How Fulbright Scholarships Work

Eligibility for Fulbright Scholarships

The IIE is interested in selecting the best and brightest to participate in the Fulbright Program, so standards are high. We'll discuss the competitive aspect in more detail on the next page, but for now, we're going to explore some baseline requirements that must be met in order to apply.

All applicants, regardless of their country of origin, must meet citizenship requirements as outlined by the Fulbright Commission and hold a bachelor's degree before the scheduled grant start date. If applicants have not completed their undergraduate coursework, they may still be considered if they have extensive professional experience or have distinguished themselves in the area of research or study they're proposing.

On top of these minimum requirements, preference for the U.S. Scholar Program is given to applicants that have completed their higher education in the United States. Foreign study as part of a student's curriculum doesn't count against an applicant, but having spent considerable time (generally six months) in the country in which an applicant is applying may be a disadvantage. The reason behind these restrictions echoes the origins of the original legislation, which was to increase understanding between Americans and the rest of the world. Placing scholars in countries with which they're already familiar limits the effectiveness of the exchange.

Just as there are minimum requirements, there are also factors that constitute ineligibility. Anyone who has already received a Fulbright Grant is ineligible, as is anyone who holds a doctoral degree at the time of application. Also, applicants seeking enrollment in a medical program abroad, or those who have resided abroad for five or more consecutive years in the six-year period before the application date, are ineligible.

Of course, these are some of the minimum requirements to just be eligible for a Fulbright Grant, but this is a highly selective award, and the gulf between eligibility and qualification can be significant. The number of available Fulbright awards varies from country to country, and so does the competition for these scholarships. Generally, Western Europe is the most competitive region -- nearly half of all U.S. Student Fulbright applicants base their proposals on visiting countries there [source: Hymas].

In the next section, we'll explore how interested applicants are selected to receive Fulbright Scholarships.