she’s proposing a research project in which she reports on attitudes towards mental health and mental healthcare systems in Malaysia.

Applicant #3: Ruth: Ruth is also in her final year of college. She’s graduating with a degree in sociology and has also spent the past two years studying Russian. Ruth is pretty sure she’d like to go to graduate school eventually but is unsure if she wants to go into academia through a sociology PhD program or if she wants to go a more hands-on route in social work school. In the meanwhile, Ruth is applying for a Fulbright grant and a Critical Language Enhancement Award to conduct research among survivors of domestic violence in Russia.

Completing the Program Information section of the application

The questions in this section are short essay questions designed to give reviewers a quick sense of what you are proposing—you’ll have space to go into much more detail when you write your Personal Statement and Statement of Grant Purpose. As such, concision and clarity are your goals. (Note: you do not need to use the maximum amount of characters allowed.)

To get a sense of how to answer them, let’s take a look at what Kyle wrote for his English Teaching Assistantship application.

Abstract/Summary of the Proposal (1750-character limit): Applicants should concisely detail why they wish to be a Fulbright grantee and undertake an English Teaching Assistant opportunity and why they have chosen to apply to the specific country.

Kyle’s response:

As a Fulbright ETA in Argentina, I would be excited to draw on my time working as a full-time tutor for middle school students over the last two years, many of whom are native Spanish speakers. This experience has transformed my career goals and led me towards the field of education—I intend to enroll in graduate school following a Fulbright Fellowship in hopes of becoming a teacher. Having had the opportunity to study abroad in Spain and learn Spanish as an undergraduate, I have long been drawn to Spanish-speaking cultures; as a history major, I am deeply interested in Argentina’s complex and unique history. My goal as an ETA would be to impart to my students via my firsthand experiences the joys and door-opening potential that learning new languages can bring, particularly the enrichment that cross-cultural communication bestows.

Host Country Engagement (1750-character limit): At its core, the Fulbright program aims to promote mutual understanding and seeks individuals who can be cultural ambassadors while living abroad. This section should offer a description of the ways in which applicants will engage with the host country outside of their grant activities to fulfill this mission. How will applicants plan to share their culture and values in their host community? Specific ideas should be included.

Kyle’s response:

In addition to education, Spanish, and history, one of my longtime passions is dance. Beyond the English classroom, I am interested in using my time in Argentina to both explore dance through an Argentine lens and to give back to the local community by drawing on my own experience as a dancer. Having studied a number of styles of dance from childhood through college, including ballet, jazz, and modern dance, I propose teaching an after-school dance class for middle school students, an age group that I am experienced in working with through my current job. I would also like to immerse myself in Argentina’s rich tradition of tango, a style I have long admired but have never formally studied. By spending equal time as both a teacher and student, my goal is to connect with local members of the community through mutual learning and appreciation for dance.

Plans Upon Return to the U.S. (850-character limit): A brief description of career and/or educational plans following completion of the Fulbright grant.

Kyle’s response:

After completing my Fulbright grant, I plan to attend graduate school in order to continue working in education. My goal is to earn a master’s degree in education and a California single subject teaching credential so I can work as a history teacher at the middle or high school level. In continuing and expanding the trajectory as an educator that I have begun in my current work as a tutor, I believe that spending a year as an ETA will help me immensely towards my goal of becoming a certified teacher.

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Fulbright Personal Statement Example

The Personal Statement is a one-page, single-spaced, biographical narrative. Here’s what Fulbright says about it:

The statement should be a 1 page narrative that provides a picture of yourself as an individual․ It should deal with your personal history, family background, influences on your intellectual development, the educational, professional, and cultural opportunities (or lack of them) to which you have been exposed, and the ways in which these experiences have affected you and your personal growth․ Include your special interests and abilities, career plans, and life goals, etc․ It should not be a recording of facts already listed on the application or an elaboration of your Statement of Grant Purpose․ It is more of a biography, but specifically related to you and your aspirations relative to the specific Fulbright Program to which you have applied․

Let’s take a look at what Pia wrote for her Personal Statement:

I grew up with two physician parents whose great adventure was to move across the world, though they didn’t see it that way. Sheltered, but goal-oriented and ambitious, I wanted a great adventure, too. I spent my suburban summers writing stories about escapades I was sure I’d never have, mooning over books like Polyanna and Oliver Twist, where the main characters truly suffered.

