Application tips from David Morales

[Note from FPA: David is also at the recommended stage and will find out within the next few months if he has been selected for the grant.  He’s applied to be an English Teaching Assistant (ETA) in Ecuador.]

The people below me have done a really good job in giving very helpful and practical advice. I agree with all of it and I think that future applicants should definitely follow their tips. Here are a couple pieces of advice:


Show your passion. I had a very difficult time when I first started working on my personal statement and statement of purpose. I would type out outlines and write out drafts of the essays. I would read them over at the end and, even though I had answered all the questions provided in the Fulbright application, I wasn’t satisfied with them. After having a friend read my essay, she told me that she couldn’t pick up my passion from my writing. From this moment on, I tried my best to convey my passion. I think that any passion is good. Whether its a passion for teaching (Iapplied to the English Teaching Assistantship in Ecuador), a passion for researching, a passion for changing the world, or a passion for bettering the conditions of your community or family, it really shows that you care about something and it makes your personal statement and statement of purpose really meaningful and important. Use powerful words and anecdotes to show them what it is that you love.


Engage in activities that relate to your plans with Fulbright. I think that it is important to show the Fulbright committee that you are really committed and dedicated to a particular issue, profession, or activity. In order to demonstrate this, you have to show them that you have done, or are doing, things that are related to your proposed research plan or volunteer work with Fulbright. I applied to the English Teaching Assistantship in Ecuador. Since the beginning of my career at UCSD I have participated in activities that reflect the kind of work that I want to do in Ecuador. I have volunteered at my former high school and mentored students after school, I have been employed at UCSD as a writing tutor and workshop facilitator, I have participated in community activist groups that deal with issues of educational justice, and I have conducted research on education and Latin American populations through the UCSD McNair program.  I think that these past experiences showed the Fulbright committee that I have a set goal and that I am committed to issues of education and Latin America.

Fulbright Application Tips from Luis Sanchez-Lopez

[Note from FPA: Luis is likewise at the recommended stage.  He’s applying to do research in Mexico.]

Luis Sánchez-López

Department of History

“Constructing the Nation: Education, the Armed Forces, and Health in 19th Century Oaxaca”

Writing tips for prospective Fulbright applicants is more difficult than I thought, especially because I have only been recommended for the Fulbright grant. Nevertheless, I have found some things useful.

Build a Network and Share Your Work

Building a network of people who can support you throughout your time at UCSD is crucial for the development of your project and for your long-term success as a scholar. If you are a first-generation graduate student, building a support system can make the difference between simply “getting through” graduate school and making graduate school the bedrock of your career, regardless of your discipline. With that said, make sure you talk to other graduate students and scholars about your project when it’s time to write the proposal. Talking to people about your project will help you articulate it and make it legible to scholars in different disciplines—the individuals reading your proposal are not always experts in your field. I started writing the proposal about a month before the deadline. [Note from FPA: He means one month before the internal UCSD deadline, not the Fulbright deadline.  However, I strongly suggest starting earlier than this.]  Although the proposal did not entail a significant amount of writing, it has many components that need to be addressed in a rather limited amount of space. Therefore, starting early will give you the opportunity to make all the necessary edits before you submit the application. As one of my teachers told me when I was a kid, “There are no good writers. There are only good re-writers.”

Building a network also means making an effort to build relationships with scholars in the country where you wish to conduct research. Identifying a host institution will make the application, and your research experience in the host country, a lot easier. During my first year at UCSD, I had the opportunity to travel to the site where I am situating my work and met with one of the leading historians in Oaxacan history. Said individual became my official mentor and provided a letter of support for my Fulbright application. I am certain that he would not have written that letter if I had not met with him during my previous trips to Oaxaca.

Edit, Edit, and Edit Some More

Sometimes the hardest part of the application process is sending your draft to a fresh pair of eyes, namely, those of your advisor. I often felt like my draft was not ready to be sent off to my advisor, but I sent it anyway. In my opinion, it is better to give your advisor a rough draft ahead of time than to send him or her a more “polished” draft two or three days before the deadline. Give yourself enough time to write, edit, and edit some more.

