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How to Win a Fulbright Scholarship

Always wanted to immerse yourself in another culture, but weren’t sure how to go about doing so? If so, a Fulbright Scholarship might be perfect for you. The Fulbright Scholarships allow students to meet, live, and work with people in their host country to become engaged in new cultures and communities.

Keep on reading to learn about the different types of Fulbright Scholarships, how you can apply for one, and the benefits of winning one!

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What is a Fulbright scholarship?

Fulbright Scholarships are the awards given to those accepted to the Fulbright U.S. Student Program, the flagship international academic exchange program developed after the end of World War II to foster mutual understanding between countries through students living and learning in host countries. 

American students awarded Fulbright Scholarships will be interacting with those in their host country on a daily basis, in the classroom, in the field, at home, and in everyday tasks. Ideally, this will allow them to develop a better understanding and appreciation of others’ ways of life and viewpoints.

However, what you will do in your host country as well as the length of your program will depend on which program and host country you apply to. We’ll get into that later, though. For now, we should make sure you’re eligible – let’s get into the eligibility criteria!

Also read: Top scholarships for graduate students

Eligibility criteria for Fulbright scholarships

Becoming a Fulbright Scholar is a lengthy, competitive process. Before applying, pay close attention to eligibility criteria:

  • Must be U.S. Citizens or U.S. Nationals (permanent residents are not eligible)
  • Must have a bachelor’s degree (or equivalent) before the start of the grant/program
    • For those in the creative/performing arts, this requirement can be substituted with four years of “professional training or experience”
  • Applicants must meet the language requirements of the award they’re applying for and be able to complete their project and adapt to life in their host country
  • Applicants may (but are not required to) hold a J.D. at the time of application
  • Doctors of Medicine can receive grants for academic study, but not for internships/residencies. Those with an M.D. degree who have completed their formal postgraduate training should apply to the Fulbright U.S. Scholar Program instead

If you would like to learn more about preferred qualifications and factors that render you ineligible for the Fulbright Scholarships, check out Fulbright’s information page!

Although those requirements are only applicable to U.S. candidates, you can still apply to a Fulbright program even if you’re not from the U.S.! Instead of applying to the Fulbright U.S. Student Program, you’d be applying to the Fulbright Foreign Student Program

For more details about the different types of Fulbright Scholarships/Awards and information on the Fulbright Foreign Student Program, keep reading!

Different types of Fulbright scholarships

Depending on your interests, goals, and where you’re from, there are different types of Fulbright Scholarships available. 

For U.S. applicants, the main two awards include the Fulbright Study/Research Award and the English Teaching Assistant Award. Both are applied to through the Fulbright U.S. Student Program. On the other hand, non-U.S. citizens interested in the Fulbright Scholarships should apply through the Fulbright Foreign Student Program. 

So, what are the differences between each program? Let’s see!

Open study/research awards

Applicants who apply to a Fulbright Open Study/Research Award are expected to design their own research projects and work with advisors at universities within their host country to carry out these projects. The Open Study/Research Awards are available in around 140 countries, however; specific program requirements vary by country. To find more specific information about the Open Study/Research Award in your desired host country, we recommend finding your host country on Fulbright’s website, which will direct you to more information about the award types (and requirements) for that nation. 

English teaching assistant awards

As the name implies, those who apply to the English Teaching Assistant Award will be expected to help English teachers within the classroom in their host countries. Depending on the country you apply to, the grade level of the students within your classroom can vary, from kindergarten to university-aged students. English Teaching Assistant applicants may only apply to one country. Access Fulbright’s website to find more information about your host country’s requirements, placement locations, weekly teaching commitments, and more.

For non-U.S. Fulbright candidates

If you’re a non-U.S. Fulbright applicant, you will be expected to study and conduct research in the U.S. as part of the Foreign Fulbright Student Program. Unlike the Fulbright U.S. Student Program, non-U.S. applicants are limited to only coming to the U.S. for their Fulbright program.

Despite this similarity between the 160+ countries that are a part of the Foreign Fulbright Student Program, the application process and requirements vary by country. As a result, we would recommend using Fulbright’s web tool to find out whether the Fulbright Foreign Student Program operates in your home country, and how you should go about applying for it!