Struggles seemed far away from my world until my teenage years set in. Suddenly, sadness seemed to take over many of the people around me. I saw friends develop eating disorders, self-harm, or become suicidal. I watched my own life stay intact as others’ were cut down by things that came from their minds, and each time, as my natural empathy and impulse to listen further intertwined me with the sadness of others, I felt more uncertain about the stability and meaning of the world around me.

Objectively, I knew that there were larger global problems and that my life was mostly fine. I’d been canvassing about Big Issues since I was young: working on a presidential campaign before I could vote, volunteering at a community children’s center, visiting orphanages or handing out snacks in public parks when my family went to India. I knew life was worse for others, because I’d been told so many times how much material comfort I enjoyed. But a sense of not knowing what any of this comfort stood for enveloped the lives of my friends, and, eventually, me.

In college, I studied English because literature had always been the only thing with answers for me. I learned how to write both fiction and creative nonfiction, and in my writing, I became preoccupied with how, even as I moved into adulthood, I continued to find that sadness can still take people over, even in the midst of privilege and material comfort. My years on campus were marked by a frightening number of deaths and an even higher number of figurative absences as the result of widespread depression among my peers. I was reading literature which chronicled this epidemic, too, such as David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest and Jeffrey Eugenides’ The Virgin Suicides. It seemed that something dark was happening to young people of my generation and I wanted to understand what it was.

My own uncertainty about my life’s meaning was mostly tied to my identity. I felt confused about how to grow into the kind of person I’d like to be, rather than the kind I’d been told I should be. Luckily, I found answers in traveling thanks to grants from my university—to India, alone for the first time, to Sri Lanka for a summer, to Peru, the Philippines, and Kenya. My questions about forging meaningful identity were answered, and wonderfully complicated, by getting out of my American framework and exploring other nations’ ideologies and ways of understanding the self and the mind. This led me to study postcolonial literature in an effort to bridge the new perspectives I’d found with the questions that led me to them.

The more I write, the more I find that I want to write about other people because storytelling and understanding perspectives different from my own gives me courage and faith in the world. I’ve found that collecting the experiences of others and telling them back to an audience builds bridges out of empathy. One of my writing professors once told me that I should write what only I could write—to tell stories where who I am is indispensable and colors a story in some special way. As I prepare to enter a world beyond college, I’ve come to understand that I am uniquely suited to tell stories where my own sense of complicated identity informs larger systems of meaning-making. I want to tell these stories in order to try to solve the issues of purpose and identity that haunt my generation.

What works about this Personal Statement? Pia does a great job of weaving biographical information into her statement, all the while sticking to a narrative of trying to find meaning and identity in her life. Her familial, social, and educational background are key details that inform and drive this narrative, rather than act as window dressing. We also get a clear sense of how her search for meaning and identity have led to her career goal of becoming an international journalist, which allows her to make a strong case for herself as a candidate for a writing-based Fulbright project.

Writing the Fulbright Statement of Grant Purpose

The Statement of Grant Purpose is a two-page, single-spaced proposal that describes the “Who, What, When, Where, Why, and How” of your project. Arguably the most important element of your Fulbright application, the Statement of Grant Purpose should show that your project is “intellectually-compelling and feasible.” It should also contain clear, specific details of your plans, why they are significant, and how they contribute to the Fulbright mission of international exchange.

Be sure to check out Fulbright’s full list of specific points to address in your Statement of Grant Purpose.

Let’s continue with Pia and see what she proposed for her project.

The English phrase “to run amok” comes from the Malay word “amuk,” meaning “to go mad with rage.” Though “amuk” indicates a previously nonviolent person who suddenly goes into a frenzy, attempting to harm others, when Anglophones use the term, it usually refers to a triviality like children running out of control. The English usage of “amok” might be like a Malaysian using the term “anorexic” to refer to anyone who hasn’t eaten recently—it’s an exaggeration that occurs only once the psychologically-loaded term is divorced from its cultural context.

An individual’s mental health is affected by both their chemical and environmental influences, and every nation, religion, and tribe has long held its own understandings of madness. However, in an increasingly globalizing world—where the agents of globalization are often Western—a homogenous vocabulary for mental health is growing, one that’s inadequate to account for the varying contexts of mental states around the globe. Ethan Watters, the author of “Crazy Like Us: The Globalization of the American Psyche,” writes, “We have for many years been busily engaged in a grand project of Americanizing the world’s understanding of mental health and illness. We may indeed be far along in homogenizing the way the world goes mad.”

