An Open Letter to the Fulbright Program
Each year, over 1000 Pakistani’s put months of indefatigable, zealous and unremitting efforts before applying for the Fulbright program; they prepare incessantly for the GRE exam, write long essays, fill absolutely tedious forms (where you ask to write one thing more than once), introspect about themselves, run after the professors for references, diplomatically ask their bosses for recommendations, seek attestations for their documents (mostly through a grueling process), and spend over 20,000 rupees (at minimum) of hard earned money. Most of them are average Pakistani’s composing of all sorts of people; students, professionals, married, divorced, teachers, villagers, handicapped etc. They hinge their entire future on the single biggest hope of getting the Fulbright program.
My purpose of writing today is by no means to belittle the Fulbright program; it has indeed done so many awesome things for Pakistani’s and I couldn’t imagine one without it. But wouldn’t it terrify me if after putting so much effort on the Fulbright application and its pre-requisites, I find out one day that the application that I sent to you through the post office was returned to me because the PO box was closed - or because the post office misplaced it or because it got delayed? How much I would dread that my references didn’t reach at all and were lost in the postal service? And then when I would call you, you wouldn’t pick up or would simply say that we will “look into it”, “investigate it”. How can this one little thing undermine all my efforts is something that is unfathomable.
I, for one, know so many Fulbright applicants each year that would go through this ordeal and I am sure I would be meeting many more. Line spacing x, margins y, font size this, font size that – so many things I made sure I did right but in the end the post office ruins it. Worst of all USEFP does not ease my nerves at all - do you have any idea how much you play with our nerves and patience? It doesn’t end here - for days you remain silent not telling us if our apps are complete, whether they reached you or not? To most you do after weeks, to some you never write back. You make us travel to other cities to give the GRE exam because you couldn’t give us a slot in our hometown – we say nothing – we accept it as part of the process and we travel for the sake.
The Fulbright application process is broken! It should not be this way.
You say you want Pakistani’s to come back after their graduate studies and work for the betterment of Pakistan and therefore I am back and want you to improve your process. I am hurt but I will move forward. Where or if my application reaches you is not in my control but in the hands of the post office. Even if I end up on the streets, I will find a way to live and continue improving the world. All I can do is rise up and become one of the best. I will move on. Still, I am angry.
My goal is not to invalidate you. You have improved over time – you released us from the hassle of going to HEC to get our docs attested – this year we didn’t go through that pain but still a lot needs to be done. I am not the one who would just point out flaws; I want to suggest remedies.
1) We don’t trust the post office. Please let us courier you the documents – even the dumbest person knows that post office is unpredictable. To some you say that you can send the app to our office directly but you don’t write it anywhere in the instructions. For some you accept the courier, for other you don’t. There is so much inconsistency and ambiguity in your responses.
2) Please intimate us at the earliest if our applications have been received and is complete. If you let us know a deadline by which we will be intimated, it will ease our nerves hugely. Already the process is so nerve wrecking so I request you to make it simple by eliminating the frivolous things.
3) Please consolidate the entire process of sending forms, references and educational documents.
4) Ideally you should let us submit everything online – we will even pay 10 USD application fee to submit our stuff to you online – like every other university does globally – even local universities now let us do that. We wouldn’t mind paying an extra thousand or two to submit everything to you online just for eliminating our anxiety. We already spend hundreds, we would spend another few.
5) Please don’t ask us to submit attested documents – you can always ask those later. You have no idea how much pain we go through running after universities and schools registrars for those. We can always give you those at the time we come for interview.
6) Then at the last moment you extend your deadlines and we all run into extensions etc. we are relieved but there is always so much uncertainty. I know you do that for our convenience but you can always replace that with rounds. Round 1,2, 3 etc. Those who submit apps in round 1 get higher priority etc. – just like MBA programs do in the US.
And I have many many more suggestions.
I am not questioning you admissions criteria, I am just requesting you to please simplify the application process. I am sure we are all waiting for that day when we can simply send you our apps with the press of a button. And you would send us a happy email reply saying that our app is complete and ready to be processed.
To those who think that I am bitter - yes I am! We don't want pity. We don't want help. We want improvement. We need transparency. This process should not hurt people.