How to Snag a Fulbright Scholarship

Many Cambodian students dream of securing a Fulbright Scholarship to study in the US, but the application process can seem overwhelming. Kiripost gets top tips from one successful candidate

As a Cambodian student, the idea of studying abroad had always been a dream of a young Sao Kanika. But it wasn't until she heard about the Fulbright Scholarship that she truly felt compelled to turn it into a reality.

Her dream of studying in the United States, one of the most prestigious study destinations, and being a recipient of the Fulbright Scholarship seemed like an impossible feat.

After all, those who had received this scholarship were often the brightest and best in their class. However, despite her doubts, she worked hard and applied.

To her amazement, she was accepted.

“Knowing how amazing it is and noticing that people who get this scholarship are usually the brightest, the best of their classmates or peers made me hesitate from time-to-time to even dream of applying for one,” wrote Kanika.

When asked in an interview this week by Kiripost what the scholarship to study in Minnesota means to her, she said, “It is hard for me to describe what it means to me in words. Back in school, I always dreamed to study abroad and I knew that I had to be the smartest to get it. During the school year, I heard a lot about the Fulbright Scholarship.”

For students, especially those coming from developing or least-developed countries, receiving a Fulbright scholarship is the ultimate dream and a once-in-a-lifetime experience, noted the former Royal University of Law and Economics (RULE) and National University of Management (NUM) student.

Kanika, who in 2021 graduated with Masters of Laws from University of Minnesota Law, proudly told Kiripost,

“As a Fulbright Scholar, I can be a role model for the next generation and raise the importance of education and self-commitment. It somehow shows and proves to me and others that one should never doubt his/her self and that he/she should dream big.”

Kanika graduated with Masters of Laws from University of Minnesota Law
Kanika graduated with Masters of Laws from University of Minnesota Law

‘Dare to Fail and Explore’, says Fulbright Alumnus

Currently a research associate at Cambodia Development Resource Institute (CDRI), Kanika also gives lectures at NUM, where she graduated with an International Bachelor of Business Administration.

Stephen Paterson, Chief Innovation and Entrepreneurship Officer (CIEO) at NUM, described Kanika as

“someone who gives back to the next generation by teaching a course in Business Law to our undergraduate students at NUM International College”.

In a recent interview, Kiripost had the opportunity to speak with a Fulbright scholar to learn more about the process of securing the prestigious scholarship. Aspiring Cambodian students who dream of pursuing higher education abroad often wonder how they can increase their chances of being selected for the Fulbright program. The scholar shares valuable insights into the application process and provided helpful tips for those seeking to become Fulbright scholars.

What steps should students take to ensure that their academic record and achievements meet the eligibility criteria for the scholarship?

Kanika: Having a strong academic record and achievements requires students to commit to their studies, and excel in most of the subjects that they took throughout their academic years. Actively participating in a few competitions and exchange programs, although not required, can also make their applications stand out more.

It is also important to regularly monitor their academic record and achievements against the eligibility criteria for the scholarship to see whether with this score and these achievements so far, they are good enough to apply for this scholarship. [They must] constantly ask themselves what is missing and what needs improvement.

How can students make their application stand out and demonstrate their motivation and commitment to study abroad?

Kanika: Every student has a different study commitment and story, and these are the areas that can decide the fate of each candidate. Students need to show what makes them and their studies special and important – not just to them but society also.

They need to explain why getting that scholarship and studying that program in that country with that university is essential for them. Strong motivation and commitment have to be clearly demonstrated throughout the application process through their personal statement, study objectives and the interview.

Fulbright scholar Sao Kanika with her classmate at University of Minnesota Law
Fulbright scholar Sao Kanika with her classmate at University of Minnesota Law

What are the tips to help students navigate the application and selection process, and prepare for living and studying in a foreign country?


Application and selection process:

It is important that they carefully read the instructions, know the deadline and type of information or documents that they need to provide to the scholarship committee or upload to the application online platform. It is better to submit more than submit less.

What I mean here is that if they have additional extra curriculum activities or certificates that they think might be of interest to the scholarship committee or an added-value to their application, they better submit them.

My advice for the interview is

(1) present themselves well;

(2) be confident and show that they are competent for this scholarship;

(3) know the study area or program that they plan to study well because the committee usually want to know why do they chose that program, why it has to be in the United States and what do they plan to do next?;

(4) relax and do not hesitate with their answers as hesitation somehow shows that the students are not well prepared or not certain with their study objective or themselves.

Tips to prepare for living and studying in a foreign country:

Language, culture, food and weather are the things that make living in a foreign country different from the motherland.

If students already have good English and can adapt well to different culture, food and weather, then I do not think they will have problem living in a foreign country.

Of course, there are a few other things that they might not be familiar and encounter there in the States, but as long as they ask around, learn and adapt, they will do just fine.

Universities in the U.S. have so many resources and centres for students. There will also be an academic advisor and student centre(s) who will be available and happy to answer students’ questions on the program itself and even questions about living in the U.S. in general.

Studying with native speakers can be hard at first but as long as students work hard and reach out to their professors or classmates for help or advice or to set up a study group, they will be totally fine.