Peer Scholarship Advice

The official blog of the Charles Center Peer Scholarship Advisors

Category: Application Tips

Tips for Writing a Research Grant Proposal

Many different scholarships that William & Mary students apply for and win, including Fulbright, Charles Center Summer Scholarships, and Goldwater, involve writing a research proposal of some kind. For scholarships funding research, this is one of the most important parts of the application because it shows that you have a plan for what you will do with your scholarship money. Here are a few tips for writing a good proposal:

1. Start Early
In a sense this is more life advice than it is research proposal writing advice, but it’s extremely important here. From initially brainstorming a topic to finishing your final revision, the process of writing a research proposal can take much more time than other essays. A rushed proposal will not give application review committees the impression that you are well prepared to do the research project that you are proposing. There’s no set rule for how long in advance you should start writing your research proposal because different scholarships will have different requirements, but at least a few months in advance is generally a good time to start. Make sure to check the deadlines of whatever program you’re applying to!

2. Read and Follow the Guidelines of Your Program Exactly
This post is intended to give general tips about writing research grant proposals, but different sources of funding will have slightly different expectations of what your proposal should look like. Some require that you include an itemized budget, while others do not. Length and other formatting requirements will also be slightly different for each program. Make sure that you read the website of the program that you’re applying to and find out exactly what information that they expect you to include in your proposal so that you can tailor your writing to that.

3. Define Your Research Question/Project
The process of defining the specific question that you want to answer with your research can take a long time, which is one of the reasons why starting early is so important. Reflect on the classes that you’ve taken that interested you and read through some of the scholarly literature on topics that you’re interested in. Make sure that the project that you want to do is realistic and relevant to whatever program that you are applying to. You also need to be sure that your project is the appropriate scope for the program that you’re applying to, not too broad or too narrow. As an undergraduate student, this can seem like a very daunting task, and that’s why it’s important to ask for help, which brings us to our next tip.

4. Get Help from Professors in the Field of the Project
Professors in your field of study are a great resource to help you pick a research topic and write your proposal. Since they have experience doing research in the field, they’ll know what sorts of projects are feasible, and they can help you write using the typical conventions of your area of study. Make contact with a professor before you have even started writing your proposal to help you brainstorm, and keep contact with them as you write and rewrite it.

5. Be Specific and Clear
Make sure that your proposal clearly summarizes the question that you are setting out to answer, the methodology you intend to use to answer it, and why your research is important. Give some background information about the topic based on your literature review. Describe in detail the design of your study, and explain why this design is the best way to go about your project. You should include a broad timeline of how much time you will spend collecting data and analyzing it, and some grants may require an itemized budget. After reading your proposal, members of the review committee should be able to easily summarize the goals, methods, and anticipated results of your project.

6. Talk about Your Research’s Impact
Will your project have a significant impact on research in your field? Will it benefit society as a whole? Not every research project can cure cancer or create world peace, but you should be able to think of and articulate some potential positive effects of your research. In your proposal, describe these anticipated positive effects, and relate them to other studies in your field. After reading your proposal, reviewers should know exactly why your research question is an important one to answer.

7. Revise, Edit, and Rewrite
The first draft of your proposal won’t be perfect, and that’s okay! Most people write several drafts before they actually submit their applications, and the process of editing and revising can be a long one (another good reason to start early!). Throughout the process of writing and rewriting, have your proposal looked over by others who can give you tips on how to improve. The PSAs are a great resource for this, as are professors in your field of study.


As always, if you have any questions about these or other opportunities, or you want someone to look over your application materials, don’t hesitate to come into the PSA office any time from 9 to 5 Monday through Friday! Thanks for reading!

Advice from a PSA: Applying to Graduate School

About a year ago, I decided that I want to be a Religious Studies professor when I “grow up,” so I started planning on attending graduate school. I scoured the internet looking for advice, because nobody in my family has attended grad school, and I felt that guidance at W&M was lacking. Now, as a second-semester senior, all (nine!) of my applications are submitted, for a variety of programs, and I’m waiting for decisions to roll in, so it seems like a good time to reflect on my experience and give tips to anyone out there who is also considering graduate school in the Humanities.

