In this post, Steve discusses what goes into making a great Fulbright application. Steve is a past recipient of Japan’s equivalent of the Fulbright, the Monbukagakusho Dissertation Research Fellowship that is awarded by the Japanese government scholarship to facilitate two years of research, which he conducted at the Faculty of Law, The University of Tokyo. In the following, Steve has really done an incredible job of putting together the key information that we have successfully used to help clients obtain America’s most prestigious scholarship.
PREPARING A FULBRIGHT GRANT APPLICATION
The Fulbright Grant is the most prestigious scholarship program offered by the US Government. You can find general information about the program here. In this post I provide advice for how to prepare a strong Fulbright scholarship application package. I’ve included specific information about application procedures and essay writing. Although this post mostly contains specific references to the Fulbright application for US students, the suggestions here certainly apply to anyone around the world who is planning to apply for a Fulbright Grant. As the Fulbright rules are country-specific, be sure to download the appropriate application materials and refer to those while reading this post. You can find the link to your country's Fulbright program here.
There are four categories of Fulbright Grants, but I am going to focus on the ones for graduate students. The other three categories are research (for scholars at universities and non-profit research institutions), journalist (including all media), and doctoral dissertation research (for PhD students enrolled outside the United States).
Successful Fulbright candidates prepare early and thoroughly, know exactly what their goals are, and know how to define them in detailed terms relevant for the task at hand. Many of the tasks will be similar to what you will need to do for graduate school applications, so people who work on Fulbright first, even if they don’t get it, at least have the opportunity to prepare something that is extremely similar to a graduate school application months ahead of actual grad school application deadlines.
For the perspective and advice of successful applicants read issues of the Fulbright Grant Applicant Newsletter.
IS THE FULBRIGHT GRANT RIGHT FOR YOU?
In general: The Fulbright Program strives to contribute to the development of potential future leaders who will improve understanding between the United States and any other particular nation. You will need to make the case in your application essay and interview that you will be both an excellent scholar and a leader in forging bilateral ties between the United States and another country.
Review the history and goals of the Fulbright program before deciding whether it fits your needs.
In particular: the Fulbright Program primarily awards those working in the social sciences, fine arts, and humanities. So if your academic or professional specialization is in one of the many fields in these three disciplines, then you may wish to consider applying. For example, the list of the Japanese Grantees for 2008 includes no one working in the physical or life sciences. Grants were awarded to graduate students in American and comparative literature, philosophy, educational sociology, but also in business topics such as corporate governance and innovation, among many other fields. Not surprisingly, several Japanese doing work on topics related to US-Japan political and economic relations also received Fulbright grants. Be sure to check out the list of previous grant recipients in your own country to get an idea of the diverse topics recognized by the Fulbright committee.
THE APPLICATION FORM
Most of the remainder of this post provides advice on how to approach specific sections of the application. Numbered references below refer to the US sample pdf application (available here) , which I downloaded on April 19, 2009. Please be sure to check the application documents you download to make sure they are the most recent and correct forms. Please confirm whether there are any differences between my numbered references and the actual numbers next to each section on the application you download.
Be aware that there are other documents you will need to download, including, but not limited to, separate forms for Statement of Grant Purpose and Personal Statement (US Forms 5 and 6, respectively) reference letters and foreign- or English language abilities.
The application requires many documents to be submitted together by a particular deadline, which varies according to country. Find out when the application form itself is available and plan to obtain it as soon as possible.
FOR US APPLICATIONS PLEASE NOTE: Forms 1-4 download as one 4-page document. The Statement of Purpose and the Personal Statement are separate forms (Forms 5 and 6, respectively.)
After downloading the right version of the application for the country you are from, look it over while you read the following. As mentioned above, you need to go your country's Fulbright site to get that document. You can find your country's site here.
BEFORE YOU START THE APPLICATION take to heart the words of the Delphic Oracle of Ancient Greece who advised Socrates, “Know thyself!” Answer the following questions about yourself:
What are my specific research and professional goals? How does the one relate to the other, specifically?
What are my greatest strengths that will allow me to fulfill my goals? What accomplishments demonstrate these goals?
The application requires precise plans and concise language. For example, part 33 of the US application requires an abstract of your study proposal in enough space for about 250 words.
You will not provide concise, believable information if you do not already have detailed answers to the questions above. Keep in mind that you will have to write a longer essay describing your goals elsewhere.
Next, make a resume or CV. I am actually going to repeat some of the advice I give in that post with specific reference to Fulbright. Based on my experience as well as that of successful clients with whom I’ve worked, a professional resume/CV is invaluable.
The value of a resume/CV to your Fulbright application is threefold.
The resume/CV provides you the means to make an excellent first impression on the selection committee.
The process of creating a professional resume/CV will focus your mind.
Much of the information required for application is the same kind of information found on a professional CV or resume (US Forms 1-4 parts 29-31 and 37-41) so you will have an easy time transferring the information from your resume/CV to the application, and your information will be in professional language.
Question: “Well, if I have to include much of the same information on the application as on the resume/CV, then why bother making the latter?”
Fair question. I can think of three good reasons to do so.
First, as noted, the exercise itself will prepare you to make a precise, proper Fulbright application.
Second, you can include more information on the resume/CV than on the application, so the resume provides a fuller view of your background. In particular, seeing your accomplishments and experience on a resume/CV reveals the “upward” pattern of your career/academic progress, from fewer accomplishments to more. In this way, the reader sees your professional growth.
Third, if you are applying for a Fulbright then odds are good that you are applying for other sources of funding as well. You should submit a resume/CV to all of these sources so making one now saves you valuable time later!
