The Fulbright Scholarship

Ministry of Foreign Affairs
The Fulbright Scholarship

In 1946, the Fulbright Program was founded by U.S. Senator J. William Fulbright as a way to create mutual understanding between Americans and those in other countries, with the goal of selecting U.S. citizens to study, research, and excel abroad.

Fast Facts about Fulbright Scholarships

Length of scholarshipOne academic year
Number of grants awarded each year7,500 to 8,000
FundingDepends on availability of federally appropriated funds
Length of application process15 months
When to start application process2 years before anticipated start date

Today, it’s one of the highest honors a scholar can attain and includes a program for non-U.S. citizens wishing to study in the United States. Via the program, students apply for one of three types of grants: study/research, English teaching assistant, and travel.

Top 5 Liberal Arts Colleges by Recipients 2013–14

Overall Niche Grade
Number of Applications
Number of Grant Winners
A-Pitzer CollegeClaremontCA7822
ASmith CollegeNorthamptonMA4221
AOberlin CollegeOberlinOH5816
A+Pomona CollegeClaremontCA6316
ACollege of the Holy CrossWorcesterMA6414

Top 5 Research Universities by Recipients 2013–14

Overall Niche Grade
Number of Applications
Number of Grant Winners
A+University of Michigan - Ann ArborAnn ArborMI14140
A+Harvard UniversityCambridgeMA13231
A+Brown UniversityProvidenceRI8529
A+University of ChicagoChicagoIL10224
A+UC BerkeleyBerkeleyCA9723

Fulbright Scholarship Eligibility
There are two kinds of Fulbright programs: the Fulbright U.S. Program (which allows American students to study in foreign countries) and the Fulbright Foreign Student Program (which allows non-American students to study in the United States). Both programs include grants for one academic year.

More than 300,000 people have been named Fulbright scholars since the program’s inception. Here’s how U.S. students may qualify:

  • Must be U.S. citizens at the time of application (permanent residents not eligible)
  • Must have a bachelor’s degree or equivalent
  • Must have four years of professional training/experience (if in creative/performing arts)
  • Must be in good health
  • Must have proficiency in written and spoken language of the host country
  • May hold a J.D. at the time of application
  • May not apply for more than one type of Fulbright grant in a given competition cycle

Note: Doctors of Medicine can receive grants for advanced academic study but not internships or residencies.

Applying for the Fulbright Scholarship
Typically, from May to mid-October, the online Fulbright application is open, per the Embark Online Application. Application requirements vary depending on what students are applying for (academic versus arts, etc.), but all in all, they consist of the following:

  • Biographical information (contact info, birth date, activities, publications, etc.)
  • Statement of grant purpose (why do you want this grant and how will it help your project)
  • Personal statement
  • Foreign language skills
  • References
  • Transcripts
  • Resume

There may be additional supplemental materials required based on the different kinds of programs.

Fulbright Scholarship Selection Criteria
After the mid-October deadline, the National Screening Committee looks at applications from mid-November to late December. By the end of January, all candidates will have been notified of whether they move on to the final round.

Here is how recipients are selected, according to the program:

  • Practicality and quality of the “Statement of Grant Purpose”
  • Academic/professional record
  • Personal qualifications
  • Language preparation
  • Preference factors
  • Whether the project will advance the goals of the program
  • Ability for supervising agencies abroad to cooperate with project
  • Requirements of program in individual countries
  • Desirability of achieving wide institutional and geographic distribution

Other preferred qualifications the Fulbright committee is looking for:

  • Students who have not previously held a Fulbright grant
  • Students whose higher education was primarily in the United States (study abroad not considered a disadvantage)
  • Students who have not lived in or studied in the country in which they are applying
  • Students who have not had extensive foreign experience where they want to study

Fulbright Scholarship Winners
Final selection notification takes place from March to May, when between 7,500 and 8,000 grants are awarded to students in 100 countries.

Winner benefits include:

  • Round-trip transportation to the host country;
  • Funding for room, board, and incidental costs (based on cost of living in host country);
  • Health benefits for accidents and illnesses,

Some grants may also include book and research allowances, midterm enrichment activities, full or partial tuition, language study programs, and pre-departure and in-country orientations.

Famous Fulbright Scholars
Famous recipients include:

  • Philip Glass, composer
  • Joseph Heller, author
  • John Lithgow, actor
  • Dolph Lundgren, actor and director
  • Sylvia Plath, poet
  • Julie Taymor, designer and director

The Bottom Line
The Fulbright Scholarship involves a rigorous application process but can be one of the highest achievements a student can achieve. For those who want to apply, it’s best to start planning early.