Writing essays for fellowship applications is no easy task. Just ask Gabrielle McGovern, a recipient of the Fulbright grant, who just returned from her year teaching English in Costa Rica. Prior to living la pura vida, this Fordham alumna spent the summer before the Fulbright application deadline writing, revising, editing…and storytelling!

While developing what felt like endless drafts, Gabrielle learned a lot. One lesson being that authentic stories are at the heart of many compelling applications. Moments of struggle, discomfort, and heartbreak often reveal more about a person than moments of triumph, satisfaction, and delight—especially when those failures become the stepping stones to future success.

What has been your greatest challenge, and how did you overcome it?

Which experiences and conversations have shaped your outlook on life the most?

What first inspired you to apply for a Fulbright?

These are just a few questions that helped Gabrielle McGovern craft her winning application. After Gabrielle presented at a summer writing workshop, we complied a more comprehensive list of her top eight writing strategies and tips for future applicants, which we’ve included below:

  1. Make sure your essays reflect what inspired you to apply for a Fulbright. When beginning the writing process, try to recall meaningful moments and experiences.
    • Pick an experience that made a profound impact on you, such as a personal story that inspired you to apply.
    • Hone in on a specific moment that taught you something that you can apply to your Fulbright.
    • If discussing a challenge you faced, write about…
      • How you overcame it
      • What you learned from it
      • How you can apply this experience to your work as a Fulbrighter
  2. While writing, think about why you want to be in the country you’re applying to.
    • Your readers are interested in why you selected this country.
    • If you’ve been there before, explain why you want to go back.
    • If you haven’t been there before, explain why you want to go there.
  1. Highlight who you are as a person suited for Fulbright.
    • Think about three qualities that you are proud of and ask yourself if they shine through in your chosen anecdotes.
    • Don’t be afraid to show humor, vulnerability, or struggle!
    • When explaining a challenge, explain how you overcame it. Show off what you’re capable of.
  1. Talk about influential people and friendships from your past.   
    • Names and stories about these people can help bring your essays to life.
    • You don’t need to go into detail, but your readers are curious about the people you have worked with.
    • Ex: “This experience taught me to ask students leading questions, so they can better form their thoughts. When students in my classroom in Costa Rica are unsure how to answer a question in English, I will provide them with sample topics or sentence starters to help them generate ideas.”
    • In these two sentences, I am connecting something I learned from an experience with how I will be as an English Teaching Assistant in Costa Rica. At the end of one of my body paragraphs, I chose to show how a certain experience has prepared me to be an ETA. 
  2. When making statements, think about the why.
    • Always ask yourself, “Why?”
    • Ex: “I loved working with kids.” Why did you love working with kids?
  3. Remember that your Statement of Grant Purpose is not resume or list of accomplishments.
    • Show, DON’T tell, your accomplishments. This can be done by telling a story.
  4. Pay close attention to the opening and closing sentences of each body paragraph.
    • Open each paragraph with a direct statement about how a previous experience relates to your next experience as a Fulbrighter
      • Ex: “My experience tutoring in the Bronx inspired me to continue tutoring English at a high school when I studied in Barcelona.”
    • Wrap it up each paragraph by taking what you have learned from an experience and applying it as a Fulbrighter
      • Ex: “When students in my classroom in Argentina are struggling to retain information, I will reinforce material with them to make sure they advance every week.”


Edited by by Alex Finn-Atkins