Difference between the Personal Statement & Study Objectives for Fulbright
*This post was updated in May 2017 to ensure up-to-date content and freshness
Personal statement’s are written and edited by Tim Cleary, the head of the admissions team at BrightLink Prep. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Okay, so these days I am getting a lot of requests on my email, Facebook page, and the Facebook group regarding the confusion surrounding the personal statement and study objectives for the Fulbright Scholarship. Every single one asks the same question: “What is the difference between a Fulbright Personal Statement and the Fulbright Study/Research Objectives?”
Well in Fulbright’s and USEFP’s own words, they tell you to follow these instructions while writing a personal statement: (The word limit for a personal statement and study objectives is 700-750 words each)
“This personal statement should be a narrative statement describing how you have achieved your current goals. It should not be a mere listing of facts. It should include information about your education, practical experience, special interests, and career plans. Describe any significant factors that have influenced your educational or professional development. Comment on the number of years of practical experience already completed in the field in which academic work will be done in the U.S. Do not mention specific U.S. universities at which you would like to study.”
For the study/research objectives they say and I quote:
“Write a clear and detailed description of your study/research objectives, and give your reasons for wanting to pursue them. Be specific about your major field and your specialized interests within this field. Describe the kind of program you expect to undertake, and explain how your study plan fits in with your previous training and your future objectives. This statement is an essential part of your application and is required. Do not mention specific U.S. universities at which you would like to study.”
I know you already know this and have read this so let me calm you down by breaking the above statements for you.
A personal statement focuses on these 2 aspects:
1. How were you able to achieve your current goals?
a. How your education played a role in achieving your goals?
b. How did your work and professional experience help you achieve these goals?
c. Did you or do you have any special interests that played a role in your achievements?
2. Did any past events or factors influence your educational or professional development?
Study Objectives focus on these 2 aspects:
1. What is it that you want to study?
a. be specific by telling about your majors and field of interest
b. tell exactly the kind of program you want to pursue
2. Why do you want to study it?
a. explain how this degree is a natural fit with your previous experiences (as in how is it a natural outcome of your past experiences)
b. explain how this degree will help you achieve your future goals
Whether you’re feeling stuck or feeling overwhelmed by all the ideas bouncing around in your head and you still being confused, just know one thing – a personal statement focuses on the past experiences and the present conditions, whereas study objectives focus on the future plan.
In order to clarify the confusion I will analyze the study objectives and personal statements of a successful Fulbright scholar from Pakistan:
Sample Personal Statement:
Jinnah once said, “Failure is a word unknown to me”. His successful struggle for a separate homeland was a testament to this statement. Yet sixty years down the road, we have managed to prove our founding fathers wrong as our nation is poised to become a failed state. Since inception, Pakistan has witnessed anything but failures. Despite having vast potential for renewable energy, one of the biggest coal reserves, millions of hectors of cultivated land and an enormous labor pool; Pakistan’s survival continues to depend on massive inflow of foreign aid and loans. It’s a pity that Pakistan’s economy continues to be the sick man of the sub-continent even after 60 years of independence. In the face of such economic upheaval, we, as citizens of this embattled nation, can either stand on the side lines and pass judgment or take a stand and fight for our nation’s progress. I, for one, have chosen the latter!
[This is a nice way to start the personal statement. It does not explicitly answer any of the personal statement questions above but it does lay solid ground for what has to come later. It also tells the reader, that the applicant has been working against the economic upheaval in Pakistan. One can also positively infer from this paragraph that the applicant’s area of interest is economics.]
Belonging to a social setting where typically most young women voluntarily or involuntarily rest their case to marriage at an early age, I, nonetheless, immediately after high school sought admission in a top ranking university in the country. Owing to the booming banking industry and fruitful career prospects in the sector, I was faced with immense pressure from my family to opt for a degree in finance; however, having great empathy for issues of economic backwardness and an ardent passion to be a change agent, I chose to major in Economics instead.
[This part covers two key elements; for one the applicant clearly tells that she chose to major in economics and secondly she has depicted her positive traits through vivid examples. For example one gets an impression that she is resolute and not motivated by financial gains – despite the lucrative banking industry, social and cultural pressures she chose to pursue what she believed in and worked to improve the economic backwardness of Pakistan.]
Answer to Question Number 2
My college days however were not just about earning an internationally reputed degree – it was education in all dimensions. My most rewarding experiences, in fact, were outside of the classroom walls. Though the initial separation from the direct support of my family was challenging, yet, it provided me with an opportunity to discover my capabilities in making and living with my decisions. It made me recognize that survival in a competitive freelance environment depends not only on how well you do, but also on how well you relate to people. Fortunately, I was able to accomplish results and develop lasting working relationships, not only with my friends and instructors, but with people from derelict circumstances through the LUMS Community Service. My association with such services did not end here; rather it further catapulted me to help those in need. Subsequently, I took up a job as a Teaching Assistant whereby my colleagues and I worked to retain students on academic difficulty through conducting tutorials and peer counseling.
