Blog Series: Becoming a Fulbrighter – Part II

By Santiago Lopez: How to captivate your readers in your Fulbright statement.

Student writing at a desk

As a Colombian hired by a German company and assigned to a US outsourced project in Argentina, I began to experience the opportunities of global integration very early in my professional career. This was in 2011, when the political shift in Argentina was entering a stage of more international economic confrontation. As the tensions kept growing, the company decided to move the whole operation overseas. Hundreds of people lost their jobs, and it was only a matter of time, until similar enterprises followed suit and decided to relocate their facilities in favor of places with less strict labor legislations. It was then when I fully understood, firsthand, the true meaning of globalization, its benefits, complexities and risks.

The lines above were the opening of my “Statement of Purpose” for the Fulbright application a few years back and although this is far from being Shakespeare, I want to call your attention to a couple of elements this opening includes. It underscores professional experience. It signals cultural background and travels. It shows a level of critical thinking and global awareness. Finally, it connects all the elements in a short but concise personal story.

Your essay is the one shot you have to “speak” to the reviewers in the first stage of the application process. You won’t be able to meet or talk to them unless you make it to the final interview. It is the opportunity to convince them that you are the ideal recipient of the scholarship, and that they should select you for the next round. It is also the space to highlight your skills and to explain the fronts in which you other materials are not so strong. Because of this, your statement is a critical part of your application. Recall the strongest advice in my last post? You need time to step up your writing game. I do not remember how many drafts I wrote before the final but take my word on this, there were many of them. So to help you out in this process I want to give you some advices on how to write your statement. These tips are not the ultimate answer to win the scholarship but they worked for me and for other grantees, and they can surely work for you too!

What should I talk about?

Ultimately, you need to make sure your essay answers two key questions: why do you want to pursue graduate training, and why are you an ideal candidate for the Fulbright Scholarship. That really sums it up. The reviewers look for grantees who are both, capable of completing a specialized degree, and whose trajectories and perspectives reflect the spirit of program.

Stating your research interests:

The Fulbright Scholarship is a cultural exchange program but its main core is academic. Talk about your research goals and explain why are those questions relevant. You want to show them that you know your topic, that you are not starting an academic journey from scratch. In other words, you want to sell yourself as a safe bet. They are investing a significant amount of money in their grantees and they look for candidates with a 100% success rate. Your goal is to prove to them that you won’t fail. Talk about how previous experiences prepared you for grad school. Mention specific challenges that you have encountered in your studies or professional life, and tell them how you overcame these obstacles.

Why should Fulbright choose you?

Once you lay out your academic plans, it is time to answer the second question. Writing the reasons why you should be awarded the Fulbright Scholarship is a bit more difficult because you need to understand the spirit of the program. This scholarship is designed to promote academic and cultural links between the US and the global community. Because of this, an ideal candidate should have a strong national commitment to her country. When I heard this for the first time I scratched my head and thought: “ok, I love my country but how do you show my commitment to Fulbright?” My solution was to brake it out into more approachable questions about my future plans: what do I want to do after my graduate studies? How do I think I can implement this new knowledge to help my country move forward? In what role in Colombia do I see myself in the future? These answers helped me describe to the reviewers how the Fulbright Scholarship would enable me to contribute to the development of my country. Last but not least, it is important to explain what motivates to pursue graduate education in the US and not a different country.

What about the structure?

So you have the answers to both questions, awesome, you have the most important parts of your statement. Now you need to make sure it is written clearly and nicely. You might have great ideas and experiences but if you fail to communicate them effectively, the impact of your essay will suffer significantly. Think of your statement as a painting. Every element is important, but they only shine together within the composition. Your composition is your narrative, that story that walks the reader through the text. Here are some tips I came across that helped me out write a cleaner essay:

Tips for writing

  • Be concise, precise and write short sentences. This is particularly challenging for Romance language speakers where long sentences are rather common.
  • Try to always write in an active voice. In grammar, this means avoiding the past-participle and the impersonal pronouns as much as possible.
  • Use a personal voice (I / me) to make the statement stronger.
  • Start with a personal anecdote that you later connect to the rest of the essay. This will catch the attention of the reader from the beginning. Be careful to choose a good but meaningful story.
  • End strong! Have a concise but well-rounded conclusion. These last sentences are the ideas that reviewers will remember so you need to finish on the highest possible note. Reiterate your goal as a potential Fulbrighter.

Tips for editing

  • Force yourself to read and re-write the statement multiple times. The first, second and third drafts are probably not the best.
  • When you think your draft is good, send it to a professor who holds the degree that you want to pursue. They can assess the clarity of your academic motivation.
  • Try to find a current or former Fulbright grantee to read it. They can tell you what parts you need to improve to make more attractive for the evaluation committee.
  • Have the essay read by someone who is not in an academic environment. This will help you assess the power of your narrative and identify the ideas that come up more relevant.
  • Once your draft is ready, send it to someone with an advanced English level for proofreading. Do not do this yourself. You are so familiar with the essay that you will probably overlook minor grammar mistakes or typos. Your statement must be pristine.

Awesome, you made it this far. Let’s summarize our tips to write a strong statement of purpose. Remember to clearly state your research interests and your potential as an ideal candidate for the Fulbright program. Find a personal narrative and write as concise as possible without losing strength. Edit the essay multiple times. Happy writing and stay tuned for more content about the Fulbright application process.

Read more

Blog Series: Becoming a Fulbrighter: Part I

Blog Series: Becoming a Fulbrighter: Part III

Blog Series: Becoming a Fulbrighter: Part IV

Fulbright at Rice

Fulbright: Networking to new experiences

About the author: Santiago Lopez Alvarez is a third year doctoral student in political science, and a Fulbright grantee from Medellín, Colombia. He is currently studying how violence affects voting behavior and political preferences, using statistical and data analysis techniques. After his doctoral studies, he plans to work somewhere between the academic and the practitioner world. Read more about Santiago and Fulbright at Rice here.