  1. Do well in school. This one seems self-explanatory, but the most competitive graduate programs will definitely take your GPA into consideration, especially in your area of interest. Although I’m a Biology and Religious Studies double-major applying only to Religious Studies programs, and my grade in General Chemistry I doesn’t particularly matter, it did contribute to my overall GPA, so be conscious of that. On the other hand, know that grades aren’t the end-all-be-all of your graduate school application. If you have a sub-par grade in a class outside your field, or even within it, don’t worry. Do your best, and consider using the “Additional Information” section to explain your grade in that class. (Did you skip a prerequisite and have to catch up? Were you frequently ill that semester? Were you taking a course overload? An explanation may help your application.)
  2. Take the GRE early, and put significant effort into it. Like your GPA, your Graduate Readiness Examination (GRE) score is one of the obvious factors that may be used to compare you to other candidates. Study for it as much as you can, and set your test date far in advance of when applications are due. This also allows you to consider taking it again, although test-retest reliability on the GRE is pretty high, and paying $205 and five hours of your life is undesirable once, let alone twice. Also, it’s helpful to know that with your GRE test, you receive four free score reports (each additional report is $27). I took my test in August, and sent the score to two programs I didn’t end up applying to. Don’t do that! Consider where you want to go ahead of time to maximize what you get out of what you’re paying Educational Testing Service (ETS).
  3. Try to publish your papers or present at conferences. Doing these during your undergraduate career will set you apart from many of your peers. As a student in the Humanities, you write papers all the time. Submit them anywhere and everywhere! You may be surprised where they get accepted, and having your name in print is definitely impressive to graduate schools. Also, this will be a huge part of your job in academia, so making sure you actually enjoy it can be an important aspect of your career discernment process. I love writing and presenting, and I think conferences are a ton of fun because everyone is so interesting, so I figure I’m probably on the right career path.
  4. Narrow your research interest. If you’re anything like me, or most students at William & Mary, you love learning, and your interests span a variety of fields. However, graduate schools want to see that you know what you want to study and have a plan for tackling it. Try to narrow it down to one sentence, and then relate it to broader themes. Few people will be enthused that you hope to study the portrayal of women in Dickens novels, but if you can relate your topic more broadly to Victorian themes, the transition from the Romantic period, and its influence on modern literature or feminism, your application will be much stronger.
  5. Choose an advisor carefully. Once you’ve narrowed your research interest, do your research on who can help you along your graduate school process. College ranking is important, especially if you hope to obtain a tenure-track professorship after you get your PhD, but what’s more important is who you work with. For example, if you wanted to study Native American religions, it would not make any sense for you to apply to the University of Virginia, although they rank among the top 15 programs for Religious Studies in the country.
  6. When choosing a school, consider more than just the program. If you’re working towards a PhD, you’ll be spending 4-6+ years in the city where your chosen program is. Make sure that’s a place you can live, because that is a significant chunk of your young life! Thinking about the kind of scene you are comfortable in (urban or rural?), and the cost of living matters. You want to make sure you can live on your stipend without too much debt, unless you’re independently wealthy, I suppose.
  7. Write your personal statement. Rewrite it. Rewrite it again. If you’ve applied for scholarships in the past, or remember your college application essay fondly, know that your graduate school personal statement or statement of purpose is nothing like that. This space is to specify your qualifications for graduate school, why you chose that particular program, your research interests, and who you want to work with. I originally had a flowery piece on what drives me to study religion, but luckily my major advisor gave me some much-needed constructive criticism. Although my final product was less reflective of who I am as a person, it represented me well as who I am as a burgeoning academic. Mention your publications, presentations, Honors thesis, etc., if you have done any of those. Showing experience with independent research is especially valuable for more prestigious programs that are less likely to hold your hand along the PhD process. Have as many eyes on your essay as possible (the PSAs are a great resource for this!!). Be honest and explicit about your research interests. Also, include several specific professors you hope to work with at the university, both within and outside your intended department. You need to be clear about why this particular program is right for you, and what you can in turn contribute to the program. Don’t be shy–you’re awesome, and the best way for them to know that is by telling them!
  8. Don’t be afraid to press that “submit” button early. Often, it will take the program a little extra time to put all your pieces together, like your recommendation letters and GRE scores. Most of my applications were due on December 15th, but I submitted on the 13th to give myself a little more time to breathe and wait for all the pieces to officially come together. Also, for most applications, you don’t need to wait for your recommenders to send their letters in order for you to submit, and you can still send reminders in the application management feature. If it’s getting close to the deadline, send them a gentle reminder two days in advance, and everything should be fine.
  9. Relax! Applying to graduate school is a time-consuming, expensive, and arduous process. There’s a long wait to hear about interviews and decisions, but know that you’ve done everything you can. Like for college, applying to a breadth of programs, some reach and some safety, is a good idea if you know this is what you want to do. Also, use this time in between submission and decision to consider a back-up plan (not in a fatalistic way). Having an alternative path to take, whether it’s working for a couple years and re-applying, or taking a new path entirely, can calm your nerves in that stressful interlude.