Now, for those of you who are U.S. applicants, you may be wondering about how to choose a host country to apply to? That’s a great question – let’s dive in!

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How should I choose a host country?

As it turns out, there’s no one best way of choosing a host country – everyone has their different reasons for picking specific places they want to do their program in. However, there are some things that you should definitely consider before making your choice. Here they are:

Academic reasons:

Is your major or minor related to this specific country or part of the world? Have you previously studied this region and have developed an interest in it?

Country requirements/preferences:

Some countries have preferences for students in specific fields or with specific degrees. Whether or not you meet these preferences may alter your chances of winning.

Language:

Do you meet the language requirements of your desired host country?

Country uniqueness reasons:

Is there something specific or unique to the country that relates to your project? Why do you want to go to this country specifically (and not another)?

Personal reasons:

Is your family from this country? Did you grow up influenced by the culture of this country?

Chances of winning:

Some Fulbright countries have far more placement opportunities than others, and some receive far more applications as well. Keep in mind that if you’re applying to a country with fewer placements but that typically receives many applications, you have a lower chance of winning. However, we personally do not recommend that you only apply to countries where you have a higher chance of winning – you should apply to places you would truly want to live in for a year (or for the duration of your program)!

Also, having lived in your desired host country in the past few years before your application may lower your chances of winning.

Future career reasons:

Do you want to work in this country in the future, or wish to work with people from this country in the U.S. later on?

While these aren’t even all the things to be considered while picking a host country, they’re a good bunch. We hope they’ll help you in choosing (or at least, narrowing down) what host country to apply to!

How do I apply for a Fulbright Scholarship?

Finally, what you’ve been waiting for! First, we’ll briefly go over what you will need to apply for a Fulbright Scholarship, then we’ll go over each step you should take in applying!  

Ultimately, the specific application components you’ll need when applying for a Fulbright scholarship will depend on which program you’re applying to. For U.S. applicants applying for either the Open Study/Research or English Teaching Assistant Award, Fulbright’s website goes into specifics about all the components you’ll need for your application (including videos and tutorials from start to finish!).

For non-U.S. candidates, on the other hand, we recommend checking out the Fulbright website for the country you’re applying from, as each country has unique requirements and application components.

Now, we’re finally onto the application process! Here are the steps we recommend you take when applying for a Fulbright scholarship:

1. Read your desired host country’s award summary

Before you start writing, we highly recommend you read up on your host country’s summary/award summary. This way, you will know exactly what information you need to include in your “Statement of Grant Purpose” (as requirements vary by country), how to format your statement, and get to know more about what they expect of you if you do win.

How you should write your “Statement of Grant Purpose” will also vary by whether you’re pursuing the Open Study/Research or English Teaching Assistant Award. 

If pursuing the Open Study/Research Award, you will need to elaborate on your plans for your research project, which should ideally seem feasible and show commitment to your desired host country. The Fulbright Program (and us) highly recommend that you seek out the help of a trusted professor, faculty member, or Fulbright Program Advisor when developing your project.

On the other hand, the English Teaching Assistant Award “Statement of Grant Purpose” asks applicants to elaborate on what they will bring to the classroom as teaching assistants, especially as they grew up with a different education system.

2. Write strong Fulbright statements

Besides the “Statement of Grant Purpose”, both awards require applicants to write personal statements, in which you should “paint a picture” of yourself and your upbringing.

When writing both your statements (and every part of your application), keep in mind that the Fulbright program is looking for applicants who truly believe in its mission to increase compassion and understanding between those from the U.S. and other countries. Be honest about your reasons for wanting to do the program, but your belief in Fulbright’s mission should also shine through if you wish to be selected.

Some things to remember:

  • You are writing for the chance to learn about another culture and increase goodwill between the U.S. and your host country! So, we urge you to be conscious to not write in a way that makes it seem that you believe your country is superior to others
  • Try to emphasize how you are a perfect match for your program (through your education, experiences, and future career aspirations)
  • There is limited writing space, so avoid repetition!

3. Find affiliations in your host country (Open study/research award)

If you’re pursuing the English Teaching Assistant Award, feel free to skip this step (you don’t need it for your application – woohoo!). However, for those of you interested in the Open Study/Research Award, make sure to secure your letters of affiliation!

