Let me start off by congratulating you for being shortlisted for the Fulbright Interview. Fulbright fellowship is a highly competitive process and you are lucky to have reached the interview stage. It is indeed a great achievement in itself. And since it is Fulbright Interview days, I wanted to take a few moments to jot down some key pointers that I wish someone had told me before the interview – thank goodness for impulsive improvisation and luck! So let us get right down to business as time is of the essence for everyone here.
A Day before the Fulbright Interview
Well you should look sharp, present and every bit a picture of your personal statement. Everyone blows up their personal statements to some extent but it should not matter if you dress the part. A lot of people do not believe in dressing for the part, but I say you should always look your best for something that you work so hard for. And why not? So sleep well, have a good breakfast and be ready to kill the day. Nothing can beat the morning sunshine out of a hopeful youth ready to conquer the world!
When You Research the Office of Fulbright Commission
We were told that the fact that we have been shortlisted for interview means “they like you”. Fulbright/IIE/USEFP, they like you! Now, your interview should show them that they aren’t wrong in their judgement. Here is something I did not know; what with all of the forms and sheets and applications and what not that you had to fill out before reaching the interview stage. You’d think its all over now; no more forms; nothing! Well think again! A few moments after you arrive, you will be handed another form that you need to fill out.
I am not aware whether this happens every time – but you might also be handed a topic on which you will have to draft a quick response in your own handwriting within fifteen minutes. For instance, “Herd Mentality”, are you for or against? Defend! Whether this has any bearing on the selection process or not, I am not aware, but for some it sure is a test of nerves. Many aren’t prepared for this, but now that you know, you can be prepared! Well prepared enough to at least expect this might happen!
Advice for the Fulbright Interview
The information presented here is to help you better understand how this might go and what to expect. Of course no one can present an experience that encapsulates all possible scenario’s so a bit of improvisation would be required.
Advice 1: Connect the Dots…
Now suppose you have applied for a PhD in Public Policy. The questions I was asked were mostly related to how I plan to connect the knowledge that I gain to my work here. So public policy is pretty academia driven in the US where as in Pakistan its not even considered a recognized major field of study. So I had to really point out what I had in mind for the future. Because they are very blunt about it – they said “we get why someone from Pakistan might want to pursue a Masters in Public Policy – and in previous years we have selected many such individuals – but why should you be selected as a PhD in the field. What good would that bring to your country?” Have an answer ready for this kind of question. You should really be aware of why you want to do what you want to do.Of course in some way their questioning was also linked to my profession – I am a civil servant – and bureaucracy in Pakistan is fairly politically driven instead of policy – so I had to shed some light on that aspect also.
Advice 2: Get Familiar with Your Fulbright Application that you Submitted 4-5 months ago
Another important thing that you need to remember is to know your application inside out. They can ask you questions based directly off of what you have written in the application responses. It’s been fairly long time since your submitted your Fulbright application along with those lengthy essays and prompts. It’s reasonable to assume that you might forget some details in the application that you wrote yourself. So, get to know application completely. Read all the essays and answers to the prompts in the application. The reasons why you chose a specific university in your plan. In the end, Fulbright interview is all about to know you well as a person and to establish that really You are the person that your application represents!
Advice 3: Be Clear on Your Future Plans
Get to know well your future plans – you should have the next ten years mapped out based on the assumption that you will get the scholarship. And there is no harm in being confident and letting it show that you got it. Goes without say – DO NOT BE SMUG!
Advice 4: Don’t Hesitate to Ask a Question
If they offer – do not hesitate to ask them a question. I asked about networking opportunities within the Fulbright cohort because I thought of it as having amazing potential since the cohort is so widespread throughout the world with amazing academic achievements.
Advice 5: Formulate Your Reasons for Switching Fields
If you have switched fields, like from Computer Sciences to a Business Major and then to a Public Policy Major – like myself – be ready to give them an explanation of your choices that sounds well connected and like a decision that was formulated on information/passion rather than trend. Then, connect this stream with your future objectives. You know the age old question, “Where do you see yourself in five/ten years?”; think about it very seriously.
Advice 6 – Very Important: Stay calm during your Fulbright Interview!
The time duration is very short. Usually there are four to five people in the interview panel out of which two of them might be Americans and two might by Pakistani locals. So make sure your answers are succinct yet comprehensive. Ideally everyone from the interview panel asks you a question. But the total time is 20 mins. And they have a timer- the moment timer dings they politely ask you to leave. If you spend the whole of 20 minutes answering the first question and lingering on – you might be out of time for the others to ask you questions and that means they do not have ample ground on which to judge you. So I repeat – brief yet full answers to the questions. Smile and be confident. Its nothing to fear honestly. Your passion for your field should shine through.
Advice 7 – Very Very Important: Handle How to Answer Uncomfortable Questions
With the way current politics is in the United States, and the fact that everyone is entitled to free speech and freedom of thought here in the US, the panel might ask you how you would respond to an uncomfortable question related to politics? It can be anything, even a hostile subject. Learn to circumvent such a question with a clever answer based on the truth. So for instance, I learnt to be very diplomatic in my answer. A generic reply which I tailored slightly to every political problem was saying that “All we know is what the media chooses to tell us and answers can be based off of who we choose to believe. I can put down the newspaper but then several hundred thousand do not put down their newspaper and even more do not understand yellow journalism. Having gone through the events I think the only thing I have learnt is to look beyond political overlays at the people and their countries. Its time we try to really figure out why such heinous things happen and not look for a version that supports nationalism. I think we actively need to fight off hatred and extremism and these are the only lessons to be gained from such atrocities instead of throwing around blame”.
With this final bit of advice, I bid farewell. I have made a sincere effort to help you guys through the interview and I hope you find it that way. Once again, congratulations on this amazing achievement and God speed! Good Luck.