It’s no longer acceptable for the world to continue understanding so-called “madness” in the limited terms that we do. Fields of transcultural psychiatry are growing, and many researchers worldwide are working to document and find solutions to this homogeneity in approaches to mental healthcare. However, because this work is not thus far well-documented, it hasn’t yet begun to contribute to cross-cultural understandings of mental health.

I propose to take on a journalistic project in Malaysia centered around the Malaysian mental healthcare system in order to explore the ways that narratives of the mind can be culturally specific and to understand how different cultures approach mental healthcare. I plan to do an extended reporting project over the course of ten months in which I will study Malaysian attitudes towards mental healthcare, the Malaysian mental health system itself, and the way Western mental health education interacts with traditional medicine and older belief practices in the country.

Most prominent psychiatrists in Asian nations, and especially in Malaysia, were educated in the U.K. or the U.S., or in institutions with colonial or Western roots. But because Malaysia is incredibly diverse, the country also offers an ideal glimpse into a diverse set of Eastern philosophies of mind: within its population of about 29 million people, 60% are Muslim and the other 40% practice a variety of faiths, including Hinduism, Buddhism, Christianity, and many traditional belief systems. It’s a country that has been touched by globalization, but not exclusively by Western-rooted globalization, and as a regional economic hub, its diasporic population is vast, attracting Han Chinese, South Indians, Nepalis, Indonesians, and Filipinos. Along with these diverse philosophies come diverse approaches to mental healthcare.

I plan to affiliate with the Malaysian Psychology Organization to study the issue from a reportorial perspective. My work will be informed by my journalistic background in health/science journalism, profile-writing, and international reporting. Though I am not trained in psychology or mental healthcare practices, my experience reporting on topics that are not immediately germane to my academic background is substantial, as are my investigative skills and experiences as an interviewer across cultural lines.

I will base myself in Kuala Lumpur, taking on a series of topics throughout the ten months. I will also enroll in Malaysian language classes while in Kuala Lumpur, with the goal of being conversational within the first three months. During those three months, I will work to establish my network within MPO. I am in touch with the President of MPO, who has many contacts across the various sectors where mental healthcare is practiced: a small private sector, a larger government-influenced sector run through the Ministry of Health, and private practices that often integrate traditional belief practices. For the information and background-gathering stage of my project, I plan to shadow psychiatrists from across these sectors and conduct interviews with them on a broad scale.

In Kuala Lumpur, I will also work with one of the psychiatrists from MPO who I have made contact with already, Dr. Jia Yong Wong, who runs an organization that provides mental health services to Kuala Lumpur’s large refugee population. I plan to immerse myself in this group, an ideal set of individuals to study when trying to understand the application of Western mental health principles to a diverse, displaced group of peoples. I am in communication with my university’s Human Research Protection Program and will establish best practices with them on the kinds of interviewing questions and sensitivities about which I need to be aware.

I also plan to write several profiles of specific doctors’ work. One profile I am already planning is a longer piece about psychoanalysis in an Eastern context: how, though it comes from a Western tradition, it’s often applied to post-colonial thinking as a strategy for resistance. While many doctors are used to taking on research assistants with science backgrounds and may be less used to reporters, I have made contact with several who are willing to allow me to shadow them.

Through the Ministry of Health—where I already have some contacts, thanks to MPO—I will also investigate the government-run program on Traditional and Complementary Medicine. The Ministry of Health’s 2004 study into the prevalence of traditional medicine found that nearly 60% of the population still uses or has used a traditional Chinese, Indian, or other indigenous approach to treating medical problems rather than relying on Western-trained doctors. The government’s inclusion of this perspective in its approach to health is telling of its importance. I will investigate some of the centers working with funding or support from this division, including some Indian-based yoga-therapeutic approaches to health and mental health.

About five months into my project, I will travel to Penang, where several other psychiatrists affiliated with MPO practice. I will begin there with a similar approach of making contacts with psychiatrists practicing in the area, but my orientation time will be shorter. I expect to travel with some of the psychiatrists and professors of psychiatry in Penang with whom I have been in contact thus far, some of whom have focuses in community medicine and run or contribute to rural medical outposts. This would help me get access to populations who might be relying on older, traditional practices, and interacting with these individuals through doctors would help with language and establishing trust early.

