Fulbright Selection Criteria
First of all, what is the Fulbright scholarship and why does everyone want it?
Fulbright scholarship is perhaps the most prestigious scholarship for graduate and PhD programs in the US. The scholarship covers the tuition, travel, and stipend expenses of the candidates. Moreover, because of the rigorous selection criteria, Fulbrighters are considered extremely brilliant in what they do!
So, what is the Fulbright selection criteria? Well, we have interacted with thousands of students and mentors in the last 6+ years who were eventually selected for the Fulbright scholarship.
Based on our interaction with Fulbright principal candidates and mentors, we have analyzed the following factors as important in the selection of Fulbright Scholarship 2023, listed in the order of their importance, i.e. how much weightage they carry in determining who gets selected for the scholarship.
Note that if there are multiple factors within the same category level, it means that they hold more or less equal weightage in the selection of candidates.
By far, the GRE has the highest weightage in the selection of the Fulbright application process. Roughly 30% of your application scoring is dependent upon your GRE scores.
This is an ideal opportunity for those who otherwise have average or low CGPA. By ensuring good scores in the GRE, they can supplement their application remarkably.
For example, we know of someone with less than 2.5 CGPA, who was selected for the Fulbright due to a high GRE score of over 330. This can give you a good idea of how important your GRE scores are, especially if your GPA is low or average.
Good GRE scores can also help a candidate get accepted into Ivy-League or top-tier universities. We have seen someone with a GRE score of over 330 get accepted into top-notch schools like Harvard, MIT etc.
For a PhD program, the lowest GRE score can be around 290, but we have rarely heard of someone receiving lower than a score of 290 in the GRE. Such a person may have made into the cohort due to some other criteria which we have mentioned in the article.
For a Masters program, ideally, the score should be above 300. In very rare circumstances, recipients of low GRE scores may also be accepted due to their other achievements or qualifications. For more information on this, please refer to this article about the GRE scores of selected Fulbright candidates.
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After GRE, there are two important factors: CGPA and application essays (Personal Statement and Study Objectives)
A good CGPA is important to compensate for a low GRE score. For example, for a PhD program, we have seen students with multiple gold medals and a 4 CGPA make it into the Fulbright cohort despite a low GRE score of around 290.
In case of Masters applicants, CGPA of undergraduate degree is considered. While for PhD candidates, the average of both Bachelor’s and Master’s CGPA would be considered.
Essays (Personal Statement + Study Objectives):
Essays are considered to be one of the strongest aspects that can make or break your selection. This is mainly because most of the other criteria, for example, CGPA and GRE, are generally historical. The applicant cannot tamper or change it any longer. Thus, essays are what you are left with to do something about.
It is perhaps the most subjective element of the application. We advise applicants to have a compelling story that fits well with the Fulbright philosophy in order to improve their chances of selection and scoring good in the essay component. Having a clear understanding of what kind of candidates the Fulbright program requires is key to writing an excellent essay.
Your personal statement should follow these general steps:
Current Unique Profile -> US Education -> Actionable Return Plans
Try to connect the three using a compelling story with a cohesive narrative. For an in-depth understanding of how to write a good personal statement, refer to Personal Statement vs Study Objective article.
Letters of Recommendation:
3 letters of recommendation are required for a complete Fulbright application. If you are a working professional, one of your letters must be from a colleague or supervisor, while the other one should be academic. The third letter can be either professional or academic.
Basically, this is your discretion–choose the recommenders who know you in good capacity and who you trust to write you an excellent recommendation.
Make sure the recommendation letter is not generic, it should be unique with respect to your profile and it talks about the unique achievement or projects you did in the past.
Priority Subject Areas:
Every year, the Fulbright program advertises the priority areas. In recent years, it has been energy, agriculture, education, water management etc. They give extra points to those candidates that belong to such priority subject areas.
This doesn’t mean that applicants in the fields of health, MFA, or Business will not be selected. This priority area might be applicable to some country specific Fulbright programs and might not be applicable to others. So ensure that you are well-informed about any such details.
In the case of PhD applications, research is preferred. The stronger the research experience, the more points they will get.
If you are applying for the Masters programs, then your work experience is important.
The relevancy of your work experience or research (in case of PhD) and future goals is important for the Fulbright program. You should use the “Study Objectives” to further highlight the area you want to be working in after the completion of your program.
Applicants belonging to underrepresented communities or minorities are especially encouraged to apply. Fulbright program does not discriminate on the basis of gender, religion, race, sex, and/or disability. As such, applicants who are differently-abled, belonging to religious and/or gender minorities, and female, are especially encouraged to apply and given priority.
Moreover, most of the females are not well represented in the developing countries. Thus females are encouraged to apply for the program.
Applicants belonging to Rural Areas:
Applicants who belong to rural or underrepresented areas are also given slight preference over those who belong to metropolitan or big cities. This is because Fulbright wants to make sure the candidates are well representative of all parts of the country.
If you have any community, volunteer, or extracurricular experience and other awards, you will get additional points, even though the weightage is very small. However, just make sure that your whole profile is spot-on.
Despite all these criteria, they want to make sure that the entire country and different provinces represent the cohort. Talent is available in every part of the country, so it’s important to give opportunity to everyone so they can learn the best practices of their major fields and implement them back home in their home town or areas.
They also make sure that applicants represent all fields, starting from health to engineers to business to agriculture to psychology, MFA etc.
The applications for the Fulbright Scholarship 2023 are currently open, hope this information helps you become a part of the next cohort. Goodluck!
Disclaimer: Please refrain from listening to the advice of unverified mentors, that is, those who haven’t been awarded any Fulbright scholarship. Do not seek help from them. As an experienced mentor, I have noticed that their advice actually decreases any chance of success you can have.