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Fulbright Essay Help

Improving Your Fulbright Application

Improving Your Fulbright Essays (PDF)

Remember that your project proposal statement and personal statement work together to answer the questions “What now?” and “Why now?”: what is your proposed project, and why is now the perfect time in your professional career to undertake it? For the Fulbright (and other international opportunities), you must also demonstrate the absolute need to undertake your project abroad. Below are more specific questions that can help guide your essays.

Project Proposal:

  • Where exactly will you be carrying out your research? In what archives, lab, etc.? What materials are will you need to access, and how will you gain access to them?
  • How will you carry out your research? What will your research methods be? Quantitative/qualitative/textual analysis, etc.? How will you make the necessary contacts, etc.?
  • What are your language qualifications, precisely? What courses, examinations, certificates, etc. do you have in the target language?
  • What are your academic qualifications? What coursework or previous research has prepared you to undertake this current project?
  • Is this absolutely the most logical step in your project? Can you go no further without this study?
  • What is the timeline to complete your dissertation? Will there be any other result to this project – an article, etc.?
  • What is the broader impact of this project? What is your intervention in your field, for example, and who else might be interested in or affected by the outcome? What will scholars be able to understand better once it’s published, etc.? How might it change our understanding of (fill in the blank)?

Personal statement:

  • What experiences have you had that led you to this particular project?
  • What draws you to this particular culture, and to other cultures in general?
  • In what kinds of situations have you demonstrated flexibility and adaptability?
  • How can you become involved in the local community in a way that relates to your own personal interests?
  • How does this project fit in with your personal trajectory (from student to faculty member, for example)?

Keep in mind that your essays should be precise and concise. You need to efficiently establish context for your project and demonstrate its significance. Each paragraph in your essay should have an obvious purpose and convey focus. You should exhibit a clear understanding of the relevance of your project, the logistics of your research plan, and the aims of the Fulbright program.

Getting Good Reference Letters (PDF)

  • Ask prospective referees for their support well in advance of the application deadline, and provide all the necessary information in good time, i.e. at least three weeks in advance.
  • Provide your referees with a copy of your project and personal statements and a copy of the “Instructions for Referees” or link to the online instructions.
  • Remind your referees that they must submit their letters electronically. Contact them once you have registered them to make sure they have received the email from Embark with instructions. Also, remind them that once they submit their letter, they will be able to access it for their records but NOT edit it.

Fulbright Instructions for Registering Referees

Please keep in mind that a Fulbright recommendation letter should address:

  • The student’s intellectual merit and strength of character
  • The significance of the project within the student’s field and beyond
  • The student’s preparedness to undertake the project
  • The feasibility of the project’s completion within the grant year
  • The necessity to complete this project abroad
  • The student’s ability adapt to a foreign culture and to represent the United States while abroad

Analyzing Models to Improve Your Essays (PDF)

Careful reading of a sample essay can help you better understand the elements that should be included in your own statements. Students may contact the Office of Grants and Fellowships at gradgrants@nd.edu for samples of successful Fulbright application essays.

Questions to ask your chosen model:


  • How does the statement begin?
  • What is the organizing structure of the essay? Chronological, methodological, thematic, narrative, etc.?
  • What kinds of sections is the statement divided into?
  • How does the author handle transitions between sections or paragraphs?
  • How does the statement end?


  • What information does the author assume the reader already has?
  • How does the author contextualize their research?
  • How does the author establish their qualifications?
  • How specific are the details of the proposed project?
  • How does the author link the project to future goals?


  • Is the tone of the piece informal, semi-formal, formal?
  • Is the presentation objective or personal?
  • Does the author display a sense of conviction, or “hedge” claims?


  • Does the author employ figurative language or more transparent, direct language?
  • How is technical language employed?
  • Does the author assume the reader’s knowledge of key terminology?
  • How complex is the sentence structure? Does the author rely on short sentences, or create complex sentences with multiple clauses?

Complete an outline of your model. Write down not just what each section says, but how it functions.


