Drafting a successful Fulbright application depends on several factors. These include your GPA, GRE, reference letters, essays other special factors. At the time of writing application, one usually has little time remaining to influence factors other than essays. Additionally, essays form the bulk of application scores. Therefore, essays have a strong influence on the outcome of the application. In this post, we will primarily focus on discussing the key points an evaluator is looking for within essays, and thus what forms the basic ingredients of a strong essay for Fulbright application.

The Fulbright application requires you to write two essays: Research object statement (ROS) and personal statement (PS). These two essays seem quite similar and the terms are perhaps used by US universities interchangeably for the same thing. However, for the Fulbright essays, they are two different things with different goals.

For a strong and convincing application, it is important that the applicant understands the difference and writes each essay following the expected goal.

Difference between ROS and PS

In ROS, your discussion revolves around your technical achievements, accomplishments, motivation, and future technical goals. Personal statement on the other hand discusses your life experiences, hardships, long-term life goals, and motivations to pursue those goals. In a nutshell, the first one has technical details while the second one is more generic.

Research objective statement

The official application page starts with the following directions:

Write a clear and detailed description of your study objectives and give your reasons for wanting to pursue them. Be specific about your major field and your specialized interests within this field. Describe the kind of program you expect to undertake, and explain how your study plan fits in with your previous training and your future objectives.

If you look closely, you will see that it asks for the following questions:

  • What do you want to study/research?
  • Why is your reason to study/research it? What’s the motivation?
  • What are your particular interests in the proposed field?
  • What is your background education and experience?
  • What do you expect from the program you will potentially be enrolled in?
  • How does your previous professional experience and education connect with your proposed plan of study/research?
  • How does your proposed plan of study/research fit with your future professional goals?

These are generally the basic questions an evaluator is looking for in your ROS. As they read your essay, they grow an image at the back of their mind. Going from one paragraph to another, the image is grown from top to bottom like the walls of a building.

A strong ROS will answer most of the above questions if not all of them. It is important to mention that it is not enough to just list down answers to those questions. Rather, those answers should blend to look like a story. Just like the bricks of a building, the answer to different questions should reinforce each other.

Be specific

While evaluating ROS, one big question for the evaluator is: Is the applicant clear about his study/research goals! If the applicant doesn’t show seriousness about working towards a particular area, then it gives the impression that the applicant has not yet figured out his “What”. It is ok if you don’t end up working on the same problem you mentioned in your ROS, but at least it conveys the message that you spend time and effort working towards a goal.

Show maturity

No one can change the world on their own and definitely not within a few years. So, when you are writing the essay, make sure you put in reasonable and mature goals. Finding a cancer cure in your Ph.D. is not a mature goal. However, working towards understanding how a particular cancer disease propagates in the body, perhaps is. If you put non-realistic goals, it will communicate a lack of maturity to the evaluator

Explain continuity

Make sure you bridge the gap between your past, present, and future. If you want to work in AI, then better explain how you have prepared yourself so far to be able to grasp advanced AI concepts. Have you done any projects related to AI! Have you taken any specific classes! If you have a bachelor in biology but all of a sudden you want to study AI as masters; this doesn’t fit in unless you have already spent some time in AI. This also doesn’t mean that after studying biology, your options are limited to biology-related study only. What you need to communicate is that it is not going to be a direct abrupt jump, rather you have already prepared yourself by taking some time to understand the new field.

Be explicit about motivation

Among the questions that you need to answer, “ What’s the motivation!” is perhaps the most important one. The evaluator is interested in knowing YOUR reasons for going after it. After all, why should Fulbright spend thousands of US dollars on you! You need to have a reasonable justification for that. Choosing a field simply because there are more jobs in it is not going to cut it. You need to communicate that you are so passionate about it that you are worth spending thousands of US dollars. One of the best ways to show motivation is to connect your study/research goals with personal experiences. But if you don’t have a personal experience related to your study/research goals, there is no point forcing it.

Exhibit writing quality

You are writing a professional application and quality matters. Incorrect spellings and grammatical skills will cost you points. It is ok if your background has not enabled you to write eloquent sentences. The evaluator takes a holistic view of your application and grades you accordingly. But wrong spellings and simple grammatical mistakes will not help you. It is highly recommended that a grammar check tool is used to fix silly mistakes.

Personal statement

The official application page starts with the following directions:

This personal statement should be a narrative statement describing how you have achieved your current goals. It should not be a mere listing of facts. It should include information about your education, practical experience, special interests, and career plans. Describe any significant factors that have influenced your educational or professional development

From the essay description above, it is clear that you are not expected to answer any particular question. Rather, the evaluator is more interested in knowing more about you. They want you to talk about how you worked towards achieving your current goals. What hardships, if any, you faced! And how did you solve those! They want to understand if you are emotionally stable to pursue your study/research in another country spanning over years. They want to understand more about your educational background. If you believe that you are lacking in some particular area then this is the place to talk about it. You can talk about how you have worked towards mitigating the effects of this lacking and how do you plan to deal with it in the future. You can also talk about your personal experiences that shaped your personal and professional life. Apart from these things, there are a few particular things an evaluator is actively looking for. It is not necessary to talk about all of these in your personal statement, but targeting those points will help shape your positive image in the mind of the evaluator.

Affiliation with the home country

Fulbright application is extremely competitive. The evaluator is looking for people who have a genuine interest in working towards the development of Pakistan and show interest in solving some of the challenges being faced by Pakistan. Talking about how your study/research in the US can help in solving a local challenge will improve your application standing.

Promote mutual understanding among people

The goal of this scholarship is to facilitate understanding of each other’s culture. You are expected to portray a soft image of Pakistan to your American peers and likewise reciprocate when you come back home. Talking about this in the personal statement communicates to the evaluator that you are well versed with the goals of this scholarship and plan to further the scholarship’s mission.

Acceptance of other cultures

As mentioned above, the primary goal of the Fulbright scholarship is to facilitate mutual understanding among the people. Having said so, open acceptance of other cultures and interest in working in a multi-cultural and diverse environment will help your application.

This article was written by Muzammil Bashir, former Fulbright scholar.


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