Fulbright Grant Information Guide

The Essays

Your Fulbright application requires two essays: a statement of proposed study and a curriculum vitae (personal statement).  Your essays are your opportunity to state who you are and what you want to do.  Since you will not have any interviews after the campus level, you should put as much time and energy into these essays as possible.

Writing these essays can be a difficult, interesting, and revealing experience. Your final essays should produce a picture of you as a person, a student, a potential scholarship winner, and (looking into the future) as a former scholarship recipient. Needless to say, this is difficult to do in a few pages, and it would be impossible and inappropriate to give you instructions titled "How to Write a Thoughtful and Introspective Essay". It is possible, however, to provide advice on elements which, combined with your research, thoughts, and personality, may produce compelling essays. It is also possible to warn you away from some of the mistakes students make in writing essays.

Think carefully about the approach you should take to each essay - the academic proposal vs. the personal statement - because each will serve a different purpose in your application.  Each essay should make a statement about your academic life and plans, as well as your personal goals and beliefs. This statement, regardless of how you combine the following components, should grab the interest of the reader and make him or her want to meet you (even if there's not necessarily an interview process).  Be simple and direct, and do your best to strike that difficult balance between modesty and persuasiveness.

In thinking about your essays, be aware of how your year as a Fulbright student relates to your future goals and aspirations both personal and academic. Examine the way in which your proposed course of study will enhance your future plans. It is often difficult, especially for graduating seniors, to identify such goals and plans, but it is important to do so. Keep in mind that the scholarship committees want to give the awards to people who will see the Fulbright as building blocks for their futures. Therefore, it is essential that you have thought through how you see your proposed studies connecting to the overall course of your life. In other words, what you are doing now, what you wish to do as a Fulbright student, and what you will do later must all fit together somehow.

READ past successful Fulbright essays. Included in this handbook are copies of well-written essays by successful Temple Fulbright applicants. These essays will give you an idea of the range of successful proposals submitted in recent years. Be sure that you are reading successful essays corresponding to your academic level (e.g., creative arts applicant, doctoral student).

1) Statement of grant purpose

Whether you are a graduating senior, recent graduate, or a doctoral student, you will want to show that what you wish to study and/or research can best--if not only--be done in the place you wish to go. In addition, you should show how your proposal justifies or necessitates the use of foreign archives or foreign faculty contacts.  The further along in your academic career you are, the more certain of these points you will have to be.  Keep in mind some other questions that could be asked of your application:

  • Is the project realistic?
  • Is the site appropriate?
  • Are you in contact with foreign faculty or can you make foreign faculty contacts?
  • Could this work be done as easily in the U.S., or in another country?
  • Are you linguistically qualified to carry out your project?
  • Are you academically qualified to study or conduct the research in the place you propose?
  • Is this project the appropriate "next step" in your academic and intellectual development?
  • What is the outcome and its significance?
  • Why is this important?

2) General guidelines for writing the statement of grant purpose

Given the above differences, the following are some general guidelines for all applicants to follow with regard to the statement of grant purpose:

  • State clearly and specifically what you expect to do during the scholarship period.  Students should be able to give specific details of the methodology of the proposed work.  You need to be able state clearly what you intend to do, how, where, when and why.
  • Explain why your research needs to be conducted overseas and why you have chosen the particular country. It is most essential to be able to show that what you wish to do should be done at the institution and the country you have named.  One question that you don't want raised is whether "the work could be done just as easily at Yale" (for instance).  Make a strong case for the suitability of the suggested place of study/research.
  • Convince the reader that your project is feasible in the time designated, and that it is acceptable and appropriate in the country concerned.
  • Demonstrate that you have the academic and linguistic background necessary for your project.
  • Make reference to any contacts you have established to determine resource availability and general feasibility of your project.  You should attach copies of any letters of acceptance from institutions or positive letters from prospective sponsors or mentors.

This is linked with the need for students (especially graduate students) to have concrete connections overseas.  It is possible that the foreign faculty member is well qualified to comment on the plausibility of the applicant's proposal, as s/he is most familiar with the programs and resources of that university.  In addition, a personal invitation by a faculty member to study at the institution lends credence to the quality of the candidate and his/her proposal.

If you need to conduct research in government, university or private archives, you should ask yourself the following questions:

  • Do you know for certain that you have access to these archives?
  • Is there a specific faculty member or researcher at the institution with whom you wish to work?
  • Have you made contact with this person and has there been a positive response?


You should mention any contacts (or access) you may have in your statement of proposed study even if you have not had a definite response.  If you have only identified the person and written to them at the time of your application, mention this and submit a copy of your letter with your application.  If you have received a positive response from an overseas faculty member or researcher, you should include a copy of their letter to you in your Fulbright application as a letter of support.

