What are my Chances of Getting the Fulbright Scholarship?
There are no guarantees in the Fulbright Scholarship admissions game. Not every Pakistani applicant is going to get the prestigious Fulbright, even if they meet the top benchmarks for acceptance: stratospheric academic results and stellar work experiences. 1,300 students applied to Fulbright last year, and only around 170 gained admission. Given enough funding, Fulbright could easily fill a second class that’s just as qualified with students from the rejected pile.
So what are your chances of getting to the Fulbright interview table if not the scholarship? Well no one can tell except the Fulbright admissions panel - that too after looking at your holistic application for hours, discussing and critiquing it with one another. This is the most common question that I am asked regularly. Some variants include: My GPA is 3.29, what are my chances? My GRE is 339, do you think I have a strong chance? My BS percentage is 67% can you evaluate my chances?
Honestly, these are naive questions and those who ask them are probably too naive as well. Admission chances are not just determined by a couple of quantitative measures such as your GPA, GRE, years of work experience etc. There are a whole lot of qualitative measures too, for example, whether your vision aligns with that of the Fulbright or does Fulbright want to send people in your field of interest etc. Many times an exceptional application is rejected simply because it is not in line with the field of interest that Fulbright is interested in. Since no one can answer this question, a better question that one can answer would be how do I improve my odds of admission with such a super-competitive applicant pool?
Volunteer Opportunities Strengthen your Application Immensely
Applicants come to me saying that shall I work for 2 weeks in Chitral helping people reclaim a village simple because it would add meat to the application. I say, do it only if you really want to help people else if your aim is to just get the Fulbright then you will be better off if your voluntary work has a very strong connection to the area that you want to study. Grad schools require focused applicants and Fulbright requires people who can become future leaders of Pakistan in their respective domains. The two can only complement each other if a person volunteers for something that is well connected to the area that they want to study in.
A good GPA or GRE is Important though NOT MOST Important
A good GPA and GRE are important to most graduate programs but not too much to the Fulbright. In many cases the Fulbright selects applicants with below average scores and later asks them to improve if they want to get admitted to good programs in US. Still, the vast majority of successful applicants have above par scores and I strongly recommend prospective applicants to ensure that at least one of these two (GPA or GRE) is above par.
A good GRE can offset a bad GPA to a certain extent so it is a good thing for those who don’t have a good GPA - GRE gives them another chance at proving their intellectual prowess. Bad grades in every area make it harder to convince the program that you are ready to perform well. Students with bad grades or who want to get into research-oriented programs should definitely get some research experience first. Another way to make up for menial grades is to take some additional course work or research in their respective areas. In some programs, some additional professional training might be a benefit.
Try to get to know the programs that you are interested in applying to.
Something that a lot of Fulbright applicants don’t realize is that it is crucial that the applicant’s area of interest ties up well with the research interests of the programs in the US. It’s not enough to say, “I want to go to do a Masters in economics and I’m just interested in economics.” Something more impressive would be to say, “I’m specifically interested in studying the budgeting patterns for underdeveloped countries and I know there are programs and professors in US department that does work on that.” In short you should strive to show a good match with the interests of the faculty members and the programs in US. The Fulbright panel will not be interested in your application if your area of interest is not served in the US programs and universities.
Another thing that I want to add is that if you are a fresh graduate or yet to graduate, then make sure that you are on your professors’ radar and are developing good relationships with the faculty and researchers. I am telling this because I know a lot of Fulbright applicants who have secured the Fulbright just because of a great recommendation that they got from a leading and well-known faculty member in their field. There are a lot of students who would just hide out in classes. Even if they get A’s but if the top professors don’t know them, it gets hard to get a good reference from them.
The two essays on the Fulbright application are very important because they act as a way for the Fulbright panel to get to know you better. It’s important for applicants to submit well written, compelling essays that convey their thoughts and interests and how they would contribute to the Pakistan community. Generic essays about how much you admire something aren’t going to cut it.