(Disclaimer: This blog is neither an official representative of Fulbright Program nor the US Department of State. All of the information is based on personal experiences of the writer. Please refer to AMINEF’s official website for updated and further information, especially for Fulbright program in Indonesia.)
If you are reading this, you are probably searching for an answer. I had been there… This is gonna be a long article. Hopefully, it will help in any way going forward! Good luck!
When you first applied for this scholarship, you already knew the answer. You might want this particular university. Period. Let’s say, Harvard, Yale, or UCLA. You felt confident and eager, and nothing would come to stand in your way. But trust me, the harsh reality comes later. GRE, TOEFL, and tuition (of course!) are some of the main culprits. Best universities, including the Ivies, typically offer a stellar reputation but come with an astronomical price. The tuition budget from Fulbright can be super tight, so you need to prepare for the worst and be wise in your own decision.
Around December, you will get your first letter to submit to your universities. For a Master degree, you get four choices, while a Doctoral receives five or six options. You must choose from a dream college to your safety school. There are 6000+ universities scattered all over the U.S., so there is always room for everyone. You already set eyes on your favorite, but how about the rest? It might be tempting to consider any alternatives out there which might be the best for you. I tell you, there are so many options! So I created this to help ease your mind a bit.
You could always look for more detail from the interactive maps below for your matching interest.
The first thing I wanna highlight is diversity. See the maps? They are scattered all over the U.S.! Well…technically, there have been no grantees in six states since 2008, including Nevada, Idaho, Montana, Alaska, New Hampshire, and South Dakota. Although, it might be an indicator that there might not be a lot of students there, at the very least, an Indonesian community. But, this might be an exception with New Hampshire, which has its own Indonesian community. And it is beautiful there too during the fall!
Evidently, there are preferences to study on the east part of the country compared to the west coast. There is no specific evidence for this tendency, but my dumb guesses are the living cost and tuition are higher in California. In addition, acceptance rates always play a part where there are no alumni at Stanford and Caltech, at least since 2008. So keep in mind if you happen to choose this.
Meanwhile, Fulbrighter from Indonesia has preferred New York as their favorite destination — even though it’s in upstate NY. Most studied at SUNY Albany, the University of Buffalo, and other public universities. Even though it is not per se in New York City. But at the very least, it is reachable if you are in the same state.
Private campuses in the city like Columbia, NYU, and The New School also become favorable despite the fact it will cost a fortune. Nevertheless, you can proudly scream, “I am a New Yorker!“
I could totally understand why the middle part rarely (some never) had students coming to their states. First, the heat could be unbearable from the arid regions. Second, there are just simply not enough universities there. As you can see, only three favorable universities stood out — Arizona State, Colorado State, and U of Arizona. Other good private universities, such as Brigham Young or Colorado School of Mines, were hardly recognized by Indonesian since 2008. However, from personal experience, Utah, Colorado, and Arizona offer the best natural outdoor adventure you can get from the United States with its national parks. So, don’t take this out of your option!
Midwestern is the most popular area for study–especially for the states surrounding the Great Lakes. Ohio University became a preferable choice (an overall second-best option with 25 students). Why pick this particular area, you ask? Their universities offer a wide variety of choices, from private to public, with slightly lower prices than in the northeast part.
I know for a fact that the weather is bearable. It could be icy at times, but aside from that, it is more pleasant. Visiting the Great Lakes, Chicagoland, or passing the agricultural area of Iowa, Nebraska, could offer something unique from other parts of the United States.
In the southern part, there is a tendency to pick certain universities. Many students are at U of Arkansas (the overall most favorite for Indonesian Fulbrighter), Texas A&M, and various universities in Florida. My dumb guess is they don’t mind the geographic condition (weather, red/blue states, or the people). Their main interest was honest-to-god, purely academic. Florida may seem biased because it is known for its magical places, such as Disneyland. It might also be the tropical climate they seek, reminding them of their hometown.
There are a few differences for the last six years (after 2016). It’s hardly recognizable, but Master’s students slightly tend to study around Midwest and Southern areas. Meanwhile, doctoral students were scattered across the U.S., most having studied at Arizona State University. If you noticed, Florida is a home for a balanced portion of both master and doctoral students.
Funding for a Master sometimes it’s kinda tricky. If you see UW Madison in Wisconsin, it is a great school but might not be accepting any students pursuing master degree. Why is that? Some of them sometimes didn’t offer cost-sharing for a Master degree or probably just a tiny portion to cover. This could be indirect guidance if you have to worry about your finance. If money is not a problem, go ahead by all means.