[This keeps the reader interested because it introduces two new elements: an obstacle (separation of family), a special interest (LUMS community service work). You know by now that this applicant is not materialistic, is determined and strong headed. Moreover now you know that she is someone who is humane who takes actions and helps those in adverse circumstances (by teaching them) and has empathy for those in need.]
Answer to Question Number 1(a), 1(b), 1(c)
My introduction to the energy sector was a coincidence at best. Having only an undergraduate degree in economics, I was academically ill-equipped for my first job as an integral member of the corporate finance team of Uch Power. The technical jargons used at work eluded me and I had to put considerable efforts into tasks that others performed with complete ease. I soon realized that In order to survive in the fast paced life Uch and with no time to learn the ropes, I had to make a run for it or risk myself being caught behind. With time, what first started out as a struggle to survive slowly took the form of a passion: a desire to understand and to decode whatever complexities my work entailed. Today, I am working not only with the corporate finance team of Uch itself, but am also a valuable part of the Uch-II team – the expansion project adding another 4040MW to the existing grid.
[This paragraph shifts focus to the work and professional experiences of the applicant. Again, through work related examples the applicant has shed light on her positive traits – she is someone who likes to learn new things and accept new challenges (even if it requires her to take the extra leap). By working hard enough, she was soon promoted to become a part of another expansion project. This proves that she is a high impact applicant for the energy (a preferred field for Fulbright) and economy sector of Pakistan.]
Answer to Question Number 1(b)
However, this is merely the beginning, for I aspire to achieve much more. Despite such a productive work experience, I continue to I have a thirst for the knowledge needed to give back to my community, to help others, and most importantly to prove that what really matters is not where one comes from, but where one’s heading! I’ve worked hard to make the most of this chosen career path – in the most derelict sector of the economy, and I intend to continue doing so in the future.
[This paragraph gives a little summary of why and where is she headed in the near future. She does not share much detail about her future plans over here since that has to be done in the study objectives and not in personal statement.]
Hopefully this gives you a good start on thinking about your personal statement and what it entails. It is clear enough now that a personal statement only focuses on the past and the present and talks about what has inspired you to become what you are today. A personal statement is all about killer openings, stakes involved, obstacles in path, and traits — and how to use them in your essays.
Sample Study Objectives:
Pakistan, a nation created as the first home for the British-India Muslims almost six decades ago today represents one of the world’s most troubling states on the brink of an economic catastrophe. Record levels of unemployment, unprecedented inflation rates, ever increasing fiscal deficit and looming energy crises; are just a few of the vices which have crippled my country at a macro level. Having nearly averted a balance of payments crisis back in 2008, with help from the International Monetary Fund, my country is once again headed on a path of self annihilation. Despite being rich in natural resources and self sufficient in food production, Pakistan’s economic infrastructure is falling apart day by day. One is forced to ponder; but why? What makes us fail where others have succeed, what makes us weak while other grow strong, but more importantly, how do we make things right.
[Great introduction to the study objectives – first the applicant gives a grim picture of Pakistan in terms of economy. Then it gives a clear message that the applicant is aspiring to apply to the field of economics and improve the economic condition of the country.]
Answer to Question Number 1 and 2
A childhood inquisition into finding an answer to these questions is what introduced me to the world of economics. My first degree in the chosen subject provided me with a well-rounded coverage of the discipline. It helped in the development of an open-minded and scientific approach towards problem-solving, including mathematical and statistical abilities, and imparted the necessary training required to analyze and develop solutions for a range of micro and macro economic problems. With time, what first started out as mere curiosity, slowly took the form of a passion: a desire to understand and to decode and to learn how all the dots connect together to form a complete picture.
[This whole paragraph does a better job of summarizing the initial decisions that led to the applicant into the field of economics. Then she explains the kind of skills she gained there. She is laying the basis for how this degree will be a natural fit with her prior experiences.]
Answer to Question Number 2(a)
Post graduation, my induction into the Corporate Finance & Planning division at UCH Power, Pakistan’s second largest independent power producer with a gross capacity of 586MW, allowed me to make the transition into the practical world. However, this in no way diminished my resolve to understand and evolve solutions for the problems plaguing my country. As a matter of fact, my move to UCH was a culmination of my desire to under the grass root reality of the key issues plaguing the most wrecked sector of the Pakistani economy; The Energy Sector. Electricity shortages have crippled the economy and have often led to violent protests in recent years. Thousands of industrial units have been forced to shut down operations thereby affecting industrial output and the livelihoods of thousands of families. Furthermore, the country’s primary reliance on imported oil for power generation makes it vulnerable to volatility in international prices. To make matters worse, the electricity supply gap is projected to increase in coming years thereby imposing the need for significant investments in the power sector on a priority basis.
