A few months back the coordinator of Better Breed Cameroon was awarded a Chevening Scholarship to study in the UK for a Masters degree in Education, Gender and International Development at the Institute of Education, University of London. Since then she has been receiving a lot of inquires as to how she got it. The way most of the queries are posed has been disturbing. A lot of those who asked were more interested with traveling out of the country than with the programs or they felt it was something which had a five step formula to achieving. Most did not know exactly what they wanted to study and had not settled on a country, much less a school. Then there were those who asked the “Who did you know?” question.
In a bid to clarify what some think of as “the magic of getting a scholarship” this blogpost seeks to outline what those who hope to be awarded a scholarship need to take into consideration.
First off, know what you want. Like they say, if you don’t know where you are going. You won’t know when you arrive there. A lot of people are rejected for scholarships and visas because they are applying for what is already existing in Cameroon. While we would all agree that (sadly) a degree from out of the country is valued more, one has to know if what we are looking for is here already to sufficiently explain why they would want to travel abroad for the same thing. When you tell someone you need a scholarship you need to be able to explain why. That explanation only make sense if, for instance, you know: what you want to study, why you are interested in studying it, where you want to study it and how studying it could possibly impact you. The answers to this question will mostly make up the content of your motivational letter or supporting statement. Knowing exactly what you want is truly important as it proves your credibility and genuine need. You can’t be genuinely in need of something you don’t know much about. When someone asks you what you plan to do with the degree you want a scholarship to study for and you hesitate and stutter thinking up an answer it shows you are uncertain and not serious.
Next, change your mindset. You don’t need to get a scholarship, you need to DESERVE a scholarship. Stop thinking of it as a gift which someone just decided to give you or a lottery which you win if you have the lucky numbers. Scholarships are mostly granted on merit, look yourself over and ask yourself what makes you merit it? How well have you done in school, how active have you been out of school, how can you prove you have the potential to do greater if given the scholarship? Each scholarship has its own criteria. To deserve it you need to fulfill the majority of the criteria which makes you eligible and more. You need to fulfill all doubts that you not only need the financial support, but that what you would be receiving- the knowledge and experience- with that financial support is vital to your doing more than you have done already. You have to have done something already, they are meeting you half way. To deserve it you need to prove your ability to make optimum use of it if given.
Know what you are applying for. Scholarships are not one size fits all. This relates to criteria mentioned above. The fact that your friend got a particular scholarship doesn’t mean the same one is for you. Research the scholarship, look up past winners and note that different scholarships target or prefer certain groups. There are scholarships targeted at women, at workers, at potential leaders, at minority groups, at people in a particular field of study etc. Look for a scholarship which targets you and for which you would be a shoe in.
Start NOW. Deserving a scholarship does not begin when you find out about it, it begins way before that. The magic of winning the scholarship of your dreams is being ready for it before the opportunity arises. What are you doing now, or what have you been doing that qualifies you? Potential scholars are expected to prove they performed well in school, distinguished themselves with extracurricular activities, held leadership roles in and out of school. Every little deed counts ultimately when you have to build a resume or write a supporting statement demonstrating your merit of the scholarship. So if you want a scholarship in future? Start volunteering today, start participating in extracurricular activities, develop a skill a hobby, fraternize with others in your field, READ widely! Why? Because you will be asked in an interview for that scholarship “Who is your role model in this field?” “What have been the latest innovations in this field” You will need to have people refer you, both from academics and from a professional experience. And if you have been unemployed and never volunteered, you won’t be able to get a good reference. You will need to know how to write, how to speak convincingly when you will be asked “How did your passion for this field of study develop?” And if you had not run away from that class delegate position you may have developed orator skills. Most of us are short sighted. We don’t see that what we do today or not do has long lasting impact. If you want someone to pay millions to support you in future, you have to become the sort of person that would appeal to them. You can’t become anything in just a day. So start now!
Be original. There is no one else like you. You have gone through unique experiences, have developed your own voices and have favored words in your vocabulary. When you attempt to copy a past winners motivational letter, or use multi-syllabic words which you can barely define properly you sound fake and risk being called out for plagiarism. Supporting statement templates online are not to be copied!!!! Use them to inspire you not to dictate you.
Be self-driven. In most things which involve your progress you are going to have to do it all yourself. Even if you have help, you are going to have to find that help, and maintain the relationship with the helper on your own. No one is going to be on your neck saying “deadline is coming up” Or give you tips as to editing your essay. If you are used to being told what to do and how, this is where you will fail. You have to think for yourself, take the initiative to go the extra mile beyond what is asked by the scholarship board sometimes.
Finally, be informed! A lot of people ask, who connected you? Who told you of this opportunity? Those questions sounds a bit stupid in this age of technology. The opportunities are literally flying all over the web. If you care to look you will find. The problem is you haven’t made it your priority you have liked Nollywood Stars page, Wiz Khaliffa’s Facebook page, you follow E! Online fervently but cannot imagine that similar pages exist for career development, job opportunities for fellowships and scholarships and conferences. And still, it is not enough to be informed of the scholarships themselves; you need to be informed on the school you aim to study at. You need to be able to back why that particular school in that particular country interests you. And saying “Because my aunty lives in America in that state” will not do. The truth is those who go after scholarships just because they feel they need to continue school or leave the country hardly ever get it. The determination needed to endure the process of applications, interviewing, testing and waiting (which could be up to a year or more) can only be found in those who know what they want and really have invested themselves in achieving their dreams.
To conclude, here are a few websites which offer regular information on scholarships for Africans in general. Subscribe to them all and get updates to your email on opportunities you can apply to.
Like their Facebook pages and while you are at it, like Better Breed Cameroon on Facebook as well. We select the opportunities which Cameroonians in particular are eligible for and share on the page. This scholarship season, be informed, very informed.