The Fulbright U.S. Student Program offers an amazing opportunity to travel abroad to pursue independent research or graduate study. One of the most important parts of the Fulbright application is the Statement of Grant Purpose, a two-page document that, according to the program’s website, “outlines the Who, What, When, Where, Why, and How of what you are proposing for your Fulbright grant.”
This is not a personal statement, in which you would outline why you are passionate about a particular field of study. Instead, the Fulbright readers want to know the specifics of what you intend to study, with whom, where, and why you want to do so. I have broken down the process of getting started on this statement into five steps that will help you work toward your complete first draft. After that, the editing can begin!
Don’t wait to contact professors/researchers/experts in the host country.
A key part of the Statement of Grant Purpose is writing about the experts in your research field from the host country with whom you have already been in contact. By the time you submit your Fulbright application, you need to be able to state in your proposal that experts in your field of study – whether they are professionals, researchers, or professors – have agreed that your project is feasible and worth doing and that they would like to work with you during your time in the host country. To be able to do this, you will need to contact potential mentors in the host country before completing your statement. Do your research before reaching out. Consider who is doing work related to your proposed project and who might be interested in supporting your research. Be polite, and be aware that building this rapport will take time, so get started as soon as you have an idea of the topic you want to research or study. Do not wait until you have a finished proposal draft.
Read and reread the prompt.
The Statement of Grant Purpose comes with a long list of instructions and questions. While this might seem overwhelming at first, it can be tremendously helpful. Copy and paste this information into a document or print it out. Then, delete or cross out anything that doesn’t apply to you. For example, if you are applying for a graduate program, the instructions for independent researchers will not be entirely relevant (though they still might be somewhat helpful for additional clues as to what information you should prioritize for the selection committee). Then, start highlighting or underlining. Use one color for all the questions and requests for information and a second color for all the formatting instructions. Keep this information in mind as you write, and after you complete each draft, refer back to the instructions to make sure your statement doesn’t veer away from the requested information.
Answer the questions.
It can sometimes be tempting to fall back on telling personal stories or anecdotes to start these types of essays, which isn’t a bad instinct, given that you probably learned to do this from undergraduate or graduate applications. However, in this case, telling a story or narrative about your research interests and goals is not where you should start your first draft. Instead, begin by directly answering each question or request for information Fulbright provides. Use complete sentences, and make sure you get to the point. By the time you are done answering the required questions, you should have plenty of material for your first draft.
Ditch the jargon.
The Fulbright scholarship is available to many different scholars studying many different fields. This means that the scholarship selection committee will not be made up of experts in your particular area of study, so they won’t appreciate you using all your favorite buzzwords from your field. What is more, you do not have enough space in your statement to go into elaborate detail about your research. While your project needs to have sophistication and depth and offer a significant contribution to your field, you do not need to use a lot of technical language or jargon to explain this. Instead, think about how you might describe your research to a fellow student who is not in your major. Or maybe consider how you would explain it to a professor who is in a different department. In fact, you might want to try describing your project to different people outside of your field to get a better sense of what might count as insider information. Being able to communicate complex ideas in a way that makes them accessible to nonspecialists is a key part of writing a successful statement.
Choose your host location wisely.
In your statement, you will need to describe the host location you have chosen for your study/research. Big cities tend to be very popular (for obvious reasons), which makes them a weaker choice for your application. Consider instead smaller cities or towns in the host country that have specialized archives, materials, or experts that would be valuable to your research. Being able to pinpoint a beneficial host location and to describe the ways in which both you and that location could benefit from the shared experience in terms of research and cultural exchange will make your application much sharper. At the end of the day, you must be able to connect your host country to your research in a very convincing, specific way. If you can master this piece of the statement puzzle, you will be one major step closer to writing a strong Fulbright draft.
Vanessa Febo has ten years of experience teaching academic and professional writing at UCLA, with a special certification in teaching writing techniques. She has drawn on this expertise to guide clients to placements at top institutions, including Harvard, Stanford, and USC. Before joining Accepted, Vanessa coached UCLA students through the application process for graduate programs, major grants, fellowships, and scholarships, including the Fulbright, Stanford Knight-Hennessey, and the Ford Foundation Fellowship. Additionally, Vanessa has extensive experience successfully guiding clients through applications for a diverse range of programs, including those in business, humanities, social sciences, and STEM fields. Want Vanessa to help you get accepted? Click here to get in touch!