This month we talked to Wajiha Saqib who is a Fulbright Scholar. She walked us through the entire process of how she earned the Fulbright Award. She currently lives in Islamabad and is working in at an NGO and plans to continue her studies and get a PhD. Here are all the details of our conversation with this wonder woman.
PostsHive: Hi, first of all, congratulations on winning a Fulbright scholarship. The purpose to this interview is not only to celebrate your accomplishment but also to serve as inspiration to those who think they can’t pursue higher education abroad because they may not be able to afford it. What is your educational background?
Wajiha Saqib: So basically I did my O-level from Lahore, and my elective courses were physics, mathematics and computer science. I was always interested in computer science. I was bent upon becoming a software engineer. Then in my A-levels, which I did from Islamabad, I again took physics, mathematics and computer science.
During my AS level I got an opportunity to visit LUMS for the LUMUN conference and so I was like, I really want to come here. I had heard about LUMS computer science program and so I really wanted to go for that. So, I started preparing for the LUMS admissions, took my SAT and applied. Luckily, I got into LUMS and thankfully also got a good financial aid, which made it easier to go to LUMS.
While at LUMS, I was introduced to Social Sciences and I loved taking some of the courses in psychology and history. So with my major in computer science, I did my minor in social sciences. I also took a course called Problems of Learning which was a cross-listed course in computer science and psychology and that made me passionate about education, learning problems and integrating technology with education.
After graduation, I did try working in the software industry, but I guess by then the software industry did not seem that charming to me and education and technology was my new passion. So, I switched my field and went into education technology research, from there into teaching A-level computer science. I think to study education as a subject, one must be familiar with teaching. Teaching A-level pointed me towards a studying education as a subject and I wanted to pursue my graduation in education policy. While I was teaching I also did a lot of volunteer educational projects to serve the underprivileged children in Pakistan. It was this volunteer work that taught me a lot about the education landscape in Pakistan. So, I was trying to get a scholarship at that time and I had applied to multiple scholarship programs including Fulbright. I ended up getting admissions into so many UK and US universities but none of the scholarships were working for me. The first few times Fulbright, didn’t work either but then, I guess there is a certain time for everything. I got Fulbright in 2016 to go study education policy from George Washington University and live in a city where the most important policies are made.
PH: What was your CGPA? If you don’t mind sharing? Give us a rough estimation.
WS: Well, my undergrad CGPA was around 3.3 which I don’t think is too great. But I think more than the CGPA what matters is your practical experience. In my grad school my CGPA was around 3.8.
PH: Where did you hear about Fulbright?
WS: I learnt about Fulbright in LUMS. A lot of my seniors had received it and most of my friends planned to apply for it in our senior year.
PH: What is the nature of this scholarship? Give us a little background.
WS: So Fulbright is a scholarship which sends students to US universities for grad school. It is fully funded. It basically is awarded to students in fields that are relevant in the Pakistani context. It is important to understand, that Fulbright is not awarded to the person with the highest grades or GPA, it is awarded on the basis of how passionate you are about your field, what practical experience do you have in your field and what you plan to do once you are back to Pakistan. Fulbright is fully funded (tuition wise) and also living and traveling expenses are covered. It requires a Fulbright scholar to return to their home country and remain there for two years. I also believe that one of the major parts of Fulbright is cultural exchange. I think any scholarship that gives you the opportunity to study abroad, also expects you to learn something from the culture where you are going to study and also to expose the people in that country to your culture.
PH: What gave you the courage to apply?
WS: I think for me the most important factor, was that I believed in myself. I was confident about what I was passionate about and what I would be able to achieve with this scholarship. Although, it wasn’t an easy journey for me, it took time and effort but I think that time and effort taught me a lot. It increased my passion and it gave me more practical experience. The more practical experience you have, the more realistically you approach the problems that you are passionate to solve.
PH: How will you narrate your experience of getting the scholarship?
WS: As I mentioned earlier, I wanted to go and study abroad, specifically to the US and UK and I was applying for scholarships. I would get admissions into the universities but would not end up getting the scholarships, which was tough and hard. However, I believe in persistence. I applied to Fulbright earlier as well but that didn’t work out. I got shortlisted for the interview but didn’t make it afterwards. However, in 2015 when I applied, I had this great clarity of mind that I think was not as intense before. I would have to give that credit to my work experience – my teaching experience, my volunteering experience and my involvement with community service. I think getting to work directly with the underprivileged communities in Pakistan can teach you, which no other job can teach you. I think this experience gave me a new perspective which helped me be successful at getting the scholarship.
