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Fulbright Interview Tips from A Fulbright Alumna

Adibah is a recipient of the Fulbright Master’s Degree Program, field of study Applied Linguistics at Columbia University in 2020.

The article originally appeared on indonesiamengglobal.com on July 17, 2023.

Adibah during her graduation from Columbia University Teachers College. Source: Personal Documentation.

What questions to prepare and how to answer them?

Disclaimer: This blog is not an official U.S. Department of State blog, all views and information presented here regarding the Fulbright Program are the author’s own and do not represent the Fulbright Program nor the U.S. Department of State.

Did you receive the email notification to proceed with the interview? If so, congratulations. You are just one step away from being a Fulbright candidate from Indonesia.

If that’s not the case, you might feel sad and disappointed, and that’s okay. After all the blues, you can bounce back stronger. I promise because I learned from the experience!

In 2019, I received an email from AMINEF as a shortlisted candidate for the interview on April 9, 2019, as seen below:

An email Adibah received from AMINEF. Source: Personal Documentation.

There was almost a 2-week preparation between the announcement email and the interview. Here is what I did before, during, and after the interview.


  • Do mock interviews.
    Even if not all questions are the same as the ‘real’ interview, I promise it will help you mentally!Since I had almost three weeks of preparation, I penciled down several questions based on my personal statements, study objective, and application. I also gained some insights from Fulbright alums, including Arief, my Fulbright mentor. Thank you to all who supported me. That meant A LOT!
  • Plan your time.If the interview venue is outside the city, consider staying overnight if necessary. Being late is the expressway to ruin your interview.
  • Wear comfortable business attire.My go-to is always batik and a skirt. Button shirts and pants are always safe options! I don’t recommend wearing new clothes because you don’t know how they feel, especially when sweaty.


At Fulbright, four panelists (two Americans and two Indonesians) and one moderator are in the room. It takes around 20-30 minutes/person, and it’s conducted entirely in English.

Every interview is challenging and nerve-wracking, but I think the Fulbright interview is fair! Because the panelists won’t ask you anything outside of your professional, educational, and social involvement experiences, nothing personal.

FYI, my program of interest was a Master of TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) with a concentration in CALL (Computer Assisted Language Learning), and here are several questions they asked me during the interview:

  1. Tell me about yourself!I shared briefly about my professional teaching experience and educational background. If you initiated or are involved in any social projects/activities related to your program interest, please do tell them. It’s a plus point to show yourself from different perspectives!
  2. Why do you want to study in the U.S.? What university and why?You can approach these questions from so many angles. You can tell them about the quality of the overall education system in the US (professors, resources, opportunities, ranking, etc.).

    I know you may not write your preferred universities in the application. But, in this interview, the panelists want to see if you have already done some research about the universities you wish to enroll in.

    If you are still unsure which university you want to apply to, here’s what you can do:

    a. First, you check the university ranking by subject here
    Or you can simply ask U.S. or Fulbright alums who studied in your program of interest. Search them on LinkedIn or any social media.

    b. Then, check the university website.

    c. Find courses, labs, or professors you would like to study (educational purpose).

    Or if there’s any practical experience (internships, capstone projects, etc.) that you can do during or after your studies (professional purpose)

    Or if the schools have some student engagements/clubs or various nationalities/international students that you can network with (personal purpose)

    Be SPECIFIC! Show them you have put some thought into it.

    For Ph.D. interviewers, please contact your prospective professors from NOW. Even if you are unsure if that is the university or professor you want to study, just email them. Then, you can tell the interviewers that you have corresponded with them. It shows that you have put some effort into your application and research.

  3. The panelist might also ask if the university’s cost will be WITHIN Fulbright Indonesia’s budget.Please note that Fulbright Indonesia is a fully funded scholarship with a budget capacity.

    In 2020, the overall Cost of Attendance for a Master’s degree = $35,000/year, and a Doctoral Degree = $ 40,000/year.

    Master’s students will be covered for two years = $ 70,000.

    Doctoral students will be granted three years = $ 120,000.

    The budget is subject to change in the future.

    All cost attendance (tuition + living allowance) in the budget range will be considered as WITHIN budget. However, if the overall cost exceeds, it’s regarded as a SHORTFALL.

    Here’s my strategy to answer this question. I prepared four universities: 2 excellent but expensive universities, while the other two are good but affordable. You can mention that you prepare an alternative in case your first choice is NOT within the budget of Fulbright Indonesia.

    If you want to know if the university is within the Fulbright budget, find it in ALUMNI Directory on the AMINEF website. The universities with many alums are most likely within the Fulbright budget.

  4. What challenges do you experience as (insert your profession)?It is a very personal question related to your essays. You want to pursue higher education in the U.S. to improve something. There’s a gap you want to fill. Tell them what challenges you’ve experienced in your career; therefore, you need to pursue higher studies in order to tackle those challenges.

    In my essay, I wrote about the huge gap between English learning and proficiency in cities and villages; therefore, I would like to use technology to close the gap. I also mentioned about lack of motivation of English learners at schools in small towns/villages. I shared anecdotes from my experience as an English teacher.

    Prepare one or two anecdotes you can share with the panelists to answer this question. They love to hear about your journey, which shows your authenticity.

  5. What’s your research interest? What research do you want to conduct during your Master’s degree? How do you plan to conduct it?It was an UNEXPECTED question for me. I asked many Masters’ Fulbright alums before the interview. Nobody I know got a question about research. So, I didn’t prepare it at all. In this case, I just responded to it the best I could.

    So, don’t make the same mistake as me and prepare the answer properly. Remember, it might not be the research you are actually doing during your Master’s degree, and it’s okay.

  6. What’s your plan after graduation (contribution)?I personally did not get this question, but just in case, you can prepare the response. You can discuss your professional (career-wise), personal, and social contributions upon the completion of the program. It doesn’t have to be grand and solve all the big problems in Indonesia. It can be on a small scale, within your community or society in the short and long term.

    The important thing is that you’ve had some records of contributions in the past or present. Hence, you have track records that will convince the panelists that you will bring even greater impacts on your community upon returning from your study.

    Expand the response from what you write in your essays.

    Please note that these are the questions I got during my 2020 Fulbright interview selection. Please bear in mind that you might be asked different questions pertinent to your program interest, essays, and application.


  • Network with fellow interviewees.They will be your source of information and mental support! I promise, so please interact and get in touch with other interviewees.
  • Learn more about GRE and TOEFL iBT.That’s the next step: TOEFL iBT and GRE tests. You can look up more information about them. Try to be familiar with these two before the tests.
  • Move on with your life.The result will be out in a few months. Instead of worrying about it too much, move on with your work and activities.

Some reflections on the Fulbright interview session:

The interview aims to determine whether you are the perfect FIT and a good ASSET for the Fulbright community, your future university, and your home country and community.

Here, you are given the opportunity to tell about yourself and your experiences (educational, professional, and social) that you can’t share in the application and essay. You need to CONVINCE them that you are what they are looking for. Every person has their own story, so tell yours!

But again, many factors are in play that determine your Fulbright candidacy. Just believe in yourself and do your best. Treat it as a learning experience; you either pass the interview or learn from it.

Remember, if it’s meant for you, it’s meant for you, and vice versa.

I hope this piece of article and information can benefit you in your Fulbright interview process. Best of luck!

Last Updated: Mar 30, 2024 @ 9:12 pm
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