In conclusion, the utility of a resume/CV cannot be underestimated. As noted, a resume/CV should show the development of your academic and professional background as a progression of accomplishments over time. In this way it also helps you to write your statement of grant purpose and personal statement essays.
THE APPLICATION FORM: “STATEMENT OF GRANT PURPOSE” (US APPLICATION FORM 5)
Here you demonstrate in detail what and how your research will contribute to your discipline. A contribution includes an addition to your field’s overall knowledge that also enhances understanding between the US and another nation.
ACCEPTED AREAS OF RESEARCH: Make sure your proposed project will contribute to one of the designated project areas identified by the Fulbright commission of your country.
Before you begin writing this essay consult with colleagues or your academic or graduate adviser. Ask them if your project idea is feasible and solicit their advice on how to strengthen it. But remember your audience: Avoid academic or professional jargon. The selection committee includes people of different backgrounds so it is unlikely that all of them, or even any of them, will understand your field’s specialized language. (This advice also applies to graduate school and other scholarship essays!)
You should provide detailed answers to each of the following six questions, reproduced here from Applicant Newsletter No. 9:
1. With whom do you propose to work?
2. What do you propose to do? What is exciting, new or unique about your project? What contribution will the project make to the Fulbright objective of promoting cross-cultural interaction and mutual understanding?
3. When will you carry out your study or research? Include a timeline.
4. Where do you propose to conduct your study or research? Why is it important to go abroad to carry out your project?
5. Why do you want to do it? What is important or significant about the project?
6. How will you carry out your work? All students should discuss methodology and goals in their statements. How will it help further your academic or professional development?
IS YOUR PROJECT FEASIBLE?
Given enough time and money almost any project is feasible. Your essay should account for resources, relevant to your project, of your host nation and host institution, as well as the time frame and funding of the grant. Where appropriate you should demonstrate you have already taken enough steps to setting up parts of your research. For example, explain; how your language skills are sufficient, that you have satisfied the relevant authority’s ethics requirements pursuant to any type of research involving human participants, that you have obtained permission, if needed, from local officials, etc. Any factor that could raise doubts about the likelihood of completing your project should be accounted for in this essay (part 30 for Japanese applicants).
THE APPLICATION: “PERSONAL STATEMENT” (US FORM 6)
Form 6 allows you to highlight the person-behind-the-project in no more than a single page. Show in detail what has made you successful in the past and will facilitate the success of your proposed project. In particular, you should be able to demonstrate that: you can think and plan to achieve goals; prioritize and follow-through on your objectives; learn from your mistakes; you have leadership and communication skills.
IT IS CRITICAL THAT THE WHAT YOU WRITE ABOUT IN THIS ESSAY FULLY SUPPORTS YOUR STUDY PLAN. YOU NEED TO HELP THE FULBRIGHT COMMITTEE UNDERSTAND HOW YOUR SPECIFIC BACKGROUND WILL SUPPORT YOUR RESEARCH PLANS.
The selection committee is trying to read between the lines of your personal statement (Form 6) to assess whether the person described therein is likely to succeed at the project detailed in the statement of grant purpose (Form 5). The key to a good personal statement is to show, not merely state, your strengths in other endeavors. Rather than assert your creativity, for example, reveal it through a detailed example of a time when you were creative.
REMEMBER! You must write all essays within the space provided.
THE APPLICATION: REFERENCES
Fulbright requires three references. All three of your references should be from people able to judge the merits of your proposed project as well as your ability to complete it. For graduate student applicants this would obviously include your main advisor and other professors in your field at your institution or at another one.
The Fulbright letter of reference form contains two pages. One is for the actual letter, and one contains a list of criteria on which the recommender should rate you according to an adjacent scale. Among the criteria, the following are worth keeping in mind as they demonstrate the Fulbright’s seriousness in seeking qualified future scholars and leaders: “knowledge of field,” “seriousness of purpose,” “potential for significant future contribution in field,” “resourcefulness and initiative,” and “leadership qualities.”Be sure to ask people who can accurately judge you on these criteria.
CONTACT YOUR INTENDED REFERENCES NOW!
Even if you have not completed your essays, you should contact potential references in order to let them know an official request will be coming soon. It is a basic courtesy to give the writer sufficient time to do so. It is also prudent to contact them so that you can discuss your project with them now, even if you have only begun to think about it. (If these references include the same people you will ask for graduate school references, then now would be a great time to mention ask them kindly to do so later this year when grad school applications become available.)
THE APPLICATION: Miscellaneous advice
OTHER SCHOLARSHIPS: Here you are asked to list other scholarships, or fellowships for which you may be applying. You should be honest and provide this information. First, it reveals something about your competitiveness in as much as, if you have a strong application package, then you probably are applying to other scholarship programs.
The Fulbright application requires time and thoughtful preparation. Even before you have the application in front of you or on your computer screen, you should do the following now:
Make your resume or CV
Contact references to let them know you will humbly be requesting their assistance
Solicit feedback on your proposed study from people in your field
Begin writing outlines and/or drafts of your essays: Even if your ideas are only in the embryonic stage, organizing them in essay format will hasten their development
Fulbright award winners whom I’ve known come from different academic and professional backgrounds, but all have one important thing in common: They all started the Fulbright application process early and they devoted as much time as it took to complete the best application they possibly could.
Make the completion of your Fulbright application a top priority in your life: Prepare to replace your free time activities with working on your application
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- H. Steven ("Steve") Green, グリーン・ハロルド・スティーブン
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