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Fulbright Personal Statement Guidelines For Graduate

Improving Your Fulbright Application

Improving Your Fulbright Essays (PDF)

Remember that your project proposal statement and personal statement work together to answer the questions “What now?” and “Why now?”: what is your proposed project, and why is now the perfect time in your professional career to undertake it? For the Fulbright (and other international opportunities), you must also demonstrate the absolute need to undertake your project abroad. Below are more specific questions that can help guide your essays.

Project Proposal:

  • Where exactly will you be carrying out your research? In what archives, lab, etc.? What materials are will you need to access, and how will you gain access to them?
  • How will you carry out your research? What will your research methods be? Quantitative/qualitative/textual analysis, etc.? How will you make the necessary contacts, etc.?
  • What are your language qualifications, precisely? What courses, examinations, certificates, etc. do you have in the target language?
  • What are your academic qualifications? What coursework or previous research has prepared you to undertake this current project?
  • Is this absolutely the most logical step in your project? Can you go no further without this study?
  • What is the timeline to complete your dissertation? Will there be any other result to this project – an article, etc.?
  • What is the broader impact of this project? What is your intervention in your field, for example, and who else might be interested in or affected by the outcome? What will scholars be able to understand better once it’s published, etc.? How might it change our understanding of (fill in the blank)?

Personal statement:

  • What experiences have you had that led you to this particular project?
  • What draws you to this particular culture, and to other cultures in general?
  • In what kinds of situations have you demonstrated flexibility and adaptability?
  • How can you become involved in the local community in a way that relates to your own personal interests?
  • How does this project fit in with your personal trajectory (from student to faculty member, for example)?

Keep in mind that your essays should be precise and concise. You need to efficiently establish context for your project and demonstrate its significance. Each paragraph in your essay should have an obvious purpose and convey focus. You should exhibit a clear understanding of the relevance of your project, the logistics of your research plan, and the aims of the Fulbright program.

Getting Good Reference Letters (PDF)

  • Ask prospective referees for their support well in advance of the application deadline, and provide all the necessary information in good time, i.e. at least three weeks in advance.
  • Provide your referees with a copy of your project and personal statements and a copy of the “Instructions for Referees” or link to the online instructions.
  • Remind your referees that they must submit their letters electronically. Contact them once you have registered them to make sure they have received the email from Embark with instructions. Also, remind them that once they submit their letter, they will be able to access it for their records but NOT edit it.

Fulbright Instructions for Registering Referees

Please keep in mind that a Fulbright recommendation letter should address:

  • The student’s intellectual merit and strength of character
  • The significance of the project within the student’s field and beyond
  • The student’s preparedness to undertake the project
  • The feasibility of the project’s completion within the grant year
  • The necessity to complete this project abroad
  • The student’s ability adapt to a foreign culture and to represent the United States while abroad

Analyzing Models to Improve Your Essays (PDF)

Careful reading of a sample essay can help you better understand the elements that should be included in your own statements. Students may contact the Office of Grants and Fellowships at gradgrants@nd.edu for samples of successful Fulbright application essays.

Questions to ask your chosen model:


  • How does the statement begin?
  • What is the organizing structure of the essay? Chronological, methodological, thematic, narrative, etc.?
  • What kinds of sections is the statement divided into?
  • How does the author handle transitions between sections or paragraphs?
  • How does the statement end?


  • What information does the author assume the reader already has?
  • How does the author contextualize their research?
  • How does the author establish their qualifications?
  • How specific are the details of the proposed project?
  • How does the author link the project to future goals?


  • Is the tone of the piece informal, semi-formal, formal?
  • Is the presentation objective or personal?
  • Does the author display a sense of conviction, or “hedge” claims?


  • Does the author employ figurative language or more transparent, direct language?
  • How is technical language employed?
  • Does the author assume the reader’s knowledge of key terminology?
  • How complex is the sentence structure? Does the author rely on short sentences, or create complex sentences with multiple clauses?

Complete an outline of your model. Write down not just what each section says, but how it functions.


Few moments in history reflect the spirit of international cooperation and cross-cultural dialogue more than the Bandung Conference, held in 1955, and organized by a collection of newly inaugurated leaders from formerly colonized nations across Asia and Africa. In 2005, in commemoration of the fiftieth anniversary of the conference, world leaders again returned to Bandung to renew the 1955 sentiments that Asia and Africa had much to benefit from strengthened networks of communication. The notion of inter-regional cooperation among formerly colonized nations, so eloquently stressed in the rich speeches by the 1955 Bandung delegates, remains a source of inspiration for contemporary politicians in Asia and Africa. The proposed project will add a much needed historical dimension to the process by which cross cultural encounter and dialogue emerged among Asian and African anti-colonial leaders early in the twentieth-century leading up to the monumental meetings in Bandung.
(from Temple University’s Fulbright Grant Information Guide)

I. Introduction
A. Main topic: The 1955 Bandung Conference organized by leaders of formerly colonized nations across Asia and Africa serves as an important historical marker for international cooperation and cross-cultural dialogue.
B. Functions: To arouse readers’ interest in the project, to suggest the project’s importance.

“When applying to study in the US, I would recommend thoroughly researching universities. Personally contact admissions departments or professors because it makes your application stand out when you’ve taken the initiative to find out more about the department.” – Former Fulbright Student


The most important part of any university or scholarship application is the personal statement. A strong personal statement can set you apart from other applicants and give you a chance to explain how you meet the selection criteria. (It is used in place of your personal interview)

Faculty members and scholarship selection committees want to know as much as they can about each applicant. Admissions exam scores, university degree results and letters of reference are all important indicators of an applicant’s academic potential. However, this information does not reveal much about the student’s character, motivation, future academic or career goals or why the applicant is interested in that particular university or field. The personal statement exists to allow applicants to convey something personal about themselves, and to convince the selection committee that the applicant is an especially attractive candidate.

Writing Your Personal Statement

As you download applications, you will quickly find there is no set structure for writing a personal statement. Often the only instruction you will get is on the word count or number of pages.

This is both a blessing and a curse. You have the freedom to be creative – yes, even if you are doing a PhD in Astrophysics! How does one summarize your life into two pages?

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