  • Sensitive topics: Sometimes, the research you wish to conduct may cover issues that are sensitive to the people or government of the country you wish to work in.  Have you made plans to obtain research clearance from the prospective country?  Be specific about why you wish to do this research and exactly what you plan to do when you get there.  A proposal that is a "wish list" but lacks methodology is not likely to be successful. You have to be able to persuade the final selection committee that you have neither taken on too much nor not enough.  Can you explain how you will spend your time?
  • Overall, the statement of purpose should be compelling and easily understood by the educated "lay" person and experts in your field.  What does this mean?  Since you will have no idea exactly who will read your application, make sure that your application is clear and comprehensible to someone who knows nothing about your subject while also specific and detailed enough to convince an expert.  Do not be afraid to use language or concepts specific to your field and to reference the work of other authors.   

The following question is often asked: "How much detail should go in the academic proposal?" It is often difficult to know what to put in and what to leave out; however, many successful academic proposals will include the following elements:

  • Explanation of the field of study.
  • Explanation of your research within this field and how your work will bring something new to the field.
  • Details of what you wish to do, where you wish to do it, and how you wish to accomplish it.
  • Your qualifications to undertake this project.
  • Contacts at host institution and how you will work with them.
  • Reasons for why the scholarship committee - or anybody - should consider funding such a proposal.  Basically, convince them that this is worthwhile!


This is a general outline, but the main idea is to lead your readers in a systematic, logical fashion through the various components of your project.  If your readers feel confident in the idea you've presented, the methodology, your qualifications, and your overseas support, you are more likely to win an award. If your statement of proposed study is confusing, raises a lot of questions, and does not inspire confidence in the readers, you're not likely to get very far in the application process.

3) Engagement in the Community

Since the primary aim of the Fulbright program is to further mutual understanding between the people of the United States and other countries, your application should demonstrate a clear commitment to the host country community. Becoming involved in the local community will contribute significantly to this goal and will enhance your experience in many ways. Your application should speak to this point and include some examples of how you might interact with your host community through volunteer and extra-curricular activities.

 4) Additional Tips for GRADUATING SENIOR Applicants 

Graduating seniors and recent graduates will not be required to continue in the exact fields in which they have received their bachelor's degrees.  In other words, it is not necessary for your proposals to be extensions of your honors thesis.  It is necessary, however, to propose a course of study for which you are academically prepared. In terms of research, it should be detailed and well thought out and it should make a case as to why a particular university or institution is suitable for your study or research, for example:

  • Are there certain faculty who are conducting important research in your field at that institution?
  • Is there a department which has unique course offerings that could further your study in a particular field?

These sorts of questions should be answered in detail.  It is important -- at all academic levels -- to make a strong case for the institution that you have chosen.  If you do not know the answer to these questions, you should start researching foreign universities, research institutes, departments and faculty contacts that are relevant to your proposal.  Keep in mind that it is quite feasible, as a graduating senior, to apply for a Fulbright just to take classes at a foreign university in order to further your academic interest.  Don't become overly ambitious in what you wish to do. Since graduating seniors do not have the same research experience as graduate students, graduating seniors should rely more heavily on their academic advisors to build feasible proposals and to develop a focus for their research.  In addition, graduating seniors should get his/her academic advisor to write a letter of reference, since s/he will be most familiar with the proposal.  While the proposal seems to be the most difficult aspect of the Fulbright application for graduating seniors, logistics for the rest of the application are the same for graduating seniors and graduate students.  Graduating seniors should explain how the year overseas will prepare them for the "next step", and give a general description of their plans upon return to the U.S.

5) Additional Tips for GRADUATE STUDENT Applicants

The further along you are in your academic career, the more substantive information you will need in order to justify your choice of institution.  For instance,

  • Are there necessary research documents or archival resources only available at the foreign institution?
  • Is there a particular faculty member with whom you wish or need to work?
  • Have you been in contact with the institution or a faculty member? (If not, you should make specific plans to do so.) It is essential to have thought through some of these questions and to be able to give specific information in your essays.


 6) personal statement

The Personal Statement is often the most difficult to write.  "What do they want to know about me?" "How can I tell them about myself in one page?" The c.v. should not be a reiteration of the data on your application form; rather, it should be an "intellectual biography".  This is your opportunity to let your personality come through on paper.  The following are some good guidelines for this essay.