As an integral part of the Corporate Finance and Planning team at UCH, I have been primarily responsible for invoicing, research, reporting and treasury functions. This affiliation has given me the opportunity to interact with notable industry leaders, key government representatives and distinguished members of the finance community. As part of a larger team, I have undertaken several projects aimed at spreading knowledge about the ills of Pakistan’s energy sector and have learnt and grown immensely in the process. For instance, while working on numerous presentations and formulating economic reviews for our CEO; I have had the opportunity to educate myself on the lapses in our economic and energy planning system which has marred our country brutally. Furthermore, participation in the recently held Annual Energy Conference, the biggest energy convention of the year, provided me with a formal platform to meet local and international stakeholders and policy makers to discuss and analyze key energy issues and their possible solutions. This has gone a long way in boosting my sense of self-confidence while at the same time providing me with the unique opportunity to hear the viewpoints of notable personalities within the energy sector in Pakistan. Therefore, despite being part of the corporate world, I have continued on my quest to seek answers to the questions that have plagued my inquisitive mind since my freshman days at college.
[These 2 paragraphs details that why the author wants to study economics and how the degree is a natural fit with her last experiences. She mentions about her past academic and work related activities that portray her interests in the chosen field. By mentioning her achievements she clearly states that she has the ability to achieve great feats.]
Answer to Question Number 1
Having spent the last two years as part of Pakistan’s worst hit sector, I have come to the grim conclusion that our problem is not one of resource shortage but one of grave resource mismanagement. Policy makers in my country have failed to foresee and plan ahead of the country’s growing demand for energy. Despite being blessed with numerous geographical locations ideally suited for the construction of hydroelectric dams, our country’s reliance on imported oil for power generation grows by the year. Renewable energy remains a relatively unexplored concept and to make matters worse, even in the face of certain disaster, our policy makers have failed to come up with a viable plan to put our country back on the path to recovery. Having said so, my choices are now clear, either to be a silent observer and see my country tear itself apart or to become part of the system and change it from within. I choose the later.
[Here the applicant lays the foundation for what is it that she wants to study – by stating that she chooses not to be a silent observer she clearly emphasizes that she is going to do more work in improving things. Having previously given ample proof of the traits and qualities to be successful, she has made herself a strong candidate.]
Answer to Question Number 2
However, despite such a productive work experience, I recognize the need of an advanced degree in the discipline if I seek to be truly effective in achieving my future goals. A master’s degree which can equip me with the skills required to effectively design and implement economic policy with a strong emphasis on the economic problems of developing and transition economies will go far in helping me achieve my career goals upon my return to Pakistan. I firmly believe that by pursuing a master’s degree in economic/public policy from a reputable graduate school, I will have the opportunity to truly understand and appreciate the competing interests and views surrounding a variety of complex issues pertaining to the sector’s policy framework, investment regime, institutions and energy security.
[This paragraph is a mix bag – here the applicant answers what she wants to study and why she feels she wants to study it. She exactly tells what program she wants to pursue and her majors as well. She also explains how this degree will help her learn new things and achieve he future goals.]
Answer to Question Number 1
Upon my return, I would like to seek employment with USAID, ADB, World Bank or any of the other international development aid organization operating in Pakistan as part of their project planning and mobilization team. Having previously been part of the team responsible for the planning and development of UCH II, a 404MW capacity expansion project for UCH Power, I will be uniquely placed to take advantage of the previously gained insight into the energy sector to ensure proper planning and utilization of development grants and loans. This will also allow me to put my newly acquired knowledge to practical use by working with national and international policy makers in an attempt to correct the inherent flaws in our nations planning process.
[Here she explains her future goals and how will she contribute after returning to Pakistan. She also explains why she is a good fit for this program and why she should be given preference over other applicants.]
Answer to Question Number 2(b)
Needless to state that the personal statement and study objectives are critical parts of the Fulbright application. What do you want to study and why are questions that MUST be answered in your study objectives – you need to give the Fulbright panel your vision.
Personal statement on the contrary tells the committee about your past achievements and decisions and gives them proof of your potential and seriousness to pursue your particular field. With a personal statement they will get confidence in your abilities and from the study objective your vision of future.
Remember, graduate studies entail dedication and hard work – it’s a big investment of time and energy – you must work hard on these essays to make it through the Fulbright scholarship.