PH: What is the process of applying for Fulbright?
WS: So, for Fulbright you apply to the program a year ahead of the one you want to be admitted to. So for Fall 2016, I applied to Fulbright in May 2015. The major requirements are your GRE, personal statement and research objectives. The Fulbright then shortlists you for an interview. If you are successful at the interview stage, then you get the Fulbright. However, at this stage you still don’t know which university you have been admitted to. Fulbright applies to universities on your behalf. You let them know your preferences in the application. They finalize which ones they apply to, on your behalf. Once they apply, then its on the universities to give you admissions. If you get admitted (which everyone does if they have made it so far to be selected by Fulbright, you get admission too) then Fulbright finalizes which one you get to go to.
PS: What grades/GPA do I need to go for the scholarship/college?
WS: Well there is no cut-off GPA or grades that you should have. Some Fulbright scholars have really good GPAs, as good as 3.9 and some people have as low as 2.9 and they still make it to Fulbright. It is never about the GPA. It is about showing the commitment to your field, your passion and some good work experience in the field.
PS: What documents do I need?
WS: You need GRE, an attested university degree and official transcript.
PS: How tough is the competition? Do you compete with international students to get this scholarship?
WS: The competition is tough. There are about hundreds of students applying. But Fulbright Pakistan is only for Pakistani students, so you don’t compete with international students.
PS: What tests such Ielts, TOFEL , GRE did you need to take? And if yes, what should be the score?
WS: You need the GRE before applying to Fulbright. If you get shortlisted for the interview call, you must take TOEFL then.
PS: Were you interviewed? What questions did they ask?
WS: Everyone who gets shortlisted, gets interviewed. Each interview is different. Mostly, they talk about the claims that you have made in your personal statement and how you think certain issue (you mentioned) is a problem or how can it be resolved in Pakistan. Some questions relate to what is currently going on in the market in your field.
PS: What extracurricular did you have in college? What activities do you recommend for an aspiring Fulbright Scholar in undergrad?
WS: I was active in theatre and the literary society. I think there is no specific extra-curricular activity that one should be doing to get admitted to Fulbright but it is important to be involved in extracurricular activities of your choice. Something that you really like doing. I also think community service is important, either in university or during your work life.
PS: What was the process of getting the visa?
WS: Once you get admitted, USEFP assists you in getting the visa. USEFP applies for your visa and then you go for a visa interview.
PS: Does Fulbright assign you the university or you chose one yourself?
WS: You give your preference list of universities and they finalize which ones to apply to taking your preference list into consideration. They might modify the preference list.
PS: Is there a registration fee for the application process? Would it break the bank?
WS: No there is no registration fee for the application process.
PS: Do they provide accommodation and food? (How are the living conditions)
WS: Fulbright provides you a stipend, which varies from state to state in the US and you have to arrange for your accommodation and food.
PS: What is the stipend?
WS: The stipend varies from state to state in the US but it is always sufficient.
PS: Do you have a work permit? What kind of jobs did you get and what was the pay?
WS: You can do part-time unpaid job or internship.
PS: Is it possible to manage job and school?
WS: Well apart-time internship can be managed with school.
PS: What is your schedule/ day in a life of…..like?
WS: I think a typical day requires, a lot of reading, some assignments and managing your daily chores. Over the weekends, you get to experience the American culture with friends and college mates.
PS: What are the exact clause in the scholarship? Does it require you to return to your home country after the degree?
WS: Yes, the scholarship requires Masters students to come back and stay in Pakistan for two years.
PS: How much money did you spend out of pocket in total during your time there?
WS: Well the stipend was pretty good. So, I didn’t have to spend anything out of my pocket.
PS: What are you currently doing?
WS: I am working with an NGO as a research associate. We work on education equity and inclusion.
PS: Share with us some of the work you have done and are currently doing?
WS: I presented a paper at CIES during my masters. It’s not published yet, but I can share the abstract with you. I am also working on SDGs as part of my job. As part of my organization, I am working for the Voluntary National Reviews, with the government.
PS: What are your future plans?
WS: For now I am working in the development sector, but I plan to pursue a PhD in the long run.
PS: What advice would you want to give to someone aspiring to win a Fulbright?
WS: I think it is important, that you apply to a field that you are truly passionate about. Also, I would advise you guys to get some work experience, before applying to Fulbright.
PS: Thankyou so much for sharing your experience and helping our audience out know more about Fulbright and the process.
WS: Well, It’s my pleasure to be doing it.