Each year, around 2000 Pakistanis apply for the Fulbright Scholarship program. Given the large number of graduates that Pakistani universities turn out each other, this is clearly not an impressive number. A lot of potential aspirants get dissuaded by the plethora of myths about Fulbright that float on the internet. Many others who do decide to apply have been known to make blunders that either preclude successful completion of application in time or lead to an ineffective and unconvincing submission. A Fulbright candidate myself for the 2018 intake, I have been in constant interaction with former and current applicants; these interactions have allowed me to discern some of the most common mistakes that aspirants make while thinking about or actually applying for the Fulbright. Given below is a summary of these errors:
Not registering for the GRE early
Many applicants wait for the Fulbright deadline to approach before they finally decide to register for the test, only to find out that all the seats have already been taken. Even if you manage to get a slot, you mostly get it for an undesirable time, an undesirable day, an undesirable city or a combination of these three. For instance, many Lahore-based test takers have to travel to Islamabad, Faisalabad or, in the worst of cases, Karachi because there are no more seats available in Lahore. Similarly the more you delay, the lesser are your chances to reserve a date close to the deadline to give you ample time for preparation.
A lot of people apply for the Fulbright each year and there are not enough centers available countrywide to adjust such a large number. So if you are really serious about applying to the Fulbright this year, register early!
Not Approaching Referees well in Advance
Another mistake applicants make is that they don’t approach their potential referees early. You have to allow your recommenders ample time to write a good recommendation letter, and that can only happen if you approach them early enough. Choose referees who have great profiles and are on good terms with you, and discuss with them all the things you’ve achieved working with them. A strong recommendation goes a long way in increasing your chances of acceptance.
Falling for Myths
Many potential candidates fall for myths that kill their motivation to produce a great application or, worse, dissuade them from applying altogether. One such myth is that Fulbright students do not make it to top universities. Myths such as these are for the most part untrue, as there have been many instances of students making it to institutes such as Harvard, UC Berkeley, NYU and the likes.
Another myth that keeps the students from applying is that you ought to have an impeccable academic profile, with a stellar GPA and an imposing GRE score, to be seriously considered by the Fulbright committee. While it is true that academic excellence is an important factor for selection, there have been many instances of applicants with low GPA or GRE scores getting accepted. Fulbright evaluates your application in a holistic manner, considering everything from your economic and social background to the clarity of purpose and the degree of motivation you exhibit with regards to serving your country upon return. Don’t be discouraged to apply just because you feel one of the bricks in your academic edifice has cracks.
And no, coming back to Pakistan will not kill your career prospects! The dynamic network of Fulbright alumni working in Pakistan will attest to that. Not only will you be able to find yourself decent employment opportunities, you will belong to a distinguished body of men and women working tirelessly to lift our country from mediocrity to greatness.
Underestimating the Importance of originality in Fulbright Essays
Don’t make the mistake of paying other people or agencies to write your personal statement or study objectives. Not only because it is unethical to do so, but also because a personal statement not written by you will lack the all-important originality that the admissions committee are looking for. Your Fulbright essays reflect your most cherished ambitions; so even if you manage to get through the initial application process with an essay not written by yourself, you will surely give yourself away during the interview.
To write a compelling personal statement, you will always need many iterations of editing and proofreading before you can reach your own masterpiece. If you don’t shy away from perseverance and hard-work, trust me you can make a very cogent case for yourself.
Preparing for Tests Unnecessary for the Initial Application
Not many applicants do this but I have observed quite a few applicants wasting time preparing for IELTS/TOEFL, GMAT or the GRE Subject Test during the initial application period. Know that for the initial application, you only need the GRE General Test. IELTS is not accepted by the Fulbright, while the TOEFL can be taken after you have been selected for the interview. GMAT or GRE subject tests are only required for specific fields; even so they are required only after the applicant has cleared the initial application stage.