Although your main editor will most likely be your advisor, make sure you send your drafts to colleagues, i.e. other graduate students and professors. If you have colleagues who work on a similar topic, time period, or region, have them take a look at your proposal. They will definitely have something to contribute. Also, have colleagues who are not in your field take a look at your proposal. If they have a hard time understanding your project, you may be making assumptions about your audience’s familiarity with your research topic. Don’t assume that people know what you know.

I hope these tips help! Hope to see your Fulbright tips next year! Good luck!

Fulbright Application Tips from Wesley Hsu

[Note from FPA: Wes is likewise at the recommended stage.  He’s applying to develop a method of conveying natural disaster information via smartphones in Taiwan.]

Seeing as I’ve only made it to round 2, this is a guide about how to reach round 2 of the application process, namely how to be recommended.  I’ve yet to hear official word about whether my potential host country’s Fulbright committee would like to give me the grant.  Also, this is a list of tips you can use that aren’t mentioned on the website or by advisors.   There are obvious things to keep in mind, such as starting early (early summer), taking advantage of your resources (Zoe, previous advisors/mentors), and so on.  You will have those tips hammered into your mind from the information sessions and the website.  Instead, these are some tips you may not have thought of.  In no particular order, here they are.

Have your proposal torn apart, over and over, by multiple people.  One of the best ways to write a strong proposal—or any persuasive writing, for that matter—is to hand your writing to the harshest critics.  Over and over.  The harshest critics will magnify the weaknesses in your paper and pinpoint your mistakes.  Zoe, as much as we appreciate her, is a harsh critic.  Don’t let her kindness fool you, she holds several degrees in Linguistics, knows a thing or two about grant writing, has a black belt in editing, and she will tear your paper apart.  Find these kinds of people, and use them like your life depends on it.  Professors, advisors, mentors, bosses.  If you have friends that you know are great writers, use them too!  You have no idea what your reviewers’ backgrounds will be, so mold your proposal so it is clear to as diverse a set of people as possible (well, within reason, of course).  When you hand them your proposal, don’t just hand it to them.  Do two things.  First, tell them “Don’t hold back; give me everything you’ve got.” Second, actually give them the prompt itself so they know what they’re looking for.  Afterwards, look at their edits, decide which changes you believe make sense, revise your proposal, and go back for round 2.  I went through over fifteen revisions before I clicked that “Submit” button.

Use the “Application Tips.” On the Fulbright website, you can find a page called “Application Tips,” which provides you a list of questions you ‘should’ address in your proposal and personal statement.  They’re more like ‘have to’ address questions, if you ask me.  Before you even start outlining your proposal, go through this list, and answer—in writing—all of the questions.  Writing it out will force you to articulate the answers.  Afterwards, group the questions into categories.  For example, “Where do you propose to conduct your study or research?” and “Why does the project have to be conducted in the country of application?” can definitely go into the same category.  Then, based on these categories, start outlining your paper while constantly checking back to make sure you are addressing the questions in each of your paragraphs.  I would go as far as to say each of the categories can even be a paragraph.  Someone should be able to read your proposal, and then answer all the questions on that list themselves.

Get friends and family involved.  Talk about your project to friends and family.  You are already aware that the committee reviewing your proposal will most likely not be experts in your field.  Chances are you know plenty of friends and family that aren’t experts in the field either.  Tell them about your project and see if you can get them as excited about your project as you are.  This will also help you gauge what kinds of technical jargon you should exclude, and ways to explain your project in non-expert terms.  I would recommend getting to a point where when someone asks, “What’s your project?” the conversation ends with them saying something like “Wow, that’s really interesting.”  The next step after that is to try and talk with professors both in and outside of your field, and have them say the same thing.  Your proposal should convey this same sense of passion.  If you aren’t even excited about your project yourself, then clearly something is wrong.

Grab lunch with your references.  Since you’ll be asking for three references, I would recommend treating them to lunch before they write your recommendation.  Not only is this a nice gesture, you’ll also be able to talk more in depth about your proposal.  Unlike a paper, you’ll actually be able to answer any questions they have about your proposal.  Your references are writing letters explaining why they believe your project is feasible and worth doing.  They should have a thorough understanding of your project prior to writing your recommendation.  This is a great opportunity not only for you to help them better understand the project you are proposing and its feasibility given your skill set, but also for you to realize that the fact that they are asking certain questions may indicate what was unclear in the proposal.  If these points warrant clarification, make it happen in your revision.

