A Beginner’s Guide to Fulbright Scholarship 2020-21

The Fulbright Masters and PhD scholarship for studies in the United States are open till the 13th of May 2020. A large number of students are going through the phase of filling out the Fulbright applications as we speak – which is in itself quite a daunting task. Here we present Fulbright application steps for aspiring candidates applying for the Fulbright 2020-21 cycle.

The application – if you have had a chance to look at it – it nearly 20 pages long. By the time you get done filling it all out, you will honestly wonder why it doesn’t ask you to explain in 250 words why you were given the name you were given – it is that detailed! With that being said, it is always advised to start working on the application as soon as possible to avoid the rush of the last minute.

Through this article, I wish to inform you of some of the key things that you should prepare and have in hand before you sit down to fill in your application. It is always best to organize your data so that it is easy to refer too even when there is a shortage of time and/or patience. Following the steps below will ensure that your application process would be as smooth as it can be:

Fulbright Application Steps

Step 1: Organizing Educational Documents

My recommendation to future scholars is to get an accordion file and place all of your educational documents, degrees, transcripts, and certificates in it. It is always best to adopt a chronological order and then divide the accordion file into sections that you label according to various levels of academics i.e., High School, Intermediate, Bachelors’s, Master’s, etc. Then you start to place all documents related to that level within that section. I can tell you from personal experience that this makes things very simple.

Step 2: Organize your Professional Documents

As is the case with your academic record, I always recommend that you get another accordion file and place all your professional documents within that file. Again, the best option is to section off the file in chronological order and then place the documents inside. Not only does this allow for easy reference but it just makes things simpler to find in the future also.

Step 3: Update your CV

The next step is to update your CV just so that it reflects every aspect of your professional and academic life. Your CV is a representation of your skillset and it should really make you stand out as a professional. Seek expert opinion on how to highlight your expertise through your CV because sometimes, we just do not know how to market our capabilities.

Step 4: Make a thorough list of probable Referees

The next logical step is to write down a list of people from whom you think you can get a reference. I will write a separate blog post on how to select referees and why they are important. But for now, this step is important. You should have at least 4-5 people in your list of possible referees and you should get in touch with them immediately. Inform them of your intention of applying to the scholarship and let them know that they are a possible referee to get their consent.

Step 5: Register for the GRE

If you are already knee-deep in the process, you would be aware of the GRE deadlines. Taking GRE is a heading among all the Fulbright application steps. Even though you do not have to have given the GRE at the time of submitting your application, you still have to provide proof that you have registered for it. This is something that you should be done immediately.

Although the USEFP website will tell you that the GRE exam spots are open every week for all the five days, I can tell you through personal experience that this does not guarantee that you will find a seat, especially in your own city. During this time, most of the students, and you have no idea of the number of students that apply for this prestigious scholarship, are applying for the GRE as well – obviously! Your best bet is to reserve a seat now.

In my case, I waited for too long and when I went online to register, I was shocked to find only two available seats in Islamabad; one was for a test date that was just two days away (way too soon for me) and one was at the time when I would have been out of the country. I was left with the option to look for a seat in Lahore and there too, I found just one. Phew! Enough said; if you haven’t registered yet– go register!

Step 6: Field of Research

The biggest most important thing that any applicant to Fulbright needs to spend their time and energy on is research regarding the field in which they want to pursue their studies. Granted that for Masters students, the choice of field and its specialization is far easier and less complicated but for PhD aspirants, it is a strenuous process. Reasons:

  • You do not want to be in a position where you have written your research statement and your future plans when you suddenly discover that not more than one university offers the field that you are looking for.
  • Once you are successfully through the process and your placement plan is under discussion at the IIE, you will want your choice of the field, as well as your research objectives within that field, are comprehensive.
  • There have been instances where the research objectives and the choice of the field have not been clear enough and successful candidates have been placed at research centers that did not fully cater to their choice of study.

Manage your Fulbright application:

  • Prepare an accordion folder (yes they are my favorite).
  • Separate them on the basis of universities i.e., one section for one university.
  • Then you start your research. For example, you are willing to go for a PhD in Public Policy. You will start by searching the web for the best programs in Public Policy offered in the United States. Ideally, you should have a list of at least 10-15 institutions with this program in the offering (slight variations are ok!); the more thorough you are the better. The programs may vary slightly; some universities might have a Ph.D. in Public Policy; some might have Public Policy and Management; some might have Economic Analysis and Policy; so on and so forth.
  • Once you have narrowed down the programs, you will download and print (or don’t if you want to save paper which you should) the following:
    • The curriculum being offered
    • The research specialization being offered
    • Previous research of the department/school to see whether it aligns with what you want to do
    • Look at the faculty – then look at their research areas
    • Then you pick and choose the programs for your list of preferences and for formulating your research objectives. Following these steps will ensure that your research objectives are well rounded and up-to-date with the latest trends of research in your field of interest.

Final Note regarding Fulbright Application Steps

Please note that by following these Fulbright application steps, you will ensure that you are prepared to fill in your application in the best possible manner. In my next blog post, I will be targeting some frequently asked questions regarding the timeline of the whole process, queries regarding the application itself for which I will be uploading a sample application all filled out including the parts about funding and  I will upload some samples of actual reference letters both from academia and professional fields – so watch this space.

Till that time, aspirants, bow your head down and get to work. Do not sweat about giving your 100 percent to a task that will shape the rest of your life. Your future self will be grateful to you.


Muhammad Sarwar

Muhammad Sarwar is an Electrical Engineer by profession and a blogger by passion. He loves to teach and share knowledge. He's a Fulbright scholarship awardee. He reads books, play games, blogs and program in his spare time.

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