How to Get a Fulbright Scholarship to Travel the World

 July 28, 2020
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fulbright scholarship

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Are you interested in studying, working or teaching English in another country?

If you’re a college graduate (or soon to be one), then you may want to consider reviewing Fulbright Scholarship requirements. The prestigious Fulbright U.S. Student Program hands out about 2,000 awards annually. Winning one could be a life-changing experience — and help you limit student loans for graduate school.

To learn how to get a Fulbright scholarship and whether the opportunity is right for you, let’s try to answer the following questions:

What is a Fulbright scholarship?

The Fulbright Program operates in more than 160 countries across the world (140 of which are available through the U.S. Student Program), and as such Fulbright scholarships come in all shapes and sizes. One scholarship could go to a writer finishing their novel in the Philippines. Another could support a master’s student researching robots in the U.K. A Fulbright scholarship could even sponsor a music student’s exploration of traditional folk music in rural China.

Plus, a Fulbright scholarship isn’t just for paying for grad school. It also supports research projects that drive innovation, solve complex problems or add to cross-cultural understanding.

Thanks to federal funding, the Fulbright scholarship covers most or all of the costs of tuition, books, research, room and board, living costs, health insurance and round-trip transportation. Exact amounts differ by country and student.

Deferring student loans during a Fulbright scholarship
Federal student loan borrowers may request a Graduate Fellowship Deferment. The deferment allows you to pause repayment on your eligible federal loans for the scholarship’s duration, although interest will accrue on unsubsidized loans. If you have private loans to repay, contact your lender to see if it operates similar support programs.

What are the Fulbright scholarship requirements?

So, how can you qualify for a Fulbright scholarship? And could this international program be the answer to your question of how to pay for grad school?

There are a few different strands of the Fulbright program, including one for international students and one for seasoned professionals — let’s focus on the Fulbright U.S. Student Program.

Fulbright scholarship requirements for American students

The U.S. Student Program sends American students abroad to attend grad school, conduct research or teach English.

For this program, you need to…

  • Be a U.S. citizen or national
  • Hold a Bachelor’s degree before the grant starts
  • For research grants: Have some proficiency in the host country’s native language (although this requirement is waived for English teachers in certain places, including South Korea and many other East Asian countries)
  • For artist grants: Have at least four years of professional training in the creative or performing arts

You should also be pretty new to the host country: The Fulbright program wants to give students the opportunity to live abroad, so if you’ve already lived in your host country, then you’ll be at a competitive disadvantage.

Preferred qualifications
Beyond Fulbright scholarship requirements, these factors could increase your chances of winning financial aid:

  • You haven’t previously won a Fulbright scholarship winner
  • You earned your college degree primarily studying in the U.S.
  • You haven’t spent more than six months in the country for which you’re applying
  • You have served in the U.S. Armed Forces

How can you get a Fulbright scholarship?

A scholarship that pays for grad school, living costs and transportation while studying in a foreign country? Yes, you might now be wondering how to get a Fulbright scholarship — and it starts with putting together a stellar application.

Fulbright scholarships are merit-based, but you don’t need to be top of your class to qualify. The Fulbright committee wants to see that you’re a well-rounded person, with unique passions and goals. They rely a great deal on your application essays to get a sense of who you are and how you’ll make the most of a Fulbright scholarship.

Not only should you work hard on your application essays, but you’ll also need to provide three glowing recommendation letters.

Therefore, take the time to meet with your professors or employers to talk about your interests. A generic recommendation letter simply won’t do: You need to make sure yours goes in-depth about your strengths and personality.

Finally, you should state specific goals for the year ahead. Say exactly what you’ll study, where you’ll live and why your year deserves funding. Still, keep in mind that some countries are more competitive than others.

For the 2020-21 year, for instance, 18 students got awards for Australia out of 172 applications. Iceland gave six awards, but there were only 30 applications. Australia applicants had only about a 10% chance of acceptance, while applicants to Iceland had about a 20% chance.

The takeaway? Consider applying to a less “popular” country to maximize your chances of getting accepted.

Should you apply to the Fulbright program?

If spending a year abroad with a scholarship paying for grad school appeals to you, then you should look into the Fulbright scholarship requirements.

The Fulbright Program expects students to engage in the host country and form relationships with people. They look for people with a high level of independence and self-direction in their work. Even from the beginning, you’re expected to have a concrete plan for the year ahead.

If you decide to apply, take several months to do research, clarify your goals, write your essays and put together the best application you can.

Fulbright scholarship application timeline for 2020-21
February through September 2020 Online and on-campus informational events
March 31, 2020 Online application opens
August through September 2020 Application deadlines for campus-based applications
Oct. 13, 2020 National application deadline
March through May 2021 Candidates notified if selected

If all goes well, you could be spending the next year in a foreign country having the experience of a lifetime.

Looking for other sources for grad school funding? Check out this guide to learn more about how to pay for grad school without loans.

Andrew Pentis contributed to this report.

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