Should I Apply for a Fulbright?

Fulbright scholarships are sweet. They can cover a lot of your tuition and put you in an esteemed group of fellow recipients several generations deep. (I was very fortunate to receive one myself.) However, the application process is demanding, which makes the opportunity cost (time taken away from test studies, for example) steep. I recently sent this email to a current client who was considering applying for a Fulbright. This client is based in Japan, but I imagine it applies to other Fulbright offices around the world as well.

"Honestly speaking, it will be very difficult for you to be awarded a Fulbright scholarship, so I recommend spending your time on test scores instead. The reason I say it will be difficult is because the Fulbright committee in Japan looks for applicants whose goals can benefit society in direct and creative ways. My clients who were awarded Fulbrights in the past aimed to: open a new type of school in Japan, continue building a healthcare related NPO, help commercialize Japanese space technology, improve NGO-government relationships to improve education in developing countries, etc. These applicants all had direct and significant experiences in these fields as well. Working in Private Equity (your current goal) does not really meet these criteria. Yes, you could change goals and say you wanted to start an NPO or something similar, but without background experience or education in that field, the committee has no evidence of your experience, commitment or capability."

I consulted with my colleague Michele Rabin, who was a Fulbright Program Advisor, and she added:

"My experience working with successful Fulbright grantees (though they have all been Americans going overseas) is that usually the grantees had a very precisely thought out proposal and most had already had contact with a faculty member at a host institution(s) or organization(s) supporting the goals of the project.   In addition, all of them had outlined exactly how they would share what they learned with other educators and/or professionals, both in the host country and once they returned to the U.S.  And as you said, most of them had experience studying or working in the field of their proposal prior to applying for the program."

At the same time, the essays used in the Fulbright application process can usually be adapted directly to personal essays and statements of purpose/goals essays for graduate school/MBA applications, so even if you don't receive the golden ticket, your efforts will not be completely in vain. However, before you commit to the Fulbright application process, be sure you are not sacrificing time and energy that would be better spent on the big picture of getting admitted to your top choice schools.