At the end of my project, I’ll plan to spend the last month to two months back in Kuala Lumpur. As a culmination of my work, I will organize a symposium integrating the contacts I’ve made across traditional and Western approaches to mental health. I hope to provide more communication across the psychiatric fields in Malaysia itself, in the short term; in the long-term, I hope some of my published writing can shed light on the human faces of mental health in Malaysia.

My goal is to be a journalist, and I hope to work internationally for the majority of my career. I’ve spent my college career building reporting and writing skills, penning stories from several continents. I’ve learned the importance of immersion in order to be a trusted voice in international reporting. As a Fulbright scholar, I would deeply value the opportunity for an extended period of immersion that would allow me to both deepen my journalistic skills and provide new insights into a little-investigated yet critical topic with value at the local level in Malaysia as well as across international lines.

What works about this Statement of Grant Purpose? Pia writes in clear detail about her Fulbright plans, making sure to address not only what she plans to do and how, but also the reasons why her project is compelling both at the local level in Malaysia and as a source of cross-cultural exchange. She also makes sure to address the feasibility of her project, outlining the steps she’s already taken to secure contacts, as well as detailing her own background and experiences—or lack thereof, where relevant—that have prepared her to successfully undertake her project. Lastly, her Statement of Grant Purpose also helps us understand how the project she’s proposing will help her accomplish her journalistic aspirations.

When reading her Personal Statement and Statement of Grant Purpose together, we can also see how Pia’s two essays complement and inform each other but, importantly, do not repeat each other, which would be a waste of valuable space.

Writing the Critical Language Enhancement Award Statements

The Critical Language Enhancement Award (CLEA) grants you additional time, on top of your research or teaching Fulbright, to engage in intensive language study. CLEAs typically last for three to six months before the start of your Fulbright grant and, depending on the country you apply to, can take the form of formal classroom instruction and/or private tutoring.

CLEAs are only available if you are applying for a Fulbright grant in certain countries. While the lists of eligible countries and languages change from year to year, in the 2020–2021 cycle CLEAs were available for applicants to China, Egypt, India, Indonesia, Jordan, Morocco, and Russia. In the same cycle, CLEA-approved languages were Arabic (all dialects), Bahasa Indonesia, Bangla/Bengali, Mandarin Chinese, Gujarati, Hindi, Marathi, Punjabi, Russian, and Urdu.

Applying for the CLEA requires submitting two short statements in which applicants “demonstrate and detail their commitment to developing their language skills through current study, during their Fulbright grant tenure, and in their future career and/or educational plans.”

Fulbright notes that if your proposed project can be completed without additional language study and not suffer in quality, it will not be a top contender for a CLEA. In other words, it’s important to demonstrate how additional language training is directly relevant to your project’s success. (Note: you should make sure to also address this in your Statement of Grant Purpose.)

Let’s see how Ruth handled the CLEA application questions.

Question 1: Describe your language study plans. (500 character limit.)

Ruth’s response:

I plan to work with a private tutor ten hours per week in order to build on the two years of Russian language study that I’ve completed as an undergraduate. I will also study daily on my own to accelerate my Russian skills as quickly as possible. Because my project involves interviewing Russian speakers one-on-one, I expect that conducting my research will also contribute to my language acquisition, and my project is designed so that my interviews will increase in complexity as the grant period goes on.

Question 2: Describe the expected impact of additional language study on your Fulbright project and future career or academic goals. (500 character limit).

Ruth’s response:

As an interview-based project, my Fulbright research is dependent on my ability to communicate in Russian. Though I currently speak Russian at an intermediate level, I believe that a CLEA would have an immense impact on the depth of interviews that I’d be able to conduct and in turn would increase the overall success of my project. My future goals are to work in sociology research or social work; as such, interviewing across linguistic lines is a skill that I’ll utilize for the rest of my career.

Final thoughts

The Fulbright application process is long and complex but putting in the time to design your project with care and write your application essays well will go a long way towards helping you win a grant. A project that will take you far in the Fulbright selection process is one that is intellectually challenging yet feasible, and which aligns with your own academic or creative passions and supports the Fulbright mission of mutual understanding and cooperation between nations is. By following the advice in this guide, you’ll be well on your way towards joining the ranks of the accomplished Fulbrighters who are chosen to represent the United States as ambassadors to the world.

(Video) How to Get Into Harvard Medical School


Which Fulbright countries are most competitive? ›

The United Kingdom receives the most applications on average (842), almost three times that of Germany (298), the next runner up. Other popular countries include India, France, Mexico, Italy, China, Spain, South Africa and Australia, with average application numbers ranging from 105 to 200.

