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5 Tips to Ace Your Fulbright Award Application

Collage of four images of students studying, teaching and researching abroad.
The Fulbright U.S. Student program is a prestigious national scholarship that offers UC San Diego seniors, recent alumni and graduate students the opportunity to expand their knowledge in a field they are passionate about while supporting research that is mutually beneficial for both countries.

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Have you ever considered studying, teaching or conducting research abroad? Maybe you want to teach English in Nepal, study music composition in Hungary or contribute to public health research in Jamaica. The Fulbright U.S. Student program is a prestigious national scholarship that offers UC San Diego undergraduate students preparing to graduate and graduate students the opportunity to expand their knowledge in a field they are passionate about while supporting research that is mutually beneficial for both countries. 

It’s never too early to explore, and resources to help craft a winning application abound. Students are encouraged to reach out to a campus Fulbright Program advisor and apply for an award through the university. Benefits include one-on-one advising; peer support; assistance with writing grants and personal statements; application reviews; and mock interviews.

For those who are considering applying—applications are due by Oct. 10, and you must be a U.S. citizen—we connected with five UC San Diego students and recent alumni who received a Fulbright Award for the 2023-24 academic year to learn what contributes to a successful application.

1. Join the UC San Diego Fulbright Award cohort program.

Brian Do portrait

Each spring students are invited to receive targeted support for their Fulbright Award application from a staff expert who is well versed in all steps required. For recent UC San Diego alumnus Brian Do, the assistance made all the difference. “In the beginning, I was hesitant to even apply, and it felt like I would never be able to do it. However, the UC San Diego Fulbright program gave me constant feedback and insight on what makes a winning application. Receiving critical insights from Fulbright alumni was invaluable and transformed my application into something I was extremely confident in submitting. Overall, I absolutely could not have won this Fulbright Research Fellowship without this, and I am forever grateful.”

Do graduated from UC San Diego in 2022 with a bachelor’s degree in biology and minor in global health. As an aspiring physician-scientist, he is passionate about promoting preventive medicine among vulnerable, low-income communities. Through an Open Research Fulbright Award, Do will be investigating how to remove barriers to improve care for viral hepatitis in Vietnam.

Note: Students can apply to be part of the cohort program as rising seniors, the summer after graduation, as alumni up to two years after graduating, or as graduate students.

2. Consider applying as a recent UC San Diego alumni.

Karen Thai portrait

This summer, UC San Diego alumna Karen Thai will begin teaching English at an elementary or middle school in New Taipei, Taiwan through the Fulbright English Teaching Award. “I was under the impression that once I graduated, I was leaving all of UC San Diego’s resources behind. This isn't the case; they offer services for alumni up to two years out. I didn't know this until I emailed grad advising on a whim and got directed to the right office. Don't be afraid to ask for help, you never know!”

In addition, Thai recommends that applicants reach out to alumni of the Fulbright program for tips. “Find people who have done or are currently doing the Fulbright Program you're applying to. It's a great way to learn more about the program, get advice on your application, and make sure you know what you're getting into. The Global Initiatives Office may have alumni you can contact, or you can find people on LinkedIn—I did both.”

After graduating in 2021 with a degree in political science and minor in business, Thai served as a teaching assistant at the Rady School of Management and worked in corporate finance at Thermo Fisher Scientific. Her future goal is to attend law school.

3. Get clear on how your project will enhance cultural exchange within your specific host country.

Victoria Ly portrait

A recent human biology graduate of UC San Diego, Victoria Ly focused her studies on how to protect astronauts from experiencing visual impairment on long-duration spaceflight missions. She received a Open Research Fulbright Award to further her research at the German Aerospace Center, where Ly will have the chance to do MRI analysis to measure how the brain may be impaired during spaceflight.

Ly’s key tip for applicants is to know exactly what country they would like to work in and how their work will contribute toward mutual understanding. “It’s important to think about this carefully to make a convincing argument for why the project needs to be done abroad. Focus on the bigger picture of why your proposal is important and how it can promote educational and cultural exchange. Consider how your experiences have brought you to where you are today and what your future goals are. These reflections were what showcased my motivation and served as the foundation of my application.” 

4. Find an international research host as soon as possible for research-focused grants.

Ariya McDonald Uyeno portrait

According to Ariya McDonald Uyeno, it’s never too early to begin reaching out to professors at UC San Diego and international researchers in the country you seek to conduct research. “Fulbright is a big name. Try to reach out to an individual to do research within your host country as soon as possible. Try to also reach out to professors for letters of recommendation as soon as possible. For me, these were the scariest parts of the application. They ended up being the easiest. Reach out to them as soon as you know you want to apply! It will be okay. Your emails do not have to be perfect.”

Uyeno is a third-year undergraduate student majoring in ecology, behavior and evolution and minoring in Japanese Studies. She received a Fulbright Study/Research Award to do research in Japan, focused on “Preserving Global Biodiversity: The Impact of Volcanic Nutrients on Marine Trophic Levels.” Uyeno will graduate a year early this June and plans to continue her studies as a master’s student at UC San Diego next fall.

5. Don’t hesitate—believe in yourself and apply!

Heige Kim portrait

Heige Kim is a third-year MFA graduate student in the Department of Visual Arts at UC San Diego. Through multidisciplinary investigations into everyday materials and the discarded remnants of our lives, she explores the role of art in social and environmental change. To enhance this work, Kim received a Fulbright Open Study/Research-Arts, Granular Award. Along the way, she received feedback and support from UC San Diego Fulbright advisor Andra Jacques; “She diffused my anxiety with kindness and professionalism, motivating me to keep going,” said Kim.   

On her advice to future applicants, Kim encourages students to dive in, even if they have some doubts about whether they will be successful. “GO FOR IT! The application process was challenging, but I learned so much about myself. Reach out to former grantees of the country you are interested in doing your research. I’ve met many students who had never heard of Fulbright, and if they did, they felt unqualified to apply. As long as you are a U.S. citizen, you are qualified.”

Learn more about the U.S. Student Fulbright Award Program.

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