So you want a scholarship and you’ve reached out to a few people to ask them for help but no one is giving you practical ‘easy’ steps on how to go about it. Well, Better Breed Cameroon has tried across the years to offer guidance each year around this time- what we consider to be ‘Scholarship Season’. You can check out previous posts here and here.
This year, we had Cameroonians who have been recipients of a variety of scholarships (Fulbright, Chevening and the MasterCard Foundation among others) share tips from their scholarship application experiences. To culminate this ‘Scholarship Tips Series’, this post will offer some concise steps as a roadmap to furthering your studies on a scholarship.
Step 1: Self-reflection
It all begins here. A lot of people overlook the importance of reflecting on why they want to further their studies and why they need a scholarship. Yet this step is extremely important as future steps (such as drafting a personal statement, defending your plans to an interview panel etc.) depend on it.
This first step involves asking yourself some questions and being sure your answers are authentic and reasonable.
For instance, why do want to further your studies? The answer should not be ‘because I need a masters degree’. The fact is not so many jobs NEED a masters degree. Preferably, you should be able to answer something like this ‘I majored in English at undergrad and would like to further my studies so I can specialize in copy editing. Furthering my studies in this specialization will enable me to achieve so and so career goal’.
This answer shows that you know what you want and why you want it, as opposed to ‘I want to get a masters or a Ph.D.’.
Self-reflection is important.
Step 2: Research, Research, Research!
The process of research can be considered step two, but often happens alongside self-reflection because reflecting feeds the research engine. Once you’re thinking of what you want to study and why, you are pushed to look up the options. And there are tons of options! This is why potential applicants who ask someone to name schools for them to apply to, or ask ‘oh what school did you go to so I apply there as well’ are seen as unserious. You need to do the work yourself; you’ll eventually have to defend why you chose that university, why that particular program matters to you and more. If you can’t do research now, you’re setting yourself up for failure in the near future. Besides, graduate and post-graduate studies are all about research. So this should be your practice!
In step two, you’re expected to be researching the programs you can apply to. You are expected to research the school, their staffs, their admission requirements, the scholarship process and much more. To increase your chances it is always advisable to apply to three or more programs in various schools. You should know what makes each program unique and which you like better and WHY!
If you do self-reflection and research together you will likely find a niche you can call your own.
For instance, let’s say you studied sociology and don’t have a background in the health sciences, but you have a passion for health-care work, experience with peer counseling in relation to HIV/AIDS, sex education and you discovered this while serving as an intern at a local NGO which worked with teen mothers. Your self-reflection should lead you to research sexuality education programs which will not require previous health-science qualifications (be sure these programs exist). Your argument for furthering your study now would include your desire to better consolidate yourself in this field where you have no previous academic training- you discovered your passion for it through work you’ve been doing.
Another example: You have a master’s degree in translation from ASTI. You already, have several years of experience working as a trained translator. However, your job has become mundane and you would like some career mobility. A combination of self-reflection and research should enable you to find alternative ways to ‘un-stick’ yourself in your current occupation. With some quick research you would find alternative uses for your training as a translator; you can be an international guide with either a tourist agency or an INGO, you can be an app developer tester, work for a foreign service/diplomatic corps in various capacities from immigration to crisis negotiator, or you can simply specialize in a specific field of translation- like legal translation. With such research, you’ll be able to find- and justify- what graduate program is right for you. Depending on what route you choose, you may be looking for an M.A in Public Administration at, an M.A in International Policy, an MSc. Software Development or a Professional Masters in Tourism and Cultural Development. You may even find that there is an option for distance learning for a masters in specialized legal translation (there is!) and this would spur you to consider applying for the Commonwealth Distance learning Scholarship.
One step leads to the other.
Step 3: Mapping the Options and Requirements
So you’ve done your reflection and you’ve done preliminary research. Now you have to come up with a plan. That’s what step three involves. Mapping your moves.
At this stage, you should have an idea of what programs you’re interested in and why. Depending on the number of programs you’re interested in, come up with three (or more) to-do lists comprising of checks you must fulfill for each program. One list would outline what the application into the University of Manchester requires (recommendations letters, application form, personal statement etc.), you’ll do a similar list for SOAS and Edinburg.
You also need to map out each scholarship you are applying to and what they require. Note that you are encouraged to think out of the box at this point. Do not target only a handful of scholarships. Depending on the programs you decide upon, do further research to find alternative means of funding. Yes, there are general scholarships like the Commonwealth and Chevening. Yet, there are also faculty bursaries at each of these institutions and organizations/businesses which fund specific types of programs like that MSc. in software development which would enable the translator we used as an example above to use his language skills to develop multilingual applications for corporate use.
A to-do list of what needs to be done for each school and scholarship will enable you to organize yourself for the next steps
Step 4: Completing the Checklist
After making your to-do lists, you should now commence checking tasks off.
Practical actions at this stage include;
a- Drafting various personal statements (depending on the number of applications you’re making, each should be unique given that the strengths of the programs and reasons why it matters to your goals should be different).
b- Filling out various online application forms
c- Writing to potential referees (who will either give you recommendations letter or permit you list them on the online forms to be contacted).
d- Prepare for and take an English proficiency test- if necessary.
You can only check things off a list you have made. If you don’t map your task list properly in Step 3, you will fumble at this stage and likely miss out on something.
Step 5: Seek Editing Help and Submit!
It is at this final step of our roadmap that you ought to reach out to as many people as you can. At this point, you can defend yourself, and you will have more direct questions to ask them rather than merely ‘help me…’
At this stage, you would have filled out your application considerably. You would have drafts of the personal statements you could ask friends and mentors to edit, you would have short-essay responses you could send out for revision. At this stage, anyone you reach out to for help would see you have made a considerable effort.
This is where you get help and the confidence you need to click on submit.