Tips for the Fulbright Scholarship from a Pakistani Scholar

by Zulqarnain Khan

The Fulbright Scholarship is considered one of the most prestigious scholarships in the world and it entitles you to the membership of an Alumni network that in itself is almost 70 years old. With 8000 grants worldwide annually and around 150 grants for Pakistan alone this in itself is a huge networking opportunity if nothing else. But it is a lot more than that. The scholarship covers cost of travel, living, tuition, books, and up to 3 conferences!

The Fulbright Program in Pakistan:

The Fulbright Program in Pakistan is the biggest and highest funded, with around 150 students granted scholarships each year in various disciplines. Somewhere around 1300-1500 students apply each year. This is a surprisingly low number! People generally know about this scholarship but most of them don’t apply either due to procrastination or just plain lack of confidence. Let’s walk through the steps of getting this scholarship and hopefully we can have more people applying for this amazing opportunity in 2015.

Eligibility Criteria:

Pakistani citizens, working and residing in Pakistan with strong academic histories in all disciplines. (You can find the details online at useful links provided at the end of this blog).

But these are the formal requirements, let’s go through what you actually HAVE to do to increases your chances of getting this scholarship

1 – Plan Ahead:

Go through the whole application well ahead of time. Do NOT leave this to last day, your application is your way in, nothing tells more about you then your application, and if completed in a haste, it’s highly likely to be of poor quality. So make sure you have gone through the whole application and understand the information you need to provide, the essays you need to write, and the documents you need to get completed.

2 – The Essays!

The Study Objectives/Research Proposal and Statement of Purpose/Personal Statement are more or less the make or break point of your application, USEFP organizes a lot of workshops very frequently (and free) on how to write your SoPs, make it a point to attend a couple of those. Make sure to get yourself registered as an advisee on the USEFP website, that way they’ll keep you updated about these workshops.

Work and rewrite these essays again and again, and make sure they are as good as you possibly can write. Be truthful, don’t make things up that you can’t factually back up later on in the process. TIP: This is a cultural exchange scholarship and the whole point of this is to empower Pakistan, so make sure your goals align with the goals of the program.

3 – GRE:

This is one of the things that stops people from proceeding with the application, but if you know your strengths and weakness this isn’t what it’s made out to be. First of all analyze yourself, If you’re sure you are good at analytical thinking (think of all the IQ based tests you have given) and basic maths you don’t have to worry about the quantitative reasoning part, if you’re not buy Barron’s GRE General book and practice for at least a month.

The trickier part is verbal reasoning, if you have a good reading habit it is highly likely you’ll be fine without even preparing for this part, but if you don’t really have a reading habit then you need to give yourself at least around 2 honest months to prepare for this part.

The Analytical Reasoning part is basically essay writing, just make sure you go through what kind of essays are expected of you and with as few grammatical mistakes as possible, you’ll be fine. There’s no hard and fast definition of a good score but a score of 155+ in both verbal and quantitative sections with a 3.5 in analytical is common among the successful candidates.

4 – GPA:

Anything above 3 is good. But it doesn’t mean those with less don’t have any chance, it just makes things a bit more difficult.

5 – Reference Letters:

They DO matter, make sure to get good (and preferably honest) reference letters from your professors, ideally those who have taught you for a long time and/or have been your project advisors/supervisors etc. Ask your professor for a proper reference letter and not a generic one. This totally depends on your relationship with him/her.

6 – University Preferences:

It’s a good idea to research the universities in the US that you want to go to, don’t just see the ‘top 10’ lists, because quality of universities here varies with disciplines. In the application it’s not mandatory to give your preferences but it’s a good idea if you do.

Once you have given the GRE keep in mind that the final date of sending applications in is generally mid of May each year, these applications are processed for the next year. For example applications sent in May 2014 are for Fall 2015.

The Interview:

If you have done everything right and you tick all the boxes, then, with some luck, you’ll get an email and a call for an interview around September the same year. Generally 1/3rd of the candidates are shortlisted for an interview. The general format of the interview is such that they have 4 or 5 people there, one of them is ‘probably’ a psychiatrist who just sits there and notices how you conduct yourself during the interview.

