A scholarship is a life-changing opportunity to grow as an individual, and provides a wide platform to gather experience. Achieving a scholarship indicates some essential qualities of a candidate, which include academic achievement, leadership potential, professional accomplishment with a promising plan to be a change-maker in his country.
I have been thinking about writing an article on the scholarship hunting process that I gained from my last year's experience. I realise that the overall lesson from my scholarship hunting process needs to be shared with relevant candidates.
This write-up focuses only on a Master's scholarship - one of the most competitive government scholarships – that I was awarded recently.
At this point, it is important to mention that all the fully-funded government-offered scholarships are competitive. According to statistics of the last few years, the success rate is between 1% to a maximum of 4% to get the final award in our country, depending on the scholarship you are applying.
For example, 106 and 62 candidates applied in 2018 and 2019 respectively from Bangladesh for the Joint Japan-World Bank Graduate Scholarship Programme (the programme I have been awarded this year). Only two candidates got the final award letter in 2019, and no one was selected in 2018. I hope, now, you may easily calculate the success rate. In the same way, other scholarships are also competitive.
Indeed, it is hard to get an award and you need to follow an intensive and lengthy process by going out of the comfort zone to do something noteworthy. Therefore, you need to be a strategic, hard worker, persistent, and insane dreamer to some extent.
Do not be disappointed to see the success rate in the above-mentioned para. Instead, be determined. Most importantly, you need to know what essential issues need to be considered during the application.
Standard steps to apply for government scholarship in a master's programme
- Attend a standardised test, e.g., IELTS, to fulfil the requirement
- Do research to select a suitable subject at a university
- Identify the most-fitted scholarship programme and know its exact requirement and criteria
- Get all the academic documents ready in an appropriate manner
- Ensure enough time to produce a statement of purpose (SOP) or motivation letter (ML)
- Choose the referee and take consent while taking the recommendation letter
- Apply to the university to get an unconditional offer letter as you cannot apply for a few scholarships if you do not have an unconditional offer letter
- Apply for the scholarship programme that suits you and meet the requirement within the deadline
- Wait to get the result, and if you get a positive outcome, you need to prepare for a face-to-face interview (depends on the scholarship programme)
- If you are finally selected, follow the given direction from the programme, i.e., confirm the acceptance letter, get the medical certificate ready, and start the processing of visa, etc.
It is important to note that in most cases, these are the general steps you need to follow. And it might be different based on different circumstances. For instance, the IELTS test was exempted for this year in the Chevening Scholarship due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Besides, the interview session took place either on a virtual platform or was cancelled in a few cases under the pandemic circumstances.
The most convenient way to fit the scholarship requirements
The scholarship process is a competency-based system designed to screen every applicant based on their academic achievements, professional accomplishments, and leadership potentials as a metric of worthiness. Therefore, you need to know your strengths to make a difference from others. Here, general steps are provided for those who want to compete for the government scholarship:
- Research to know which scholarship strongly suits you. It makes the maximum scope to be shortlisted or even finally selected
- Emphasise all the requirements in the same manner as it is competitive. Even maintaining professionalism while filling up the application form, which is mostly online
- Select the right course/subject considering your academic background, professional experience, and the government priority of your country so that you can be more relevant to the scholarship authority. For example, if you apply for a master's course in public health under the AusAid scholarship, you never get it even if you have a high portfolio. The reason is that public health is not mentioned on the priority list for this scholarship programme for Bangladeshi students in the circular for the current year. Therefore, choosing the right subject is the crucial factor in enhancing your chance to get the scholarship. However, the better-ranking university you have an offer letter from, the higher is your chance to get a scholarship
- Produce a unique and relevant motivation letter. Try to say your own story there. Remember, this is the thing that is given maximum importance during shortlisting by the selection committee
- Choose the right supervisors/referees who are willing to write a comprehensive reference letter for you. Sometimes, the blunder we make is that we choose a busy supervisor who gives ordinary (generic) recommendation letters that rarely bring the expected result. The wording of a recommendation letter should have a flow in line with the particular application package. Therefore, in most of the cases, referees ask candidates for a draft write-up for a recommendation letter along with a motivation letter and CV so that the supervisor is able to produce a unique recommendation letter
- Talk and take guidance from the seasoned seniors/scholarship winners who can assist throughout the process, especially in producing a motivation letter and even any other issues that need attention before submitting a scholarship application
Important things I learned from the scholarship hunting process
One must be daring enough to be successful in the scholarship hunting process. Remember, it comes to those who think and believe that it is possible and who are ready to do the hard work.
Again, I emphasise that choosing the most suitable scholarship for you is a crucial factor. Next, it is very important to identify the few right persons (one does not know all the things) so that they can be your mentor as required in different circumstances.
Another thing that makes you stand out from the rest in the competition is preparation. Start your preparation in advance as it gives you enough time to give enough attention to produce all the required documents.
Last but not the least, the scholarship hunting process and being an awardee is a serious test of a candidate's mental toughness, resistance to failures and obstacles, and patience if you get the final award before going to the university to attend the class as it is a long process.
Remember, after getting the final award, you need to overcome another big hurdle − getting a visa, especially in this period of the pandemic. Therefore, you must read the award letter deeply to understand all the mentioned clauses of your scholarship programme and realise the implications of those so that you can act accordingly to avoid any blunder.
However, do not be panicked. Yes, it is a challenging journey, but highly rewarding. My last word would be to get positive, word hard, take guidance from the right persons, and focus on being yourself.
This saying might be helpful to start your dream journey − "Some dreams are so glorious that it is even worthy to fail."
Good luck with your priceless scholarship experience!
The author is an award-wining candidate of the Joint Japan-World Bank Scholarship Programme for master's in urban management and development, 2020-21, at the Erasmus University Rotterdam in the Netherlands