Make your plans crystal clear.  This point is mentioned everywhere.  However, I want to emphasize that your actual plan should be so clear that upon finishing reading your proposal, there is no doubt that you have thought this through.  Personally, I bolded the section of my proposal that was the actual proposal.  [Note from FPA: He just put the section headings in bold.]  I also did not just explain my plan; I provided a numbered timeline for the different stages of the plan.  This shows that you haven’t just vaguely thought about your plan, you have a full plan of attack.  While many people will tell you to avoid technical jargon, I believe there is a way to play it to your advantage.  By using a little bit of jargon (and explicitly defining it) in your plan, you demonstrate that you are using certain standard methods of practice in your field of research—you know what you’re doing.  It may well be the case that when you get as specific as explaining your timeline, you will need to use some jargon to describe what you will be doing at that stage of the project.  It shows a depth of understanding of your field of research.

There you have it! I hope this helps you get an edge in your Fulbright application.  While these tips won’t apply to everyone, I believe they are general enough that they will help most future Fulbright applicants.

Best of luck on your application process! Get out there and get that grant!

Fulbright Application Tips from Rena Zuabi

[Note from FPA: Rena is currently at the “recommended” state, which is basically like being a semi-finalist.  We hope she gets the grant!  She has applied to conduct research with olive oil farmers in Morocco.]

Deciding to apply for a Fulbright was the first and greatest challenge I confronted in the application process. With my recent move to the Middle East and a new job, I was worried that I did not have the time or the energy to finish an application that I could be proud of.  The whole process seemed overwhelming and intimidating. Around July 2012, I did not think I would submit one.

By August, however, it seemed that a new job and new move was exactly what compelled me to start an application. Through my work, I coordinate project activities related to sustainable agriculture. I found that this field held enormous potential for economic development in the Middle East-North Africa. Building off of my previous field research in the region, I formed an initial proposal. Ultimately, my first lesson in the application process was to be confident – if you are passionate about something that is relevant to the Fulbright call, start writing!  I learned a few other lessons along the way.

1. Represent YOU, not what you think a Fulbrighter is supposed to look like. This may sound incredibly cliché, but I fell into this trap and it almost killed my personal statement. I finally figured out (after a long conversation with my mom and a lot of thought) that I was just trying too hard.  A personal statement can make or break an application. Make that one page really count by showing what drives you. Do not be afraid to write about what makes you tick.

2. Choose a topic that you are passionate about, but that is also unique. A more competitive applicant can explore the world through different research angles, or can delve into untapped research fields. Don’t be afraid to propose research that is outside of the box. Bounce these ideas off of colleagues, friends, students, mentors, and your Fulbright advisor as you write.

3. Stay relevant. Why this research? What does this give your career or your field? Your Fulbright should contribute to something, in big or small ways.  Make this point clear throughout your application.

4. Don’t bite off more than you can chew. Writing a research proposal is challenging, especially in 2 pages. In my first couple of drafts, I formed an idea that would have taken me years to complete. With the guidance of my Fulbright advisor at UCSD, I scaled down my project and made it more viable for a 9-month period. Also, focus your research not on simply collecting and analyzing data, but on connecting to and understanding local communities and people. The Fulbright scholarship stresses the importance of building bridges between US citizens and people around the world. Tie this concept into your research!

5.  Use networks and resources that are already at your disposal. Securing a country affiliation was not an easy task. I had not done previous work in Morocco despite my experience in the Middle East. Through meticulous research, emails, phone calls, and tapping into existing networks and contacts, I received the type of affiliation I was looking for, as well as some expert feedback on my overall application. Also, start this process early; it takes time for people to return emails and phone calls.

6. Be specific. The Fulbright commission is not paying for you to take a vacation in another country. Your application should be excruciatingly detailed. Think, “Who, what, where, when, why” for every aspect of your proposal. If you start with this mindset, it will save you a lot of heartache later on.

These are just a few points that I know would have been valuable to me as I began writing and thinking about my research.

Good luck in the application process!