By Melani Shahin

Summer time is crunch time for Fulbright applicants! Crafting an outstanding application is a long process, and it is essential to use the summer months to make your essays as polished as possible. You only have a couple of pages to convince the committee that your plans for research, study, or teaching English are both compelling and feasible, and that you will be an able and enthusiastic cultural ambassador for the U.S.

The more specific and articulate you can be about how your background, motivations, and goals intersect, the more your application will stand out. I ended up with 12 drafts of both my Personal Statement and Statement of Grant Purpose by the end of the summer. That may seem like a lot, but I found that it took me a couple of drafts to even figure out how I wanted to frame my story and how I could connect that narrative with the goals I outlined in my Statement of Grant Purpose.

As a recent winner of a Fulbright ETA to Germany, I feel very fortunate that my hard work over the summer paid off. For those currently applying, I wanted to share 8 tips that helped me stay motivated and focused during the process.

  1. Build a strong network of support during the application process. You will be getting a lot of feedback and criticism on your essays, so make sure you have a network of people, such as friends and family who can support you emotionally and help you take your mind off your application when you feel frustrated. Plan a fun activity for after you submit a new draft to keep yourself motivated!
  2. Start drafting your essays early, and be open to change. When I first started writing, Dr. Anna Beskin gave me this great piece of advice: You have to get all of your bad drafts out before you get to the good ones, and the sooner you can get those early drafts done, the more time you will have to polish the good ones. Additionally, the anecdotes you choose to shape your narrative will most likely change as you clarify the narrative you wish to present in both essays. Don’t get too attached to any one anecdote!
  3. Sometimes the most productive parts of writing happen away from the desk. Go for a walk or a hike, and let your mind unwind. Unstructured reflection can help you make new connections or clarify an idea you are having trouble articulating.
  4. Read feedback on your drafts, and let yourself have whatever reaction you might have initially. If you feel frustrated, don’t try to edit right away—give yourself a day or two, then come back and make those edits. You are much more effective when you revise with a fresh mindset. Being well rested and having some time to process comments will help you realize that everything is fixable (even if that means deleting sections of the essay!)
  5. Take an impersonal approach to editing if you’re dealing with a tricky spot. Pretend you are editing a stranger’s work and then make those edits without taking comments and criticism personally.
  6. Develop a methodical approach to working on your essays. That way you aren’t constantly worrying about them. To give you an example, this is how I approached the writing process myself:
    • Meet with Dr. Beskin, or read her feedback on Monday.
    • Schedule a set block of time on Tuesday to make edits on the Personal Statement. I personally found that I was most efficient when I worked on my essays in several shorter 45-minute to 1-hour blocks throughout the day.
    • Repeat on Wednesday for Statement of Grant Purpose.
    • Make final edits on both the Personal Statement and Statement of Grant Purpose for the week on Thursday and Friday.
    • Send Dr. Beskin my essays by Friday afternoon.
    • Enjoy the weekend! Don’t look at the statements again until Monday when I get feedback.
  7. Send your essays to many different people who know you in different capacities. Realize that you cannot incorporate every single suggestion or edit they make, and that often comments contradict each other.
  8. Think like a winner! I don’t mean that you should be cocky, but have some self-confidence. Feelings of uncertainty will reflect themselves in unclear and hesitant writing. Try to realize that there is a very real possibility you could win a Fulbright, especially if you are committed to revising your work multiple times.

Above all, I want to emphasize that no matter what the outcome is, there really is intrinsic value in challenging yourself to complete the Fulbright application process. You will grow so much as a writer and as a person. The ability to write clearly about yourself, and speak about your goals in a coherent way, especially during the campus interview, will be skills that will help you be successful in whatever direction you take next!

 

Any Fordham undergraduates or alumni interested in applying should contact our Fulbright advisor Dr. Anna Beskin at beskin@fordham.edu.