Usama Javed Mirza
Usama is a Fulbright Scholar and a Former selection committee Panelist.
With a master’s degree in Education with a focus on Curriculum and Teaching, one of Usama’s passions is to help students applying for American Universities, scholarships, etc.
Q1. What is the Fulbright Program?
Fulbright is the flagship scholarship program of the U.S. Department of State. Fulbright Awards are offered in 150 countries in the world. It is the biggest scholarship program in Pakistan and every year, around 150 Pakistani students are awarded the Fulbright scholarship. Around 70% of these are awarded to prospective Masters Students and 30% to prospective PhD students.
Q2. What GPA do I need to apply to the Fulbright Program?
There is no cutoff. The general rule is “the more the merrier”, but that being said, students get the Fulbright scholarship based on their overall profile – i.e. their work experience, research work, GPA, GRE scores, etc.
Around 12% of the applicants accepted each year are in the 2.6-3.0 GPA range. Those with a low GPA can make up for it with their work experience, achievements and a good GRE score.
Q3. When are the deadlines and when is the Fulbright Program announced?
Fulbright is announced around mid February each year and the deadlines fall around the mid of May. Once selected, the applicants are enrolled in the next year’s masters/PhD program (i.e. the Fulbright application you filled in 2018 is for admissions in 2019)
Q4. How long do you need to complete the applications?
Now, this is where many students fall short (in terms of ‘adequate time estimate’)
Students need around 2-3 months for their Fulbright application in order to get their documentation ready, iterate on and hence get their Personal Statements perfect. Do not leave your online application for the last 15 days; make sure you keep filling it in, bit by bit, over a span of 2-2.5 months. It takes time, make it perfect!
Q5. Who can apply?
For Masters, candidates need a total of 16 years of formal education i.e. a 4-year bachelor’s or bachelor’s + masters combination resulting in 16 years of formal education. Recent graduates are highly encouraged to apply, except for MBA applicants, who require a minimum of 3 years of work experience.
For the PhD candidates, it should be a total of 18 years of education
Q6. What is a safe GRE score for the Fulbright?
They accept a minimum GRE score of 274, 136 in Quant and 138 in Verbal.
274, however, is just a formality for application eligibility and will get you nowhere.
The definition of a good score mainly depends on your target program and university. Some programs require a minimum of 325! That being said, numerous universities take applicants with scores as low as 306 based on their overall profiles.
After much scrutiny, we have come to the conclusion that 315 is a safe score for most programs. Again, while GRE does supplement your application, your overall profile matters more than your GRE score (unless it is stellar).
Q7. What kind of candidates does Fulbright prefer?
Fulbright has been found to prefer students with an all-rounder profile i.e. students with good life stories, decent extracurricular activities, and most importantly, actual work experience relevant to their target programs.
But before you start judging yourself, focus on building your profile around your target program. Craft a good Statement of Purpose; publish research paper/s or do practical work related to your target program. Prepare well for the GRE to get a good score, everything else is secondary.
Q8. What is required for the Fulbright Application?
The following 5 things:
- Your Transcripts and Degrees:
Not necessarily attested by the HEC, but attested by your university at the least. If you are selected, the Fulbright will ask you get the HEC attestation.
- A CV (Resume):
It should tell the reader about your
• Distinctions/achievements, skills (technical and non-technical)
• Academic background (what degrees you did, from where and when).
- GRE General Test:
GRE general test is the only test you need for Fulbright. 274 (136 Quant, 138 Verbal), is the minimum eligibility requirement, however, a score of this sort would never secure you an admission. From experience and much scrutiny of Fulbright scholars’ profiles, we have come to the conclusion that anything 315 can be considered a ‘safe score’. Of course, the higher the score, the stronger your application will be.
- 3 Recommendation letters:
You need to submit three letters of recommendation (LOR) to complete your application. If you’re in your final year, the 3 LORs can be academic. Ideally, they should be from the Instructors that you have worked with. LORs require student-specific details and only an instructor that you have worked with can provide those. If you have not worked with the instructors or do not have a positive relationship with the ones you worked with (which you should have had BTW) ask instructors who know you because of your coursework interaction. If you are a working professional, you may submit one or two work recommendations but you must submit at least one academic recommendation. Both kinds of LORs (academic and professional) are person specific and not general. LOR is a key part of your application and a bad LOR is a serious red flag.
- Two Essays:
- a) Personal Statement: (Or Statement of Purpose SOP)
There is very good Android app for this, SOP Drafter. While it will help you a lot in writing down your SOP, you need to be careful in not writing an autobiography, few do’s and don’ts are as follows:
- Highlight your personal motivations and the experiences that shaped you. Make it a non-dramatic yet compelling story of your struggles and motivations.
- Make a connection between your credentials and your vision. Mention your practical experiences that connect with your intended field of study.
- Mention concrete solid examples from your life (using your educational background, experiences, and initiatives) to bolster the genuineness of your vision and motives. Do not make forced connections or make the readers construe your SOP in a way that YOU want them to be.
- Describe your personality with a slight use of anecdotes to set yourself apart from other candidates. In short, write an SOP only YOU could have written.
- Practicality and feasibility are principal concerns. You might have a plan that just exists merely in your head or whose practicality is severely limited. To make sure this does not happen, provide a timeline, discuss their methodology and goals, and analyze such variables as the host country’s cultural and political climate and resources. Your SOP should tell the reader that you are a hard working accomplished individual who has absorbed lots of life experiences and learning and channeled them into a vision where you are giving back to the society and solving a problem. And it should all be logical.
- Use field-specific jargon (like what only your field mates can understand) and if you have to use jargon then do it in a context that makes it understandable. Do not try to pen down technical terms trying to show off your “Arcane Knowledge”.
- Write an autobiography.
- Lie or make up a story when trying to define your personality, it is detected and is a red flag
- Mention a college (university) where you’d ‘prefer’ to get admission.
- Remember, SOP is not an autobiography.
- b) The ‘Study Objective’ Essay:
Or the Research Objective essay, as the name suggests, is required as an elaboration of your study goals
Objective essay Dos…
- Mention your prospective field clearly.
- Mention why you are interested in your prospective field (what intrigues you, what do you want to learn from it and why).
- Explain, in what way, your past (education and experiences) align with your intended field.
Objective essay Don’ts…
- Do not mention your Prospective field obscurely.
- Do not mention any college (university) that you would prefer to pursue your intended field in.