Програма академiчних обмiнiв iменi Фулбрайта в Українi

Winning a Fulbright Grant

Applying for a Fulbright grant is like applying for a job. In both cases, the goal is to be remembered in a positive way by differentiating yourself from the other candidates who apply for the same position.

As in a job search, a successful Fulbright candidate will emphasize the distinctive features of his or her skills, experience and academic potential. At the same time, he or she will focus on making the study or research project seem "more valuable" than the others. This means that the successful candidate must satisfy those criteria that are important to the selection committee. These criteria include: 1) potential contribution of the project to the database of knowledge in a specific field of study; 2) potential of the candidate to implement the project successfully; 3) potential of the candidate to bring about positive change in education or in the chosen area of specialization; 4) ability of the candidate to represent the Ukrainian academic, professional or education communities in a positive light.

Anyone considering applying for a Fulbright grant should be prepared to answer 2 questions, in the application documents and during the interview: 1) Why should Fulbright invest in my project and in my academic development? and 2) How is my project better than others?

The First Selection

Employers who review job applications often make their first important decision by dividing all applicants into 3 groups. The first step in Fulbright's selection process also defines 3 categories:

  1. rejects (not to be considered)
  2. outstanding candidates (strong possibility of becoming winners)
  3. all others (potential candidates, could be interviewed)

Group 1 candidates are the easiest to identify. These candidates are eliminated immediately for several reasons:

  • Application form is not complete (documents are missing, questions left unanswered)
  • Did not follow instructions (questions poorly answered, late submission, information is missing)
  • Sloppiness (poor handwriting or typing, bad formatting)
  • Accuracy and spelling (incorrect vocabulary, punctuation, grammar, poor sentence structure)
  • Weak project description or personal statement (badly planned, poorly argued, does not demonstrate knowledge in the field, poor understanding of subject, limited familiarity with the research literature)
  • Poor communication skills (many words, little substance, irrelevant information)

Group 2 is the smallest. These candidates create a positive first impression. Documents are neat and complete, all questions thoughtfully answered. Candidates proposed well-organized, well-argued and interesting projects. English is correct and the writing is easy to read and understand. These applicants demonstrate understanding of their subject areas, relevant academic experience, in some cases appropriate work experience, and potential for contributing to the database of knowledge on their topics. They seem to have potential for developing new research directions and for making significant improvements over current practice in education or in their fields. These candidates will be invited to interview.

Group 3 is the largest. Candidates described interesting topics, have some experience and demonstrate average communication skills. However, the projects are weakly argued or poorly described. This suggests lack of experience with English language or underdeveloped communication skills. Still, these application materials will be reviewed again for indications that the candidate has potential for contributing to the knowledge base in the area of specialization or has potential to bring about positive change in education. Some applicants from this group will be invited to interview.

Preparation

The Fulbright grant application process takes time, preparation and serious thinking about the study or research topic, its importance and its feasibility. This process must begin LONG before the application deadline. Letters of professional reference and the resume take time to prepare. The application materials will be reviewed carefully and the project proposals will be evaluated for accuracy, logic and feasibility.

All application materials should be edited and checked carefully before submitting. Spelling errors and grammar mistakes suggest sloppiness, poor communication skills, poor attention to detail, lack of seriousness towards the project and lack of respect for the evaluators. There is NO excuse for spelling errors at this level.

The Project and the Candidate (Study or Research Objectives, Project Statement, Personal Essay)

The written description of the candidate's proposed activity in the U.S. is a critically important part of the application materials. Its purpose is to allow the candidate to answer the question "What can I contribute to the knowledge base in my area of specialization or to bringing about positive change in education?" This writing assignment allows the candidate to demonstrate the following competencies:

  • Ability to understand and follow instructions
  • Ability to identify a feasible project and to narrow the study or research focus
  • Ability to describe the project clearly and with appropriate detail
  • Ability to research the project topic and to identify legitimate bibliographic resources
  • Ability to "sell" the project idea if it's new or unusual (to convince the interviewers that the topic and the project are important)
  • Ability to take advantage of study or research in the U.S. and to successfully complete the project
  • Ability to predict consequences of the project and to describe its benefits to different communities (scholars, educators, public service, etc.).

Student programs may also require the personal essay. Because students have limited academic and work experience the personal essay gives them an opportunity to introduce themselves and to answer the questions "Who am I?" and "Why will I achieve my study or research objectives?" This exercise requires taking a serious look at oneself, at one's strengths and weaknesses, and at personal goals and ambitions. The personal essay allows the candidate to demonstrate:

  • Ability to think and plan long-term to achieve goals
  • Ability to use language as a tool for achieving professional objectives
  • Ability to prioritize and make decisions
  • Ability to follow through with projects
  • Ability to learn from mistakes
  • Seriousness of purpose, attitude towards the project and towards teaching
  • Decision-making and ability to lead others.

Traditionally, Ukrainian students have not been encouraged to voice personal opinions in writing or to express individual thinking. As a result, "leadership" skills, originality of thought, and academic potential are hard to evaluate based on the application materials alone. Often students submit generic statements about the study or research topics. Projects may be poorly developed or weakly argued. In other cases, the young writer overcompensates for lack of experience by exaggerating his or her abilities and proposes study or research projects that are unrealistic and objectives that are impossible to achieve.

For these reasons, personal essays are carefully reviewed by several evaluators who try to "read between the lines" and to identify those candidates who are open to new ways of thinking, have the most potential to complete their projects, and to become influential leaders and change agents in their communities.

The Interview

The purpose of the interview is to confirm that the candidate can communicate effectively, can demonstrate the skills described in the application materials, and has potential for contributing to the chosen area of study or research. Specifically, interviewers are looking for someone who is able to convince the committee that he or she 1) has a valuable project and will implement it successfully, 2) will introduce positive change in education or in their areas of specialization, and 3) will represent Ukraine in a positive way.

The interview tests self-confidence and ability to handle stress and pressure. During the interview, candidates will be asked to defend statements they made in the application materials. Candidates should be prepared to discuss authors, books and articles, and theories they mentioned. Interviewers may ask the candidate to explain the study or research subject in detail and to give specific examples. The candidate may be asked how the project will specifically benefit Ukraine or the Ukrainian education system.

Candidates should ALWAYS answer questions truthfully, clearly and in a way that is easy to understand, without using specific terminology. It is acceptable to admit not knowing the answer to a specific question. Candidates should ask for clarification if the question is not clear or if they feel the question is too general. Candidates who avoid answering difficult questions by talking about something else will fail the interview.

The interview process allows the candidate to "sell" himself or herself as a potential "ambassador" who will create a positive impression of Ukraine in the American academic, education or professional communities. In addition to the skills and competencies already mentioned, the interview will test:

  • Ability to demonstrate academic maturity and self-knowledge
  • Ability to handle difficult questions and to think in the "hot seat"
  • Good English communication skills
  • Diplomatic skills and ability to create positive PR for Ukraine
  • Ability to establish rapport and working relationships in groups
  • Dedication to the subject, commitment to the study or research, and passion for education.

The interview is the last opportunity for the candidate to convince Fulbright that his or her project is more valuable than the others and that Fulbright should invest in the professional development of that candidate.

The Final Selection

The Fulbright program aims to support candidates, especially young people, who are clearly interested in scholarship and who will continue their research after returning from the U.S. The program encourages candidates from all universities to apply. By supporting motivated young people with scholarly potential and who are about to make their life choices, the program hopes to enable those students to have an impact on their society and to define the future.