Applying for a doctoral degree is somewhat like applying for a job. Maybe instead of “you’re admitted,” it would be better to put “you’re hired.” You need to have the same interest as the professor to be admitted. If you look at the map above, WSU (1:9) and ASU (4:11) are more welcome for doctoral studies compared to a master degree. Otherwise, U of Arkansas (8:2) and Ohio University (7:2) accept low numbers for doctoral. From what I gathered so far, certain universities are more likely to fund doctoral candidates with financial resources compared to one pursuing master degree. However, it also depends on the major or the department of each college.
The history of admission could be a deciding factor. Every trend has a pattern. Safe schools tend to admit a couple of students yearly, for example, Ohio University, despite declining in recent years. If you notice any rate decline for the last few years, like Rutgers University, New Jersey, this could be a sign of a reduction in support or the tuition has increased. In a unique case, if you look at Harvard, it sometimes does admit a prodigy student, but not for next year.
Don’t take this for granted. Many factors are considered for the admission process: your priority, acceptance rate in the department, cost-sharing, and even the admission deadline. Many schools admit students after April 15th, which could be a problem.
I got this statement a lot. If you want to go to the best universities — Harvard, Yale, Columbia, you name it — Fulbright might not be the answer. Some people in Indonesia justified not pursuing Fulbright because it does not fully cover your tuition without any meaningful context. Some even jokingly suggested it’s a “halfbright” because it only covers half of the education. After researching this chart, I argue that the statement might not entirely hold the entire truth.
The chart illustrates the inconsistency of private schools’ admission from year to year. After 2014, having students in private schools seems tricky due to increasing tuition rates far beyond the coverage of scholarships. There will always be students admitted to private schools, but it depends on the person’s capabilities. Even though the rate is low (about 10-20% of overall acceptance), that is relatively acceptable. Their acceptance rate is lower than average, especially since you come from Indonesia. You just need to be stellar in academic achievement and expert in your studies.
For your further consideration, have you ever thought that people who got accepted to Ivy Leagues with state-funded scholarships might obscure something else underneath? What if those private schools accepted those students based on international diversity, but at the same time, they thoroughly benefitted from your financial aid, not your merits? It’s all just because you are fully funded.
In specific cases, the answer is a yes — Fulbright might not help you get to your dream school, unfortunately. Sometimes you were just being unlucky. If you’re somehow admitted to private and Ivy Leagues university, money can cause problems later on. Their tuition can cost anyone a fortune — you are probably short by 20-40 grand after the scholarship. I knew a person who was accepted to private Ivy schools but, unfortunately, had to let it go. The financial burden of private schools is not only limited to Fulbright but also applies to every incoming student to private schools. Have you ever heard of the lifelong struggles of student loans for Americans?
I wondered and was curious at first when I applied for this scholarship. I saw most of the grantees from a background in education. Evidently, there is some truth to that, but not by a landslide. Most are in the education sector, followed by health and engineering. It was uncertain whether education was a priority or a mere coincidence because many applicants came from this background. Nonetheless, Fulbright always maintains diversity in all aspects. So, don’t need to worry.
Knowing where to go for your study from your predecessor could mean the university has a known reputation in that field. As you see, Indiana U and Ohio State had numerous students with educational backgrounds. Want to study engineering? Maybe your best shot is to Georgia Tech. What about biology? U of Arkansas has received plenty of students there. It could mean something. But be aware that it is not always the case that it is indeed a better school.
The most important thing is to be open to any opportunities. You must always ask, “Did they share a similar interest?.” Back then, I opened every single graduate study in U.S. universities. The reason? I had limited options for my research, and Google seemed not to be doing much at the time. Later, it surprised me how each university has specialties in every department. Every course, course description, and professor can offer different perspectives on how you see yourself for the next two or even five years. You just need to keep looking.
But, at last, it totally depends on the final acceptance.
To conclude, I can say expectation is overrated. In U.S. admission, everything can happen. Your resume has stellar achievements but not enough money for your dream university. Or your GRE score is super high, but the university doesn’t admit you for not sharing the same interest. That happens all the time. It also happens to millions of U.S. students. Just a reminder that some U.S. students can apply to about 10 universities, even more. So, you need to be open-minded in your application.
This article can be a guide but do not take this for granted. You must decide your own choice, your own path. Hope you have an incredible journey through the admission process! And possibly enjoying the American dream afterward!