What university has the most Fulbright scholars? ›

Georgetown University. – Washington D.C. From 2019 to 2021, Georgetown University produced more Fulbright winners than any other institution in the United States. Since its inception, nearly 500 of Georgetown's graduate students and alumni have won the award.

How do you get a Fulbright scholarship in the US? ›

Applicants must have a conferred bachelor's degree or equivalent before the start of the grants. In the creative and performing arts, four years of professional training and/or experience meets the basic eligibility requirement.

Where do most Fulbright scholars come from? ›

The primary source of funding for the Fulbright Program is an annual appropriation made by the U.S. Congress to the U.S. Department of State's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. More than 2,200 U.S. Students and 900 U.S. college and university faculty and administrators are awarded Fulbright awards annually.

How difficult is it to be a Fulbright scholar? ›

How competitive is it to win a Fulbright student grant? While acceptance rates change from year to year, Fulbright generally awards grants to around 20 percent of applicants to the U.S. Student Program. That said, the competition can vary quite a bit depending on what country you're applying to.

What GPA do you need for a Fulbright? ›

You can win a Fulbright with an average GPA

Update: Fulbright now requires a minimum GPA of 3.0.

Are Fulbright Scholars paid? ›

A stipend broadly based on the cost of living in the host country. These funds may be used by the grantee to cover to room, board, and incidental costs during the grant period.

What makes a good Fulbright candidate? ›

The Fulbright program selects winners based on: academic/professional record, language preparation, feasibility of the proposed project, personal qualifications, and extent to which the project will further the Fulbright aim of promoting mutual understanding among nations.

Why is Fulbright prestigious? ›

Today, the Fulbright Program is considered the largest and most prestigious educational exchange program, providing recent college graduates, graduate students and young professionals the opportunity to continue their education or professional development through research and study in a foreign country [source: IIE].

How much money does Fulbright give? ›

How much does Fulbright pay? Up to $25,000 per school year, two for Master's, three for Ph. D. This amount is not labeled so the scholarship recipient can use the funds for living expenses (according to the State Department tabulator), tuition, fees and/or books.

How many Fulbright scholars are there a year? ›

Begun in 1946, the Fulbright Program awards approximately 8,000 grants annually. Roughly 2,000 U.S. students, 4,000 foreign students, over 800 U.S. scholars, and 900 visiting scholars receive awards, in addition to several hundred teachers and professionals.

Who gets a Fulbright scholarship? ›

The Fulbright U.S. Student Program offers fellowships for U.S. graduating college seniors, graduate students, young professionals, and artists to research, study, or teach English abroad for one academic year.

What does a Fulbright scholar do? ›

The Fulbright Program provides participants-chosen for their academic merit and leadership potential - with the opportunity to study, teach and conduct research, exchange ideas and contribute to finding solutions to shared international concerns.

Is it prestigious to be a Fulbright scholar? ›

The Fulbright Scholar Program provides grants for graduated students, researchers or teaching assistants. This is one of the most prestigious programs worldwide. To date, 60 of the students previously awarded with this scholarship have now a Nobel Prize.

What are my chances of getting a Fulbright? ›

As we're sure you can imagine, the Fulbright U.S. Student Program receives thousands of applicants every year. And generally, only around 20% of applicants will win one of the Fulbright awards. This may make you hesitate to apply.

How long is a Fulbright scholarship? ›

In general, grants are: Are one academic year in length--between 9 and 12 months. Begin no sooner than the July the year after the deadline and no later than March the following year. Correspond to the academic calendars abroad.

Can you work in US after Fulbright? ›

<blockquote>Are Fulbrighters eligible to work in the US for one year after their LL. M since they got a J-1 visa ? If you wish to stay, you have to ask for a waiver, which will have to be approved by the Commission in your home country.

Can I work in USA after Fulbright scholarship? ›

Work Issues

Please know that under the Fulbright program you will be issued a J-1 visa which prohibits you to work in the U.S. However, you can work as a teaching assistant or a research assistant but for that as well you will need to take permission from the USEFP.

Can you work while on a Fulbright? ›

Work Authorization

Any Fulbright grant funds you are receiving may be affected by income earned from temporary employment, based on Fulbright country policy. The maximum number of hours you are eligible to work during the academic year is 20 hours per week.