Few moments in history reflect the spirit of international cooperation and cross-cultural dialogue more than the Bandung Conference, held in 1955, and organized by a collection of newly inaugurated leaders from formerly colonized nations across Asia and Africa. In 2005, in commemoration of the fiftieth anniversary of the conference, world leaders again returned to Bandung to renew the 1955 sentiments that Asia and Africa had much to benefit from strengthened networks of communication. The notion of inter-regional cooperation among formerly colonized nations, so eloquently stressed in the rich speeches by the 1955 Bandung delegates, remains a source of inspiration for contemporary politicians in Asia and Africa. The proposed project will add a much needed historical dimension to the process by which cross cultural encounter and dialogue emerged among Asian and African anti-colonial leaders early in the twentieth-century leading up to the monumental meetings in Bandung.
(from Temple University’s Fulbright Grant Information Guide)

I. Introduction
A. Main topic: The 1955 Bandung Conference organized by leaders of formerly colonized nations across Asia and Africa serves as an important historical marker for international cooperation and cross-cultural dialogue.
B. Functions: To arouse readers’ interest in the project, to suggest the project’s importance.

The Fulbright Scholarship provides funds sufficient to complete a proposed research or study abroad project for one year. Applicants submit written documents detailing their research or study plans, which may include a year of graduate study, original dissertation research, a creative or performing arts project, or a teaching assistantship. Because the study is undertaken abroad, applicants must have sufficient maturity, character, and literacy to work within the host country.

The Fulbright Scholarship Selection Criteria

Criteria that selectors use to award Fulbright Scholarships include:

  • likelihood of the candidate and project to help advance the program and promote mutual understanding among nations;
  • sufficient written and spoken literacy in the host country’s language;
  • feasibility and specificity of the proposed plan.

A final criterion is the ratio between the number of awards offered in the target country and the number of applications received—i.e., students applying to countries that receive fewer applications have a greater statistical chance of acceptance. Applicants can assess competition statistics and other details for a particular country by consulting the Fulbright website linked at the bottom of this page.

Composing a Personal Statement and Statement of Grant Purpose

The primary written portions of the Fulbright application are a one-page personal statement and two-page statement of grant purpose. As usual, the personal statement is your opportunity to discuss personal motivations, your experience and activities, and future goals. Though your examples should still be concrete, you have the room to reveal your personality—indeed many applicants view this as their chance to let the selectors know them as individually as possible, and they use lightly entertaining anecdotes to set themselves apart from other candidates. In plain terms, the goal is to write an essay that no other person could have written

In writing the statement of grant purpose, begin by making sure not to repeat material from other parts of the application unnecessarily, and present detail tailored as much as possible to the host country. If you can show that you have performed research on (or, better yet, in) the host country already and have made contacts with potential supervisors, you increase your odds of success dramatically.

The Fulbright website cautions writers against the use of discipline-specific jargon, and a good rule of thumb is to define any jargon that you do use in context, keeping the focus of your statement of grant purpose on addressing problems that will provide valuable contributions to society and within your field. Also, practicality and feasibility are principal concerns, so the best applicants provide a timeline, discuss their methodology and goals, and analyze such variables as the host country’s cultural and political climate and resources. Finally, of course, you must demonstrate as necessary your linguistic ability as it applies to the country and your proposed plan, especially if your primary goal is a teaching assistantship.

Evaluation of Written Materials from Two Sample Fulbright Applications

The first sample essays provided in the pdf link below do an excellent job of making the case for the writer’s personal and intellectual readiness for the proposed project. The personal statement focuses on the student’s experiences as inspired by his service-oriented grandparents—members of the Mennonite Church. These role models inspired the student to travel to Peru and contact the Mennonite Economic Development Associates (MEDA). As we learn in the student’s statement of grant purpose, he wishes to work on a grassroots project in Peru related to rice farming, and he shows that he has earned the support of the MEDA Consulting Group, underscoring the feasibility of his plan.

The two essays in the second set of samples are also neatly intertwined, and the writer opens the personal statement with a delightful anecdote about her family puzzling over why a woman would be interested in geological research. The student uses the essay to detail her science background and educational travel, including a month in Thailand, where she plans to do her proposed seismic research. To underscore the urgency of such research, she opens her statement of grant purpose with a poignant narrative and statistics about the devastating effects of a 1999 earthquake in Central Taiwan. Some readers might have valid concerns over whether the statement of grant purpose is too technical at times, and whether its sources should be cited internally, yet these essays remain impressive overall. Indeed, the writer was named as a scholarship alternate.

Click here to download a pdf of two sets of Fulbright Scholarship application essays by former students.


The Fulbright Scholarship program website is extensive, including everything from statistics on the previous year’s competition to advice about how to prepare your personal essay.

Visit the Fulbright Scholarship website.

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