Achieving a scholarship is the decisive factor for many applicants to study abroad. For popular countries such as the UK, US and Canada, the currency conversion, travel and maintenance expenses increase the need for a scholarship or other funding for many people.
Arguably, one has to acknowledge the challenging aspects of applying for a scholarship. You will eventually face a fast-growing competition, which intensifies increasingly at a global level. The highly competitive process requires not only a good academic standing, but also strong dedication, patience and willpower.
But don’t feel discouraged: the positive part is that scholarship offerings are becoming more accessible, structured and diversified. From governmental institutions to universities and philanthropic initiatives, there are plenty of opportunities offered in many countries. Besides, there is a rising amount of study options which you can get a scholarship for, ranging from undergraduate to postgraduate courses, such as Masters, MBA and PhD programmes.
I found this landscape when I looked for scholarship opportunities in the UK, back in 2014. As I didn’t have sufficient financial conditions to afford an international postgraduate degree on my own, achieving a scholarship was crucial to make it happen.
During this process, I came across the Chevening, the British government’s scholarship programme, as well as financial aid initiatives from several universities, which ranged from full scholarships to interesting discount rates.
Before you start looking for scholarships
First of all, have in mind the study you want to pursue for your career. Is it a BA degree, an MA/MBA/MSc or a PhD that you envisage doing? Which universities fulfill your expectations?
In parallel, you may consider several factors which might impact on your final choice, such as ranking performance, curriculum framework, location, infrastructure, recommendation from friends/family, amongst others.
In my case, I chose the University of Westminster for four key reasons: good ranking position in communication and media, the course (Marketing Communications MA), the location and the scholarship opportunity. In 2014, I applied to the full-fee scholarship offered by the University of Westminster and was one of the five awarded recipients worldwide. In the following year, I started my full-time Masters, which I concluded in March of this year.
So here, I would like to share some top tips on how to apply for an international scholarship, and what led me to succeed eventually. Hope it helps as it did for me!
1. Planning and key documents
The key challenge for me was to organise everything at the right moment and stage. The truth is that you will encounter several guidelines and required documents along the way. There are many things to manage at the same time, so plan well to avoid hefty risks, such as losing a deadline or missing an important item.
Firstly, it’s very important to check if your profile and background match the desired scholarship requirements. Indeed, a pivotal condition is to show exceptional academic performance. And, to know that, you will have to check what your background equals to. For instance, if you already have a BA degree and want to pursue a postgraduate course, you will have to establish your GPA equivalence to the grading classification of the country in mind.
In the UK for example, a GPA of 70% and above at a BA degree in Brazil can be deemed a First-Class degree, the highest grade rank. This gives you more chances to compete for a better scholarship than a lower grade, such as a 2:1 (GPA around 60% to 69%) and 2:2 (GPA of 50% to 59%). This may vary, so check what your academic performance means according to the institution and the country in question.
Personal statement and reference letter
Right at the beginning, you will notice two documents which are commonly requested by scholarship programmes: the personal statement, a statement written in first-person about yourself, and the reference letter, which is an endorsement letter written by someone who knows you academically and/or professionally.
The format and language style must be professional and crystal-clear: without slangs, jargons or abbreviations. There is a word limit on the personal statement, so be careful with this. Now, if you have never written a personal statement before, don’t worry: many institutions give guidance and advice, such as the British Council and the universities themselves, not to mention the plenty of samples available on the internet to get inspired (but don’t ever, ever copy any of them!)
2. Sell yourself with confidence
In order to achieve a scholarship, you will have to put in practice the finest persuasive and selling techniques on yourself.
The personal statement is the opportunity for the scholarship board to get to know you, so it’s your best chance to convince them to trust in your potential. Don’t be shy on highlighting your achievements, victories and accomplished challenges, no matter if they are personal, academic or professional. Awards, acknowledgements, extracurricular activities such as volunteering work may give you extra points, so don’t forget to include them in your key messages.
In parallel, always stay honest and true: exaggerations, half-truths and distortions are no good at all and can compromise your application. Be watchful of this!
3. Be a storyteller… about yourself
Continuing with the personal statement theme: when I wrote mine, I chose a more personally-driven approach under a formal language style, as if I was telling my own story. For example, alongside my academic achievements, I talked about the personal reasons that made me want so much to study abroad, as well as my plans after graduating. I explained why I needed a financial support and how I intended to pay it forward.
I suggest that you to develop a compelling narrative and a sincere portrait of yourself – not only as a student with a raw talent, but an individual with your own dreams and ambitions, a potential leader, a professional whose plans are worth to invest in.
From my point-of-view, this multi-faceted complexity creates empathy, authenticity and makes the candidate unique and special. Capture and hold the interest of the reader until the very end: delight and impress him with your own story!
4. Choose your referees carefully
Besides the personal statement, you will need to get personal references. In my case, I had to provide two letters, so I called my BA course supervisor and my former boss without hesitation. Luckily, both helped me tremendously.
Hence, what I recommend here is to select carefully who will be your referees amongst your network.
Choose someone with whom you maintain a good relationship with, either academically or professionally. For example, someone who helped you achieve a major accomplishment, a former or current mentor who is aware of your challenges and achievements. That is because, the more that person knows about you and your skills, the richer and more authentic his/her endorsement will be.
5. Review and ask help to check the final content
As any important piece of work, it’s crucial to review your application content thoroughly, especially the personal statement. Check if the grammar and spelling are adequate, if the chosen words are appropriate and whether all the key messages you want to convey are well-structured.
Review it as many times as necessary until you feel fully confident that you gave the best you could.
At the same time, ask someone who speaks good English to review your text, such as a friend, a relative or even a professional, if you find it necessary. A second opinion is much welcomed and may help you to track some minor errors and suggest improvements where you didn’t notice. For instance, when I wrapped up my personal statement, I counted on my sisters’ amendments, which made me feel more secure about the final work.
Well, that’s it for now. To conclude, one last piece of advice: if you are still an undergrad student, don’t drop the ball and keep it up!
Dedicate yourself to your studies and put education first. You have no idea how this effort today may help you in the future, and I say this from my own experience.
Above all, be patient, control your anxiety (I know, it’s hard!) and fight until the very end. You might be the next one to win that amazing scholarship opportunity, so why not make it happen? 😉
Images by Pixabay
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