Now that these tips are about as long as an actual application, I hope you’ve learned something! I’m fresh from the process, and already have one acceptance and an interview scheduled, so if you have any questions, please reach out to me at baacors@email.wm.edu. Good luck!!

Personal Statement Tips

Personal statements are a major part of the applications for many awards, including Fulbright Grants, Charles Center Summer Scholarships, and Rhodes Scholarships. Personal statements play an important role in helping selection committees get to know you as an individual and give you an opportunity to show your background in ways much deeper than your transcripts or resume could. Every scholarship, fellowship, and internship will ask different questions for its personal statement, so you’ll have to keep those in mind, but here are a few general tips that can help you write any personal statement:

1. Reflect on Your Background
What unique experiences do you have that have led you to become who you are now? What challenges (academic, health, family) have you had to overcome in your life? How has your background driven you to apply for this specific program, and how does it make you qualified for this program? These are all questions that you will want to keep in mind while writing a personal statement, and answering them can make your writing and your application overall much stronger. Just saying that you’re interested in the research or other work that you’ll be doing in your program may not be enough; it is even better to show through your writing how your background and experiences have shaped your interests. You could discuss personal/family connections with your area of interest, classes that you’ve taken that made you interested in it, or anything in between. This will reflect even greater commitment to the purpose of your program.

2. Think about Your Future Plans
What do you plan to do immediately after you finish your program? What about your long-term career and life goals? It’s very important that you show in your personal statement how your future plans motivate you to complete your chosen program. If your life goal is to become a teacher or work in education policy, it will be easy to show your motivation in doing a Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship, but if your future plans and the program you’re applying to aren’t as obviously connected, or if you’re not sure about your future plans, this can be a challenge. Either way, it will require some self-reflection, and talking to friends and mentors can help you make this connection.

3. Create a Narrative
When writing about your past, present and future, don’t fall into a trap of just listing off facts about what you’ve done or plan to do. A great personal statement builds off of the writers past experiences and future plans to construct an overall narrative. This cohesively shows to the selection committee how you became interested in your chosen program, what you will get out of the program, and how you will use that experience to achieve your future goals. Moreover, essays with a strong and unique narrative will be a lot more memorable for selection committees, and will help you stand out as a candidate.

4. Don’t Be Arrogant, but Don’t Be too Humble
Getting the tone right is an important part of any piece of writing, and the balance that you need to strike for a personal statement is especially challenging. You need to convey confidence that you are qualified for your chosen program, but if you overdo it you may be perceived as arrogant. Saying “I think that this project might help some people” is clearly underselling yourself, but a statement like “This project will forever change the process of diplomatic negotiations among countries in the Middle East” is will probably come off as overconfident. Something like “This project will provide a strong foundation for future studies into the diplomatic relationship between countries in the Middle East” sounds better and is likely more accurate than the two above. Simply state your qualifications and/or project plans honestly and without exaggeration.

5. Don’t Be too Colloquial, but Don’t Sound too Academic
You want your personal statement to sound like you, but not the most colloquial and informal version of you. Moreover, you want your personal statement to be easy to read, even for people who are not in your field of study, as selection committees are usually made up of people in many academic disciplines. This can be another challenging balance to strike, and often different people will find that different writing styles best suit them. Have someone who knows you well read it over to get their impressions on how well you’ve struck this balance.