One of them is charged with asking ‘technical’ questions about your area of interest, it totally depends on your luck that he or she is from the same field as you or not, 2 of the rest are generally officials from US Fulbright organization and these are mainly the one’s who’ll be talking to you most of the time. Again, remember this is a cultural exchange scholarship, keep in mind the goals of this scholarship while answering the questions.

It’s mostly about convincing them that you’ll be able to conduct yourself well in a foreign environment and will be a good ambassador of your own culture. The more it reflects in the interview the better for you. The interview can last anywhere around 10 min to 45 min and is not a very technical one. So prepare accordingly, make sure you know what you wrote in that application 3 months back and make sure you know your life story, inspirations, goals, etc.

(They also have this surprise essay writing thing just before the interview, the topic can vary, but in my case it was “What would you do with a Million Dollars”, so make up your mind for that sort of thing)

TOEFL:

If you are shortlisted for the interview you are required to register yourself for TOEFL, it’s a pretty simple English Language test, and if you have done well in GRE it is highly unlikely that you won’t do well in TOEFL. Try getting a 100+.

Result:

They’ll let you know in about a month and a half, you can be selected as a primary candidate or an alternate candidate (officially meaning that you’ll be promoted to primary IF a slot opens up) but so far all alternate candidates get converted to primary. At this point you’ll be notified of the 4 institutions they’re sending your applications to, most of the time they do consider your own priority list but they have the right not to.

Final Placement:

Final placement confirmation comes around March/April next year, it’s a long wait, but no use nagging your Placement Officer about it, he’ll let you know when confirmation comes. Even though they just ‘let you know’ that they are placing you in XYZ institution, it’s a good idea to ask your PO about the results from other institutions and why they did not place you somewhere else. It’s generally funding issues and they don’t change things, but there have been cases where they do.

So! Yes, it’s a long process. But it’s worth it! It’s one of the most well paid scholarships with a lot of pampering, but there’s a catch: you HAVE to come back and serve in Pakistan for 2 years in case of Masters students and equivalent to your stay in the US for PhD students. So if coming back is not your thing, consider applying directly to your target universities for scholarships.

GOOD LUCK!

Useful Links:

http://www.usefpakistan.org/programs/fulbrightdegree.cfm?Tab=Programs

https://www.ets.org/gre/revised_general/about

http://www.brightlinkprep.com/fulbright-scholarship-pakistan-2015-now-taking-applications/

Disclaimer: The opinions, insights and any other information provided here in are as per the writer’s understanding of the process, this has nothing to do with official policy.

Zulqarnain is an Electrical Engineer currently doing Masters in the same field at Northeastern University, Boston as a Fulbright Scholar


  • For Masters do you have to apply after graduating or in the final year? Or in the 3rd year so that you will get placed by the time you graduate?

  • Very informative article. Electrical Engineer (Power) here as well. I’m applying for scholarship through Shell’s scholarship program to pursue my Masters in Smart Grid from TU Munich.

  • An extremely useful article for all the youngsters. Even if one is going for another scholarship (ie not Fulbright), it is still useful because a lot of things are the same! Great!

  • This website is marvelous and so are the stakeholders…….. This is very useful article and i wish our mass should follow such lines….

  • Hi thano you for the bone information it’s very helpful for making up my mind to apply but I have to ask one very important question .. you being a person directly related to the whole process I have heard they give priorities to the top Pak universities only is that right ? If not have you heard of some good universityear graduates other than LUMS NUST GIK ETC to have gotten through .. I am from Air university Done my masters in Project management from szabist I’m interested in Master’s in entrepreneurship and I for one have not heard of any student ever getting in FROM AU or SZABIST .. can anyone enlighten my BTW I was a topper of my under grad and did pretty OK in masters too so grades aren’t a problem but I really want to get in and my only reservation is whether the system is biased to top uni graduates or not.

    • Hi Zara, i know a considerable number of people who are not from NUST/Lums giki etc. Have seen people from comsats, arid agriculture, NED etc. Have also persobally known people from your field getting through. So go ahead and apply! Good Luck :-)

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