The letter should come from the institution or individual who you’re planning on working with in the host country. It should also be written/translated in English, printed on official letterhead, and signed by the author.

4. Ask for letters of recommendation

No matter which award you’re applying for, you will need to acquire three (3) recommendation letters which speak to your ability to carry out your duties/project in your host country. 

Make sure to give recommenders at least 3-4 weeks to write your letters, so they have enough time to give some thought into what they’re writing and write the best possible letters. Also, provide them with your Statement of Grant Purpose and Personal Statement, so they can familiarize themselves with what you’re applying for.

5. Collect/submit any remaining forms

Besides your letters of recommendation and letters of affiliation (if you’re trying for the Open Study/Research Award), the only remaining forms you should need are your Foreign Language Forms and transcripts.

The Foreign Language Forms are required for some programs, but not all. However, if you have some language skills relevant to your desired host country, it may be beneficial to submit the forms to demonstrate this ability of yours. To submit, you should complete a Language Self Evaluation and a professional language teacher of yours should fill out a Foreign Language Evaluation Form for you.

As for transcripts, you must send in transcripts from all undergraduate and graduate institutions from which you received a degree or completed coursework.

6. Relax, and wait for your decision!

After all that, you’re finished! Time to relax until you’re updated about the status of your application.

If you make it to the final round, most (but not all) of the host countries will expect you to complete an interview over the phone or through video. We recommend preparing, and, if possible, practicing your language skills (of the language of your host country)!

If you don’t make it, however, don’t feel down about it! If you’re truly determined to win a Fulbright Scholarship, try again the next year (and you’ll be more prepared the second time around!). Alternatively, remember that you can always study or research abroad through other means – Fulbright is not the only option!

See also: Top study abroad scholarships

When is the deadline?

Great question! The deadline is usually in mid-September to mid-October of each year, so check the website for the exact date!

What you win with a Fulbright Scholarship

Besides the fun that comes with being able to participate in the program itself, a Fulbright Scholarship also provides you with monetary (and other) awards!

All Fulbright U.S. Student Program grants award winners:

  • Accident/Sickness Health Benefits
  • 24/7 support line 
  • A year of non-competitive eligibility (NCE) hiring status within the federal government

Some grants also award (varies by country and program):

  • Book/research allowances
  • Enrichment activities
  • Full/partial tuition
  • Language study programs

Most Foreign Fulbright Student Program scholarship winners receive:

  • Health benefits
  • Enrichment activities
  • Tuition or fee waivers for two courses/semester

The impact of a Fulbright scholarship

Besides the awards and great experiences won through a Fulbright scholarship, Fulbrighters often go on to have amazing careers as well! Many go on to win Nobel Prizes, become MacArthur Foundation Fellows, win Pulitzer Prizes, or even become heads of state.

If all this sounds good to you and you plan on applying to a Fulbright Scholarship, we wish you luck on your application! And, if you win, remember to take in the culture around you and enjoy the experience!

Read more: Countries with free college: How to get a free degree abroad

Frequently asked questions about Fulbright scholarships

How hard is it to get a Fulbright Scholarship?

Honestly, quite difficult! On average, the rate of success is typically around 20%, with around 1 in 5 applicants winning a scholarship. However, it is important to note that the chances of winning vary by country. This is due to differences in popularity (of each country) and the number of grants available by country. However, we still recommend applying to a country you’re interested in rather than one that seems the “easiest.” This way, you will truly enjoy your experience abroad if you win. Good luck!

What GPA do you need for a Fulbright Scholarship?

There is no GPA requirement for any of the Fulbright programs, but most award winners are well-rounded, including having a strong academic  transcript.

Do Fulbright scholars get paid?

Fulbright award earners do not receive a salary. They do receive stipends for housing and living needs such as food and transportation. Some awards might include extra funds to facilitate the Fulbright awardees research and goals.

Is being a Fulbright Scholar prestigious?

Fulbright Scholars are recognized as the brightest scholars in their fields. The Fulbright name is internationally recognized and supported by the U.S. Congress and 160 partner nations.