How do I get a successful Fulbright application? ›

Top 7 Fulbright Application Tips From Successful Alumni
  1. Choose a country strategically. ...
  2. Tell a story. ...
  3. Read the Fulbright Act and use its language in your essays. ...
  4. Ask for feedback. ...
  5. Choose recommenders who know you. ...
  6. Prepare for your interview. ...
  7. Just do it.
May 7, 2020

How many recommendations do you need for a Fulbright? ›

You must submit three recommendation letters as part of the application. The authors should be the three individuals who can best speak to your ability to carry out the project being proposed; they should discuss your intellectual and professional preparation, and your ability to represent the U.S. abroad.

What is the most prestigious scholarship in the world? ›

The Most Prestigious Scholarships and Fellowships
  • National Merit Scholarship (Academic Excellence)
  • Rhodes Scholarships (Study at the University of Oxford)
  • Schwarzman Scholarship (Graduate study at Tsinghua University in Beijing)
  • Winston Churchill Scholarship (Study in STEM at Churchill College, Cambridge University)
Jun 23, 2021

Which is more prestigious Rhodes vs Fulbright? ›

Rhodes Scholarship. This is widely considered the most prestigious international scholarship.

Why do you want to be a Fulbright scholar? ›

If you are an undergraduate looking for an opportunity to learn a new language, a scholar taking an in-depth look at a cultural topic, or a teacher looking to gain international teaching experience, a Fulbright award can expand your horizons and enhances your understanding of your field of study in different cultural, ...

How competitive is the Marshall Scholarship? ›

With nearly 1,000 university endorsed and selected applicants in recent years, it is among the most selective graduate scholarship for Americans, with an acceptance rate around 4 percent, and as low as 3.2 percent in 2015. There are over 1,900 Marshall Scholar alumni.

What does the Rhodes Scholarship cover? ›

A Rhodes Scholarship covers all University and College fees, a personal stipend and one economy class airfare to Oxford at the start of the Scholarship, as well as an economy flight back to the student's home country at the conclusion of the Scholarship.

How prestigious is a Fulbright? ›

The program was founded by United States Senator J. William Fulbright in 1946 and is considered to be one of the most widely recognized and prestigious scholarships in the world.

How competitive is Fulbright ETA? ›

What is the Fulbright ETA award rate? The most commonly given answer to this question is 20%, which is fairly accurate. The average award rate from 2011-2015 is 22%, but that number is skewed a bit by the 2011-2012 application year when the average award rate was 28%.

How many Fulbright countries can you apply to? ›

Over 150 countries and other areas participate in the Fulbright Specialist Program. Please find below a list of the current countries and other areas, including an intergovernmental organization, that are eligible to participate in the Fulbright Specialist Program.

How much money do Fulbright scholars receive? ›

How much does Fulbright pay? Up to $25,000 per school year, two for Master's, three for Ph. D. This amount is not labeled so the scholarship recipient can use the funds for living expenses (according to the State Department tabulator), tuition, fees and/or books.

What are the benefits of being a Fulbright scholar? ›

round-trip transportation to the host country.
Award Benefits
  • Accident & Sickness Health Benefits.
  • 24/7 support line for urgent and non-urgent situations.
  • 12 months of non-competitive eligibility (NCE) hiring status within the federal government.
  • A stipend broadly based on the cost of living in the host country.

What makes a good Fulbright candidate? ›

The Fulbright program selects winners based on: academic/professional record, language preparation, feasibility of the proposed project, personal qualifications, and extent to which the project will further the Fulbright aim of promoting mutual understanding among nations.

How many Fulbright scholars are there a year? ›

Begun in 1946, the Fulbright Program awards approximately 8,000 grants annually. Roughly 2,000 U.S. students, 4,000 foreign students, over 800 U.S. scholars, and 900 visiting scholars receive awards, in addition to several hundred teachers and professionals.

How can I stay in US after Fulbright? ›

Q: Can Fulbright participants stay in the United States after their program, or do they need to return to their home country? A: Upon completion of their program, Fulbrighters are required to return to their home country to complete the two-year residency requirement before becoming eligible to apply for other visas.

How long is a Fulbright? ›

In general, grants are: Are one academic year in length--between 9 and 12 months. Begin no sooner than the July the year after the deadline and no later than March the following year. Correspond to the academic calendars abroad.

Should I do a Fulbright? ›

If you are an undergraduate looking for an opportunity to learn a new language, a scholar taking an in-depth look at a cultural topic, or a teacher looking to gain international teaching experience, a Fulbright award can expand your horizons and enhances your understanding of your field of study in different cultural, ...


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