Applying for a Fulbright scholarship is like running a marathon… competitive, long and winding–possibly a bit less sweaty–but rewarding whatever the outcome. If you succeed and win a Fulbright scholarship, you can count yourself among storied company: successful journalists, artists, scientists, politicians, and even Nobel laureates. The Fulbright application process, which is now open, involves months of preparation and many detailed steps such as essays, letters of recommendation, host country affiliations and interviews.

So how do you submit an application that is irresistible to the Fulbright selection committee? First, you must know that a perfect GPA isn’t important. Instead, you should show you’re the best fit for the project and the only applicant able to carry out your research project successfully.

If you’re going to throw your hat in the ring of competing to become a Fulbright scholar, follow this insider guide that NSCS has prepared for you to help strengthen your Fulbright application.

Find Mentors

Attend Fulbright orientation sessions on campus and meet with your university’s scholarship advisor. Winning competitive grants, like a Fulbright scholarship, is a big deal for colleges and universities–they get bragging rights and a bump in the rankings. For that reason, many schools hire experienced advisors to help students develop strong applications. Some advisors proofread essays for their students and even keep a reference library of winning submissions from Fulbright alumni.

Reach Out To Fulbright Alumni From Your School

Don’t forget: this includes both students and faculty members. Do they still have contacts in your host country? What tips can they give you? Ask them to share the trials and triumphs of their Fulbright application journey.

Choose A Research Project

Before you settle on a research topic, look closely at your target country’s preferences on the Fulbright website. Some host countries seek projects related to specific disciplines, such as public health and social work, while other countries go for projects geared toward the arts or engineering. Discuss potential topics with your professors and campus Fulbright advisor.

Write Strong Fulbright Statements

Remember, the strongest Fulbright candidates show a perfect match between their research project and their education, experience and future career trajectory. You need to convince the selection committee that it can’t be anybody but you!

To achieve this inevitability, write essays that demonstrate why you (Personal Statement) should be selected to carry out your project (Statement of Grant Purpose). You have precious little space, so avoid repetition and spread your material across both statements.

Focus On Clarity And Conciseness

Your essays should build a persuasive narrative and show how your Fulbright project is not only exciting but feasible. Strong opening paragraphs in each statement will capture the reader’s attention, pique their interest and, in a nutshell, show why your project is worth funding. Make sure to answer:

  1. What is the potential impact of your project?
  2. What are the project goals and why are you best qualified to achieve them?
  3. How will you engage with communities in your host country?

Polish Your Drafts

When writing your Statement of Grant Purpose, do your best to avoid complex language and obscure terms specific to your field of study. If you must use technical jargon to accurately explain your project, be sure to help readers by demystifying terms and concepts with examples or illustrations. During the first round, your application will be evaluated by academic experts in your discipline. However, if your application goes on to the final stage (fingers crossed!) it will eventually land on the desk of a busy government bureaucrat with little interest in pulling out their dictionary.

Be Mindful Of Your Vocabulary

Tone down edgy titles and be mindful with politically sensitive issues. At the end of the day, Fulbright scholarships are governmental grants administered by the U.S. Department of State and a foreign government. Provocative project titles might get you noticed early on, but the final selection involves bi-national committees stacked with career diplomats or political appointees. Eye-popping vocabulary could prove a liability.

Proofread Your Drafts

Revise, revise, and revise some more. Ask faculty members to review your Statement of Grant Purpose. The more eyes you get on your application before submission, the stronger it becomes.

Secure Affiliations In Your Host Country

Start the hunt for affiliation letters early in the application process. Who is going to help you complete your project in the host country? Letters of affiliation–from host country universities, NGOs, non-profits, businesses, or research centers–lend your project credibility and strengthen your application. So how do you get a letter of affiliation? Share your Fulbright project proposal with professors in your home university. Can they help connect you with international colleagues? If all else fails, try cold calling or emailing professors abroad whose work is related to your research.

Gather Up Letters Of Recommendation 

Give your professors plenty of time, at least four weeks before the submission deadline, to write and submit your letters of recommendation. Help them help you by passing along details about your proposed research project. Share some personal tidbits such as life experiences, motivations and volunteer work so professors can personalize their letters and build a strong connection between you and your Fulbright project.

Prepare For The Interview

If your application goes to the final round, congratulations! Smile and share the good news with friends and family. And then start getting ready for the interview. Some host countries don’t require interviews but the trend points to more countries including phone or video interviews as part of the final stage.

Brush Up On Your Language Skills Before The Interview

Language requirements vary by country: check the host country profiles on the Fulbright website for the specific language level required. Weekly informal chats with a conversation partner are helpful for increasing your fluency. During conversations, try to work in terms and concepts from your project.

Contact Your Campus Career Office For Interview Advice

For example, many career advisors can give you tips about appropriate dress, body language, and how to stage video interviews. Some career advisors will even carry out mock interviews with you.

Keep In Mind That Your Fulbright Interview Could Be Very Brief

Avoid wordiness and rambling answers. Instead, create a “thumbnail” explanation of your Fulbright project and its potential impact. In a nutshell, why should the interviewers be excited about your project? How would you describe your project if you only had a few moments in an elevator with somebody? During the interview, try to smile and stay relaxed.

Don’t Be Hard On Yourself

After your interview, breathe! If you experienced a barrage of pointed questions, interruptions, skeptical expressions or frowns, don’t judge your performance or read into anything too much. The selection committees are made up of busy people such as academics and business professionals who volunteer their time to review stacks of Fulbright applications and interview candidates.

Keep Everything In Perspective

Over the coming weeks, or months, do your best to distract yourself while waiting for results. Avoid checking your email inbox every 30 seconds and refrain from following the blow-by-blow results that other Fulbright applicants share on student web forums and social media. In addition, remember that each host country moves at its own pace, with final results released sporadically over a period of months.