6. Have a Strong Beginning
Having a strong opening sentence or paragraph can go a long way in making sure that the reader stays engaged and interested in what you’re writing throughout your personal statement. Many applicants like to open their personal statements with an anecdote; this can be a strong beginning hook, but it can be easy for an anecdote to get off topic. If you’re going to take this route, make sure that you find a clear way to connect your anecdote with the rest of the personal statement. Aside from anecdotes, there are many other ways to begin your personal statement. Some people will begin with a thesis statement-style summer of what is to come in the rest of the essay; this can be very concise and clear in showing what you will talk about in your personal statement, but might not grab the reader’s attention as much as an anecdote. There are advantages and disadvantages of all different kinds of openings, and you should try a few out and see which one works best for you.

7. Have a Strong Ending
As the final thing that the selection committees read, your conclusion will leave a lasting impression, so you need to make sure that it’s a good one. Many applicants like to end their personal statements with a short summary of what they talked about in the preceding paragraphs; this can be a good cohesive way to conclude, but it may seem dry and redundant. Others may use the conclusion as a space to talk about future plans if they don’t earlier on in the essay. The ending often feels like a natural place to discuss the future plans, but if those plans aren’t thoroughly described and connected to the program and your past experiences, this may read like an addition that is tacked on last-minute without much thought. If you open with an anecdote, you may want to reference the anecdote in your conclusion. This makes the essay feel more cohesive, but again it can be difficult to clearly connect your anecdote to the topic or purpose of the program. As with the beginning, try out different types of ending and works best with your writing.

8. Pick an Overall Structure that Works for You
Make sure that the flow of ideas from one sentence or paragraph to the next makes sense. For some people this will mean simply going in chronological order, but there are many other ways that you could connect your ideas coherently. You could also structure your essay based on your academic development or how you narrowed the scope of your research/academic interests. Some personal statements may start with a description of the present or recent past, and then go on to describe earlier events that led up to that. There are as many ways of structuring a personal statement as there are people in the world, but make sure that yours is cohesive and fits well with the content that you’re describing.

9. Edit, Revise, and Rewrite
Your personal statement won’t be perfect on your first try, but that’s ok! It will usually take multiple edits and rewrites for you to get to a final draft that you’re happy with. It’s also a good idea to have others read your essay and give you ideas for what could be improved in your writing. The PSAs are a great resource for this, and we’re happy to help with your personal statements for all kinds of awards!

On a related note, make sure that you edit and revise your personal statement to fit whatever specific program you’re applying to. It’s not a good idea to directly copy and paste your personal statement from one application to another without making some changes because each program has different requirements and will ask different questions for the personal statement. You can keep the big ideas the same, but make sure you modify it to fit whatever you’re applying to.


As always, if you have any questions about these or other opportunities, or you want someone to look over your application materials, don’t hesitate to come into the PSA office any time from 9 to 5 Monday through Friday! Thanks for reading!

Critical Language Scholarship Application Tips

Are you interested in studying a language critical to U.S. national security interests? Want to study abroad, but don’t have time to do so during the semester? Then the Critical Language Scholarship may be right for you.

Critical Language Scholarships provide two months of fully funded language study in countries such as China, Morocco, Turkey, Russia, and others where critical languages are spoken. You can find more info about CLS on their website.

1. Get an Early Start
Not procrastinating is an important skill in just about all aspects of life, and it’s especially important for the Critical Language Scholarship application. With three 350 word essays, one 100 word essay, and a 500 word statement of purpose, you’ll be doing well over 1500 words of writing for this application, and you don’t want to leave yourself struggling to answer the prompts last minute. Starting early will also help ensure that you are able to write multiple drafts of all of your essays which is critical (pun intended) to your success as an applicant.

Moreover, you need to give your recommenders as much time as you can to ensure that they can write the best possible recommendation. They will not be happy if you come to them asking for a recommendation only a few days or a week before the deadline, and they are much less likely to agree to write it.

2. Pick the Language/Culture that Most Interests You
This may sound like a no-brainer to applicants who immediately know what language they want to apply for, but for less unsure applicants, deciding on the language can be a challenge. If none of them jump out as the right language to study for you, think long and hard about your interests and your post-graduate plans. Pick the language whose culture interests you the most, or that you could most easily see yourself immersing yourself in again through future study. It’s also important that you are able to connect the language that you pick to your goals for the future, which I’ll touch on again later.

