I’ve just returned from London where I spent the weekend at the reception for my scholarship. It’s an honor for me to have received this scholarship and after meeting the other scholars from around the world, I’m reminded of how much the world expects from our talent.
So, I thought it would be a good idea to share my experience prior to receiving this scholarship. Perhaps, you could learn one or two things that could be the difference between paying your way through school and going to school for ‘free’. These are my guidelines and not the law in stone.
Start early. This is the single most important tip. From as early as my junior year in college (penultimate year in university), I was looking through scholarships for my Masters. If you are aiming to start a Masters program in August / September, why not start two years before? You might not even apply the first year but at least, you’re familiar with the scholarships and their requirements. Generally, deadlines for August / September are between November and January so do not miss out on a scholarship because you were slow. If you get to a scholarship before it is open, pencil in the date it opens and prepare accordingly. Don’t forget you’ll need admission(s), language tests (for international students), medical tests, etc. Do these as early as possible.
Focus on scholarships that suit you. Most scholarships are not for everyone but there is a scholarship out there for everyone. You’ll find major-specific, school-specific, region-specific, G.P.A – specific, talent-specific and even religious scholarships. Determine what you want to get from a scholarship and what you have to offer a potential sponsor. I resolved that I wanted a fully-funded scholarship for my Masters degree in the United Kingdom; possibly one that targeted good undergraduate grades and leadership potential. So, these were the kinds of scholarships I was paying attention to. Since someone is paying for you to go to school, you have to ensure that among many great applicants, you’re the best fit for them.
Excellence is a self-sustaining phenomenon…so are creativity, talent and other such skills. There’s a reason why ‘they’ hammer it in that undergraduate grades are important for a lifetime. They do not determine your future, but there’s a general correlation between excellent grades and an excellent future. But this principle applies to anything! Be consistently excellent in whatever you do (sports, music, leadership, academics, etc.) and target scholarships that will maximize your potential in these areas. If you are excellent in certain areas, you’ll attract scholarships to further develop those areas and the cycle continues. However, don’t ignore other areas. Sponsors want to see that you’re excellent in some things but great all-round.
Apply! – Just do it. If you start early, you can spread out your schedule and still give your best to each application without wearing yourself thin. Remember, each sponsor needs to know that they are your priority so generic applications in 10 places might not get you as much as specialized applications in 5 places. This is also important to remember when you get called for interviews. Apply and believe. Then, wait.
Got a choice? Don’t forget the big picture. Congratulations! It’s such a thing of prestige to be paid for through school. If you’re mega-awesome, you probably received more than one scholarship offer. In this case, it’s a good problem trying to choose which one to go with. This goes back to the second point…which one suits you best? Which one gives you the most experience and the best education in the best location and with the greatest benefits? Which one could you best contribute your skills and experience to? Which one grants you the best access to career networks? It’s not always the one offering the most money or stipend; it’s the one that meets your goals most completely.
That being said, happy searching and good luck!