  • Do not make this essay a mirror image of your academic essay or resume.  Your personal statement should complement the rest of your application instead of restating it.  Do not turn the personal statement into another argument for why you need a Fulbright to conduct your study.  Instead, it should be a stand alone essay, giving a good picture of you as an individual.  By all means, refer to an interest that has led you to your present field of study, but do not make the entire essay a statement about your interest in the field.  Rather, it should be more balanced between your interests and your personal growth and development.  Your statement could include personal histories, realizations, and stories, in order to make it personal and to get the readers interested in you.
  • Maintain some sort or theme or connecting concept throughout the essay.
  • Representative of the U.S.: One of the important aspects of a Fulbright award, and an aspect that is covered in the evaluation form, is the concept of a Fulbright scholar being an "ambassador" for the U.S. It is hard to know how important this aspect is in the final decision; however, the personal essay gives you room to describe yourself in a way that will make you seem interesting and interested in other cultures, societies, etc.
  • What should I include?  There is only a small part of the application where you can list honors, activities, etc. The essay should describe events, people, decisions and interests that have had a major impact on you. Some of these will be very personal and others will be more descriptive and evaluative. Some personal essays are written in a very informal manner while others are of a more formal nature. They should NOT be along the lines of "I did this, then joined this club, at college I was a member." They should be interesting statements about yourself, giving a picture of your intellectual and personal growth.  
  • Explore connections between your academic life and the rest of your life.  Connect what you do in school to your beliefs, your passions and the rest of the world.  As you read drafts of your essay, be critical of the ways in which you have discussed your academic and intellectual interests.  Ask yourself: "What matters to me?" "Why does it matter to me?" "Who cares?" and "If they don't care, why do they need to care?"
  • Incorporate your personality into your essays.
  • Be honest about your personal growth and development.  What factors or experiences influenced your personal growth?  What has made you who you are?  Paint a true picture of your development.  Try to show your strengths and weaknesses (nothing glaring, but areas which show that you are human).  Assume that your interests are relevant and of interest to those reading your application.
  • Perhaps discuss an issue of great importance to you, or an issue that troubles you or restores you. Your essay should make readers interested in discussing your beliefs and interests with you.

7) Mistakes often made by applicants when writing essays:


  • Turning the essay into an extended (or an exaggerated) version of a resume.  Applicants often ask how they should incorporate activities into their essay when they have already listed them separately on the application.  The most effective solution is to incorporate only those activities or interests which are extremely important to you into your essay.  Leave less important things to other portions of your application.  In your essays, talk only about what has real significance for you.  For example, if you rowed on the varsity team at Temple and practiced five hours a day, it would be logical to incorporate this into the essay as one of your major achievements, contributions, or passions.  However, if you participated in intramural field hockey on a less than regular basis, then this perhaps could be left out.  You should be sure to show how those activities you do include tie into the "big picture" of yourself.
  • Exaggerating their histories and situations.  Do not believe that all applicants expand on the truth and that if they do, you may as well expand too.  Old and wily interviewers often uncover exaggeration during interviews.  This can be embarrassing and disastrous for an applicant.
  • Being overly clever in writing the essays.  Interviewers have read quite literally hundreds of essays and they find overly clever essays annoying.  This reaction can do nothing but harm the future of your application.  Be honest with your comments in your essays.  Be amusingly clever and witty if this is your characteristic style of writing, but do not try to pull the wool over your reader's eyes.  REMEMBER: It is substance, not style, which is important.
  • Suggesting a future with no evidence of preparation.  If you write that you wish to be a journalist but have never been involved with any newspaper, or if you write that you are concerned about the environment but have taken no science courses, the screening committees may conclude that you have little intention of truly pursuing the goals you suggest.  Whatever future plans you write about, try to make sure that you have had some experience with the issues involved, at an academic, extracurricular, or personal level.

8) Many readers contribute to good essays!

We cannot overemphasize the importance of having a variety of people read your essays.  Readers should be people whose opinions you respect.  They also should be people with whom you have already discussed both the scholarship for which you are applying and the course of study you wish to pursue.  If you ask people to read your statements out of the context of the award, you are asking for trouble because the selection criteria differs for each award.  Ask your advisor, faculty members, classmates, roommates, and friends to read your essay, but explain the essay's context first. Be sure to pick at least one person who is a very good proof reader.

This process can be incredibly rewarding and terribly frustrating.  Each time you show your drafts to someone, s/he will suggest changes and you will have to weigh their suggestions against others.  It is up to you to decide when you think your essays are ready for submission, but it is important to listen to faculty, staff, and peers as you craft your essays.

9) Feedback on essays from Education Abroad Staff 

Denise Connerty is available to critique essays throughout the summer and early fall.  Students may submit essays for review by mail, e-mail, fax, or in person.  The turnaround time is usually 3-5 working days.   Please feel free to make an appointment with Denise Connerty; please be sure to submit your essays 3-5 working days prior to your appointment. The LAST DAY TO SUBMIT ESSAYS FOR REVIEW: SEPTEMBER 21, 2012 (4 PM).  Unfortunately, due to the hectic nature of the scholarship season, the Education Abroad staff will not be able to review and critique essays after this date.

10) Feedback on essays from Campus Fulbright Committee

It’s entirely possible that the Campus Committee may make suggestions for strengthening your essay, or they may suggest revisions and then ask to see the revised proposal. If they do, you will have an opportunity to make those revisions before your application is submitted to New York.