However, what you should NOT base your language choice on is the relative competitiveness of some languages over others. Some languages receive much more applicants than others, but those languages also tend to have more teaching sites and are thus able to accept more applicants. Your application will be best if you pick the language that most interest you and fits best with your future goals, regardless of how many other applicants that language receives.

3. Show a Commitment to Language Learning
Once you’ve decided on the language, make it clear throughout the application, and especially in the statement of purpose, why this language fits best for you. By the time the reader finishes your application, there should be no doubt in their mind that you are completely committed to learning that language to the best of your ability.

4. Distinguish your Essays from one another
With 4 short essays and the statement of purpose, the CLS application will require you to do quite a bit of writing. Especially in the first two essays, which ask similar questions, many applicants find it difficult to keep their essays distinct and avoid repetition. But keep in mind that the readers of your essays are going to be reading dozens or even hundreds of other essays, and it’s important that you keep them interested and not repeat yourself. Read your essays over multiple times and make sure that you’re answering the right questions and not using the same idea over and over again.

5. Connect to your Future
Getting the Critical Language Scholarship should not be your ultimate goal in life. CLS should be the means to some other end, like working in international business or the Foreign Service. Throughout your essays, and especially in your statement of purpose, create a narrative that explains how your past has led to you applying to CLS, and how CLS will lead to you achieving your future goals. If you can express how CLS, and specifically your CLS language, is connected to your life plans, you will do a much better job of showing them why it’s important that they award you with this scholarship over someone else.

6. Get Your Essays Checked Over
Writing multiple drafts of your essays and having them looked over by another person is absolutely vital to your application. Proof-reading on your own can be helpful, but you need to have another person’s perspective to make your essays the best they can possibly be.

The Peer Scholarship Advisors are here for you throughout the process of applying for CLS, and we are always happy to read through your essays and give our feedback! We’re trained to know what each scholarship is looking for, and we can help you refine all aspects of your application.

7. Be Sure of Yourself
If you’re not sure of yourself and your future, how will your essay-readers ever be? It’s not enough just to be well-qualified for CLS, you also have to be able to sell yourself. So instead of saying “I think that I’d like to…” or “I might…” try saying “I will…” or “I intend to…” to convey more confidence. This will show your readers that you are certain of what you want to do and how CLS will help you get there.

Many college students find it challenging to convey confidence in their life plans, and you are probably not 100% sure what you want to do after you graduate. That’s okay! Even if you do have a plan, plans often change, and your essay readers understand that. However, it is important that you do some self-reflection to make some sort of plan that you can convey genuine confidence in.


If you have any more questions about this or other scholarships, don’t hesitate to visit Scholarship Search or come to the Charles to ask a PSA Monday through Friday from 9am to 5pm. As always, thanks for reading and good luck on your applications!

Boren Scholarship and Fellowship Application Tips

The Boren Awards are two U.S. government-sponsored programs funding U.S. students’ study of less-commonly studied languages in regions of the world critical for U.S. national security. Moreover, they are both designed for students planning to work in the national security arena, and they include a one-year government service requirement. The Boren Scholarship gives up to $20,000 to fund semester- and year-long programs for undergraduates, while the Boren Fellowship provides up to $24,000 for graduate students.

The Boren essays require applicants to discuss the significance of their proposed country to U.S. national security, explain how the Boren scholarship fits into their long-term career goals, and describe in detail their proposed program of study.

The following tips are geared towards Boren Scholarship applicants, but as both applications are similar all of them should apply easily to the Boren Fellowship:

1.  Start Early
I can’t stress the importance of this enough. The national deadlines for Boren Scholarships and Fellowships are in early February and late January respectively, but this is not the sort of application you can start over winter break. To begin with, most universities have a campus deadline that is a few weeks before the national deadline; the W&M deadline is usually in mid January. The W&M Boren page is updated every year with the specific dates and other information you’ll need.

