How To Win A Fulbright: Don’t State The Obvious

Sep 07, 2012

By Cynthia Villamizar

One of the harder parts of filling out the Fulbright application was trying to convey why my goals could be accomplished  in Mexico and not in Guatemala or Argentina. In order to convince the committee that Mexico was the ideal location to reach my goals, I found myself on Wikipedia, researching Mexico and trying to find ways to prove that I had at strong ties to a country that I had never visited.

I realized quickly that unless you have a truly interesting thing to say about the host country based on personal experience, it just sounds like you really did pull up an article to cherry pick “fun” facts that make you sound informed and competent. It sounded fake so I decided to reserve the little space I had to focus on pitching my goals and not my expertise on Mexican society and history.

You only have a few lines to sell yourself and your project so don’t waste them saying things the readers already know since anybody that has ever read through a stack of applications can tell you how painful it is to re-read the same interesting fact over and over again. It’s not impressive and if you end up at the bottom of the stack, you’ll probably get a few eye rolls with that failed attempt to be unique.

As Fulbrighters, my group was allowed to read the applications of the incoming grantees so that we could help our host organizations find a good fit and I cannot tell you how many times I read things like:

“Mexico is an essential partner for the United States due to its proximity and agreements like the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) of 1994.”
“Being a Fulbright scholar would be such an honor and a great opportunity.”

The most compelling applications were those that avoided recounting their entire resume or Mexican history and gave a story or timeline that linked the experiences that qualified them as worthy candidates.

So steer clear from stating the obvious. Get to the point and make it a good one!