The Nuts and Bolts of Fulbright Application Process

The Nuts and Bolts of Fulbright Application Process

Hi everyone,

My name is Dina, and I am currently studying at the Josef Korbel School of International Studies, University of Denver, Denver, Colorado. My major is Global Finance, Trade and Economic Integration (GFTEI) and I am here on a Fulbright-Kemlu scholarship scheme.

The Fulbright programs in Indonesia are administered through AMINEF, which is an abbreviation of American Indonesian Exchange Foundation. Fulbright-AMINEF administers degree programs such as the Master’s and PhD programs and non-degree programs such as Fulbright Senior Research Program, Fulbright Foreign Language Teaching Assistant (FLTA) Program, and Fulbright Visiting Specialist Program. Fulbright scholarship usually covers tuition fees, monthly stipends, basic health insurance, and airfares. In addition to that, for successful candidates, they also cover the costs for TOEFL and GRE tests. The Indonesian Fulbright scholarships for Master’s Degree and PhD are designed in several schemes and the Fulbright-Kemlu is one of them. The Fulbright-Kemlu Program is specifically designed for diplomats of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Republic of Indonesia. Nevertheless, all of the Fulbright-Kemlu grantees are following the same regulations and procedures throughout the selection process and IIE university placement process.

In Indonesia, the application process is divided into three parts:

1) Initial selection process

In general, applicants are required to submit all paperwork, including completed application form (downloadable from AMINEF’s website), two essays: personal motivation and study objective/research plan, and letters of recommendation. Other documents may also be required, e.g., copy of ID card, curriculum vitae, degree certificate and academic transcript, etc. Make sure you allow plenty of time to get (unopened) transcripts, letters of recommendation, and all of the other basic stuff that the application requires.  In this stage of the selection process, all of the documents that were submitted are then evaluated based on the eligibility, and how the applicant’s essay profile match the requirements and what Fulbright is looking for.

2) Interview process

After the initial selection process, selected applicants will be invited for an interview session. You are likely to be interviewed by AMINEF Representatives and several accomplished Fulbright alums in Indonesia. Each interview will be about 30 minutes to 1 hour long, and there will be around 4 to 5 interviewers. The interviewers generally seek to have a more in-depth discussion with you to see your academic and research capability as well as your potential to have a future impact in the society. Another thing that they look at is how well you are in adapting to new environment and how you can increase understanding between people of both countries. This is nothing to be worried about, but you will do well if you have done your “homework” on researching about the universities you are planning to apply to and can humbly articulate your goals and why they should grant you the scholarship.

3) Application process to the universities of your choice

Several weeks after the interview, applicants will be informed by AMINEF whether he or she is selected as principal candidate or as alternate candidate for Fulbright scholarships. Unsuccessful candidate will also receive their rejection letters through mail. A principal candidate status means that you are granted the Fulbright scholarship, pending the U.S. university placement’s result, whereas an alternate candidate status means that you may be granted the scholarship if there is a principal candidate who decided to resign from the selection process or if there is an additional funding available.  The third phase consists of reviewing the US universities of your choice and applying to them, preparing for the required tests such as TOEFL, GMAT/GRE General, and GRE Subject (for specific subjects), adding more recommendation letters (can be added up to four letters), as well as improving essays for application that includes revision of personal motivation and study objective/research plan.

International Institute of Education (IIE), the organization that manages most Fulbright programs all over the world, will coordinate the US university placement process in coordination with AMINEF. IIE will also give you a suggestion on the list of universities – usually around 3 to 4 universities – to apply based on the test scores , the candidate’s academic interest and availability of suitable degree programs in the U.S. However, the candidate should always have the last word in deciding the universities he or she is applying to.  If a U.S. university decides that the candidate can be admitted, it will send an admission offer through IIE. Otherwise, the candidate is usually informed that he or she is not admitted to the university. After receiving some admission offers, a candidate can decide which offer he or she would like to take.

Okay, now that the introduction part is done, let me tell you the bad news first. The bad news is there is no magic bullet or perfect formula for getting the Fulbright Scholarship. Each proposal is different and each applicant comes with different qualifications and background. But the one commonality that I’ve observed in all of the Fulbrighters I’ve met is the persistence to pursue goals that are incredibly unique and individually-tailored. Most of the Fulbrighters I’ve met, be it from Indonesia or from other countries, have already known what their passions are and are actively pursuing them. They have study or research objectives and have already demonstrated activities that are consistent to their goals. Studying in the US is not their main target, their target is bigger than that and taking a master’s degree/PhD in the U.S. serves as a means for them to achieve their goals. So my one piece of advice is pretty simple: know your goal, and propose to learn something that will help you achieve your goal.

Most reactions that I got were: “It would be so amazing to study in the US, I really want to study abroad, how can I do that?” or “Do you have to be super smart to get a Fulbright Scholarship?”. A common misconception is that Fulbrighters are a bunch of exceptional nerds with high GPAs and test scores. This could not have been further from the truth. While grades do matter, they are certainly not the deciding factor. Instead, they are a supplement to your objectives in how you can benefit your country and promote further cultural exchange.

Alright Dina, you’ve shared the stages of the application process and the bad news, now, is there any good news at all? Why yes, there is. The good news is that the process of applying for the Fulbright was just that – a process. Getting the Fulbright scholarship is all about communicating your goal and your passion and ability to complete it in a logical, well-structured essay, supplemented with well-rounded interests and a demonstrated desire to be an instrument for social change.

Writing Your Study Objective and Personal Motivation

I would now elaborate in more details on writing the study objective and personal motivation. One thing that helped me the most was talking to former or current Fulbrighters, and reading essays written by former Fulbright Scholars. My undergrad was many years behind me, so most of what I learned happened through conversations with Fulbright alums and consultation with a professor at my graduate institution who would talk to me about the application process. If a former Fulbrighter let you read his or her old, successful essays, then read them all! Since their goals would be different from you, it is unlikely that you will get your study objective ideas from them, but you will begin to internalize the caliber of the competition.

I spent about two months intensely writing and revising my application based on the comments of my adviser at my former university and a few trusted individuals. The major and the university to which I applied played a big role in the way in which I structured the essays. I also send my continually-evolving essays to everyone I know who are willing to help me. If you’ve got some Fulbright alums who are willing to take a look at your essays, take them up on it. Revise, revise, revise! I wrote twelve different versions of my essays before I ended up with the final product.

Another practical thing to do is to spend some time browsing the Fulbright and AMINEF websites. The website is extensive and not as user-friendly as one would hope. Nevertheless, read everything you can, get a sense of what Fulbright is all about, and pay special attention to the information on your scholarship scheme.

Okay, are you getting excited to start your application process and write that essay? Great! I know that the first draft is always the hardest, but trust me, you will get better.

For more information about Fulbright scholarship for Indonesian nationals, visit http://www.aminef.or.id/fulbright/index.php/7-news/49-indonesian-program

Photo credit: Dyah Dinanti




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Dyah Dinanti Puspitasari is an M.A. candidate in Global Finance, Trade and Economic Integration (GFTEI) at the Josef Korbel School of International Studies, University of Denver. Prior to coming to Korbel as a Fulbright Scholarship Grantee, she worked in the Directorate General of ASEAN Cooperation, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Indonesia. She is currently awarded with Sié Fellowship from the Sié Chéou-Kang Center for International Security and Diplomacy.
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