Moreover, the Boren application requires significant planning and forethought. Not only do you have to decide what country to go to and what language to study, you also have to pick a specific program that fits your needs. Applicants must discuss this program in their essays and submit a budget for their proposed program as part of their applicants. Figuring out what program to choose, who to ask for recommendations, and how to go about writing your essays can be daunting, and that’s why it can’t be rushed.

2.  Find the Right Program
As mentioned above, the Boren Awards are designed to fund study in regions of the world critical to U.S. national security and gives preference to applicants studying languages that are less commonly studied. In other words, you can’t apply for Boren with a program to study French in France, or German in Austria. They also give preference to students applying for longer-term study, so consider going abroad for two semesters or a semester and a summer.

Moreover, Boren doesn’t send you on its own sponsored program to China, or Turkey, or Mozambique, or any other country; instead, they provide the funding for you to do a program of your choice. If William & Mary has a program for the language you intend to study, that’s great, but don’t stop your search there! You can use Boren to fund a program from another university, a third-party program, or even direct enrollment at a foreign university. This may sound daunting since there are so many different study abroad options out there, but the requirements of the Boren Awards will help you narrow down your search.

Regardless, you need to make sure that the program you select has an intensive language curriculum, and you need to be able to describe the course of study in detail for you essays.

3.  Self-Reflection
Why do you want to apply for the Boren Scholarship or Fellowship? Where do you see yourself in 5 or 10 years? How does learning the language you want to study in the country where you want to go fit into your future goals?

These are questions that you need to ask yourself before you even start applying, and then again as you begin to draft your essays. The Boren application is all about planning:  your plan for the program, your plan to fulfill the service requirement, and finally your general life and career plans. Although you don’t have to have every detail of the rest of your life painstakingly mapped out, you need to start doing some self-reflection to figure out how the Boren Scholarship fits into your life goals. And even if your plans change, that’s okay! Nobody from Boren will check up on you in ten years and take the money back if your life didn’t follow the trajectory laid out in your essays to the last detail.

Having said that, you do need to connect the your Boren plan as well as your career goals to national security, which brings us to the next point…

4.  Connect to National Security
National security is the focus of the Boren Awards, and one of the application essays is built around it. If you’re thinking of applying for Boren, you need to think about your future goals and how they relate to U.S. national security.

Although this might seem difficult if you’re not a student of government or international relations, the Boren Scholarships and Fellowships take a broad view of what national security means. The most important thing is that you can make a convincing argument for how your field of study and the region/country in which you plan to study relate to national security. An environmental science and policy major might make the argument that working across national boundaries to fight climate change is critical to national security because a world with a less habitable climate and diminishing resources is a less stable world. A student of computer science might stress the importance of cyber security in an increasing connected globe. These are only a few examples; there are numerous different ways that you could connect your field and your plans to U.S. national security.

5.  Do Some Research about the Service Requirement
One important component of the Boren Awards that sets them apart from other scholarships is their service requirement. Boren recipients must work for the federal government for one year in a national security related field. Priority agencies are the Departments of Defense, Homeland Security, and State, or any element of the Intelligence Community, but many Boren scholars take national-security related jobs outside of these offices. It’s up to each applicant to do their research and come up with a few possible jobs that they would be qualified for to fulfill the service requirement. Discussing specific jobs that you think you may use to fulfill the service requirement in your essays can help you stand out as an applicant who has put a lot of forethought into the purpose of the Boren Awards.

You can find many of these jobs on the federal government jobs website, but many agencies post job listings on their own websites. There are tons of options, and every applicant should be able to find some that interest them.

6.  Get Your Essays Checked Over
Writing multiple drafts of your essays and having them looked over by another person is absolutely vital to your application. Proof-reading on your own can be helpful, but you need to have another person’s perspective to make your essays the best they can possibly be.

The Peer Scholarship Advisors are here for you throughout the process of applying for Boren, and we are always happy to read through your essays and give our feedback! We’re trained to know what each scholarship is looking for, and we can help you refine all aspects of your application.

