In this post, I would like to tell you how I earned a full-fee scholarship at the University of Westminster, what motivated me to study abroad and some advice based on my own applicant journey.
Approximately one year ago, I was preparing my scholarship application for a course starting in January, so I believe this post might be particularly timely if you are applying for January 2016.
Regardless of your situation, I hope my personal story encourages you to have heart and not give up your dream of studying abroad. Nothing is impossible if you work hard and persevere!
For me, achieving the scholarship has been one of my proudest accomplishments so far. Last year, a major happening in my personal life drove me to try something new, something I’ve never done before.
So with this newfound mindset and drive, I decided to resume an old dream of mine: to study abroad. However, as I lacked financial resources to afford a full postgraduate course by myself, a scholarship was paramount for me to achieve this opportunity, so I went on and dedicated all my efforts to make it come true. And this is how my journey begins.
In July of last year, I started searching for high-quality UK universities with scholarship opportunities and preferably located in central London. Apart from the Chevening programme promoted by the UK government, I eventually found a very limited number of institutions with direct scholarship opportunities – let alone full-fee scholarships.
For my luck and joy, I came across the University of Westminster website and I almost couldn’t believe when I realised that it had the scholarship opportunities I was looking for. On top of that, it offered a Masters course which fit perfectly with my professional background and career prospects, not to mention that the campus was right in the heart of London. That was it! I just knew I couldn’t miss the chance.
My Masters application
As it was my first time applying to a UK university, I made sure I familiarised myself with the process and, most importantly, the schedule and deadlines.
Firstly, I made sure that I was eligible to apply. Alongside financial need, for the full-fee scholarship one must have a degree equivalent to a UK First Class Honours degree. In my case, my degree from the University of Sao Paulo in Brazil was equivalent so I was eligible – and happier than ever that my dedication to studies at college paid off perfectly 🙂
Top tip: make sure you’re aware of your degree classification according to the British system. You will need it to know whether you are eligible for a full, half or part-fee scholarship.
Having that checked, I proceeded with my online application process via UKPass (now UCAS Postgraduate) so I could hold an offer prior to my scholarship application.
The UKPass system was very straightforward and well-organised in my opinion. It made clear which information and documents I needed to provide, such as personal data, academic and professional background, personal statement and references. For the latter, you have to reach out two contacts for reference letters (either academic or professional contacts).
In addition, you will need to arrange official translation of all your documents (diploma, academic record) and, most importantly, write a compelling statement of why you are a suitable candidate for your desired course. It’s a lot to do, so be prepared to spare some time for this process!
Having submitted my online application, it took some days to receive the confirmation of a conditional offer – it wasn’t unconditional at the time because I needed to submit my IELTS results.
Now the final and decisive stage: the scholarship application.
The period from August to October of last year was quite busy for me. While I was preparing the application documents, I was studying for the IELTS exam and working full-time with scheduled business trips. I can tell you it was as intense as my pre-departure experience in December (see Top 10 things to pack for your journey to London)!
In that sense, I had almost a month and a half to prepare my scholarship application and send the documents by post. Top tip: plan extra time for postage so you don’t miss the deadline, this is very important!
Firstly, I downloaded the scholarship application form and started filling out all the required information. You’ll need to attach some documents, such as the academic transcript that was used for the Masters application.
Top tip: check with your university if they can provide you with performance ranking in case you have had a good grade. I believe it can help your application to stand out. In my situation, I found out that I came first in my class in my undergraduate degree with the highest GPA, so I asked for a certificate and they provided it accordingly.
Then, I contacted two people for bespoke reference letters explaining why I was a suitable candidate for a scholarship. My advice here would be to choose contacts from your network that you trust and maintain a good relationship with. In my case, I was fortunate to have the endorsement from my university supervisor and a previous employer who is my dear friend. Both of them were incredibly supportive.
Now the key elements of your application: your personal statement, career aspirations/development plan and financial need (for postgraduate courses). This is your chance to persuade the university to choose you amongst thousands of strong applicants worldwide. Keep in mind that for the University of Westminster, if your scholarship application is rejected, you are only able to reapply two years later, so give your best to prepare an impactful statement.
If I could give you some tips regarding the personal statement (at least that’s what I believe made mine stand out!), try writing your story in a compelling and engaging flow. Invest in the storytelling approach and balance the description of yourself as a bright future professional and, at the same time, a person with dreams and hopes which are worth to be invested in.
Tell about your key achievements and why you need the scholarship to realise your dreams in an honest manner. Don’t be shy in proposing ambitious goals, however, make sure they are relevant to your aimed course and the career you envision.
In my case, I dedicated one week to writing my personal statement, from brainstorming to final touches, with the incredible support from my family who helped reviewing it. Oh, if you can, call someone trustworthy and fluent in English who can look through and give you feedback on your statement. A second look always helps!
About one month after shipping my application form with all the printed documents, I received an e-mail from the university granting my scholarship request. I will never forget that moment of pure happiness and delight, when I knew that every effort I made was completely worth it!
Give it a try and one last piece of advice
Now in the second half of my Masters, I can assure you that being granted a scholarship has been one of the most exhilarating and rewarding opportunities I have ever received. You feel amazingly grateful and, at the same time, empowered with a greater responsibility to pay it forward. And I call tell you this: it’s been quite a journey so far!
If you still feel somehow unsure, anxious or frightened, keep holding on and don’t give up – I know it sounds like a cliché, but it’s true. I have many friends and acquaintances who dream of studying overseas but eventually postpone and simply don’t try at all.
Also, don’t be shy in reaching out for help. I myself had many doubts throughout the process and, whilst trying to get most of the answers on my own, each and every time I contacted the university, they responded with the most incredible patience and politeness, especially the Scholarships team. Forums such as the Student Room are also helpful in finding information about all sorts of topics. Thus, don’t be frightened of raising your hand and asking for support – you are not alone!
Lastly, on a more personal note, make sure you cherish every moment of this experience with your loved ones, especially your family and dearest friends. They are your best supporters, so enjoy your exciting life journey with them! 🙂
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