7.  Be Confident
Throughout the application, and especially in your essays, it’s important that you’re sure of yourself and your qualities as an applicant. When describing your future plans, don’t say “I think I will…”; say “I will…” or at least “I intend to…”. Convey a feeling to whoever reads your essays and your application that you are focused and determined to do everything that you say you will. This is especially important for Boren, because service in the federal government is a condition of accepting the award. If you convey confidence in your future plans, this will convince your readers that you are committed to fulfilling the service requirement and using the skills that you gain from the Boren Scholarship to further U.S. national security.


As always, for more info about all kinds of scholarships and fellowships, check out Scholarship Search, keep following the scholarship blog, or bring your questions to the PSAs directly in the Charles Center Mondays through Fridays from 9am to 5pm. Good luck on all your apps!

Fulbright Application Tips

The Fulbright U.S. Student Program offers grants for recent college graduates to do individually designed research projects or participate in English Teaching Assistance (ETA) programs in a country of their choosing. Every year, many William & Mary students apply to and receive Fulbright grants. Check out some tips on the Fulbright application from PSA alumna and 2016-2017 Fulbright ETA in Thailand, Natasha:
1. Begin early
First of all, the Fulbright deadline is early in the fall semester and it can be quite hectic trying to complete your application while also settling into classes and back-to-school activities. Secondly, it can take some time to arrange letters of recommendation, and even more time to get language evaluations, study abroad transcripts, or letters of affiliation if you need them. Basically, any time you need to get something from somebody, there is an increased chance of something going wrong. Starting early is not only more courteous to professors who may have a lot on their plates or who require a certain amount of time to write recommendations, it also safeguards you because you have room to enact a back-up plan if something goes wrong.Finally, the earlier you begin working on your essays, the more time you will have to edit and rewrite them, and to get feedback from other people. On which note, the next thing is…
2. Write multiple drafts
Writing multiple drafts is absolutely essential to any kind of essay, and Fulbright essays improve vastly with multiple rewrites. I crafted both my essays in a single sitting, typed them up into rough drafts, and then spent several weeks getting feedback and rewriting the essays.
The first few rewrites will focus on getting the content right–do you answer the prompts? do you repeat things? are you talking about the most relevant experiences?–and on arranging it. I ended up shifting much of what I originally wrote for the personal statement to the statement of grant purpose, and vice versa.

After your essays are at the point where they sufficiently answer the prompts and the information is more or less where you want it, you’ll probably do a few more smaller edits where you adjust the flow and style of the essay. Having good transitions between ideas and paragraphs is vital, as is concision (since you will only have one or two pages for each essay) and these rewrites are where you will perfect transitions and flow.

Eventually you will find that the people reading your essays have few comments to make, and that in rewrites you are editing individual phrases and words, or juggling two ways of writing a sentence which are hard to choose between because they seem equally good. At this point you will know your essays are where they should be.

3. Connect everything
When you first write your essays, your main focus will be on answering the questions of the prompt. Why do you want to do a Fulbright? Why do you want to go to this particular country? What do you want to do with your career? What inspired you to study this topic? How will you engage with the community while on your Fulbright? Initially your answers may not be related. However, your essays will become stronger and more cohesive if you can draw connections between your different answers. Part of the personal statement is persuading the reader that Fulbright is the best choice for you, that it is the most relevant and vital next step in your future path. If every aspect of your essay points to a common thread that you then interweave with your Fulbright proposal, you will have a much more persuasive application.

Furthermore, because of the iterative effect of these connections, they become almost more than the sum of their parts. The reader will come away from your essay with the feeling that you truly do need the Fulbright in order to best embark upon your career goals, but you will not need to have repeated this point to hammer it in–rather, you will have continuously implied it through the links and connections you draw between the different sections of your essay.

4. Write honestly but from the right angle
You should, obviously, tell the truth in your Fulbright applications. However, you should keep in mind your audiences and structure your phrasing so as to cater to them and avoid causing offense. This requires being mindful of the implications of what you write, and it is helpful to have someone else read your essay so that you can see what kind of impression you create on someone else.

In the other sense, there are certain aspects of the prompts where telling the whole truth is unnecessary. For example, you may not have definitive career plans, or you may be deciding between three or five or a dozen possible jobs or graduate degrees. It is not necessary to make a disclaimer about this in your essay, or to list every possible option, or to include an equivocating phrase saying that you have other goals besides the ones you have stated. You can assume that the readers will understand the chaotic factors of life and will not hold you to the career or academic goal you state you have. Therefore, you should describe a goal that you truly have, but if undecided between several equally appealing options, you should pick the one that will serve your essay best, and not feel the need to describe all of them for the sake of full disclosure.

Similarly, you may have various reasons for wanting to go to a particular country. Some of these reasons may have a stronger draw for you but may be objectively weaker or unrelated to your project. I started my essay without much knowledge of my particular country and with somewhat arbitrary reasons for wanting to visit it, so I spent some time researching the country until I found a connection I could make to my future career goals. Once I discovered this connection, it did become a compelling reason for me, but it was not one of my initial reasons nor was it the one that was necessarily most appealing on a personal, abstract level. However, it served my essay better because it had a more concrete impact on my future plans and I could talk about it in terms of its actual impact on me. I had honestly answered the prompt, but from the various sincere answers I could have given I had chosen the answer and angle that I knew would be the most profound and legitimate in the eyes of the readers.

5. Make every sentence work twice
You will be pressed for space in your essays. For an ETA application, a page is allotted to each of the two essays. For a Full Grant, the statement of grant purpose may be two pages, but will have to cover a lot more detail. Because the essays are the only part of the application that reveal you as a person, every line is vital. The essays are actually serving two purposes: they are answering the prompt, which is primarily an information-based function, and they are creating a portrait of you, which is a subtler and more nuanced effort.

Therefore, every sentence should be doing two things. Primarily, it should be part of a paragraph that answers part of the prompt. This relates to the content of the sentence. But equally importantly, it needs to be adding to an idea of you that you have been building throughout your essay. This involves content as well, but also relies on phrasing, structure, and how that particular sentence interacts with the surrounding sentences.

This concept is similar to how you should be approaching interviews, in which every response to a question not only serves to answer the question but also paints you in a particular light and steers the conversation in a particular direction, depending on what you want the interviewer to think about you or what you want them to ask about next. Similarly to answering interview questions, this method can also serve to offset things you are worried about–for example, if you are worried about a flaw in your application or if you did not fully address a previous aspect of yourself, something as simple as a sentence’s introductory phrase can reference that issue and mitigate or solve it while using the absolute least amount of space possible.

This kind of dual function is not something that you necessarily need to be worrying about in the first or even second draft of your essays. Once you have the content corrected, it is much easier to begin editing structure and tone to craft the precise impression of yourself that you want to create. Fortunately, unlike interviews, an essay can be redone, and you can take the time to think through what you want to say, so it is easier to achieve what you want both in terms of content and tone.

6. Be sure of yourself
The line between confident and cocky can be a thin one, but it is a line you must walk. Avoid using phrases like “if I get the Fulbright,” “if accepted into my graduate program,” “I think I will,” etc.

More importantly, be sure of what you are writing, as you are writing it. Is this where you want to go? Is this what you want to do? Is this why you want to do it?

This kind of certainty grows out of introspection and careful thought. Reflect on what you want to do with your Fulbright and what it means to you, and what your answers are to these questions. It is not that you have to know the right answers. Your answers could turn out to be wrong. But you must have some kind of answer and you must believe in it, or your doubt will be present in your writing. Trust in yourself; simultaneously make a plan and accept that life can and does make a mess of plans.

7. Celebrate
Too often we reserve celebration for victory alone. Why wait? Celebrate now, because you have written your Fulbright essays and that was a feat. There are a dozen quotes about the journey being the most important thing, not the destination. I like destinations and I am not going to say that completing the Fulbright application is more exciting than getting the Fulbright. But both are exciting. Celebrate now! Nobody will run out of rejoicing. You know what you poured into your application. You know what it means to you. Thank your professors. Thank your essay readers. Thank your word editing software. Thank your friends and family. Thank your weary mind. If and when you get the Fulbright you will thank them all again, but today is today and application deadlines are for exulting.


If you’d like to hear about Natasha’s adventures in Thailand, check out her blog! You can find out more about Fulbright on their official website here, and William & Mary’s Fulbright information page here. And as always, if you have any questions about these or other opportunities, or you want someone to look over your application materials, don’t hesitate to come into the PSA office any time from 9 to 5 Monday through Friday!