Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them.
On June 8, 2017, after news arrived that results were out for the Chevening 2017-2018-award cycle in my country, my inbox flooded. “Did you get in?” “I didn’t make it this year; what did you do and how?” “I need help on getting the Chevening scholarship.” “What’s Chevening and how do I get it?” “What do I need to do?”
As I write this, I become aware of how the results seem to create an invisible line between those that were selected and those that were not. How immediately those that are selected are placed in a position of authority due to the unspoken assumption that those who were selected know something that the others do not—that there is a magic recipe that, if strictly followed, will lead to the jackpot.
Sadly, there isn’t or I’d know how to answer the unread messages in my inbox. And I wouldn’t have to resort to desperately shrugging my shoulders or laughing it off to my mother’s prayers (seriously though, tip #1,000: get your mother to pray for you). The truth is, those that are selected didn’t have a surefire formula in their mind nor do they have a secret copy of “100 Steps to Chevening” under their pillow. Most of us were as unsure of the process as you are now. Most of us gritted our teeth, pulled in all our resources, and clicked “submit”, making glamorous mistakes on the way (more on how I almost slept through my interview later).
The truth is it is a mixture of hard work, character, preparation, faith, and dare I say—a good amount of luck.
The truth is: others and I, websites and blogs, and the Chevening Secretariat themselves can only help you apply for Chevening—not help you become a Chevener—that happens on your own. It’s a long and lonely journey and it definitely does not happen in August. Not three months before the deadline.
It runs in your blood at birth and manifests itself as after-school programs and working overtime. It’s not all grand and glorious either. You’re only human. Because sometimes being a Chevener is shuffling your feet along the college corridors, wishing that the friend that enthusiastically promised to help you in front of your professor wouldn’t have left you alone last minute. And yes, it’s grumbling at your boss at 7 PM in the winter and it’s wondering why on earth do you put yourself through the hell you do.
But it is also, almost always, remembering why.
The first thing I did when I heard about Chevening was to follow the golden rule.
The number one rule when applying for scholarships: if you’re applying, make sure you’re eligible.
Because while not all those that were eligible, were selected—all of those that were selected, were eligible. The basic eligibility criteria can be found here (http://www.chevening.org/apply/eligibility-criteria) But I’m here to talk about what eligibility means beyond the number of work hours and your GPA score (though those are really important too!).
Each and every scholarship is catered to a unique brand of person. Of course, there are a few general basics: academic credentials, professional ability, extracurricular activities, outstanding character, passion for your field etc. But the scholarships that are worth getting into usually have a specific focus.
A successful Chevening candidate typically:
- is a professional graduate, in early or mid-career, who displays clear leadership potential.
- has already worked for 2–3 years in his/her chosen profession and volunteered with leadership skills.
- is committed to return to his/her home country and contribute to its socioeconomic development, by implementing the new skills and knowledge acquired in the UK
- has a proven track record of professional excellence and achievement, with the prospect of becoming a leader in his/her chosen field
- is able to show at interview that he/she possesses the personal qualities to benefit from the scholarship and use it to succeed in his/her chosen career
- has a clear idea how the scholarship will benefit their country on his/her return
- has a strong character with integrity, drive, and the ability to self-manage and work independently
You see, there is so much that should’ve been happening before. So much that is usually taken for granted when we talk about the Chevening journey. And that is what makes Chevening so special—it isn’t something you prepare for, it is someone you are. So what kind of person do you have to be, and what kind of person do you have to strive to become if you are thinking of Chevening?
The following post is for those who’ve just started college and already have high ambitions for the future (I applaud you) and for those in their early career and want to upgrade. But it is also for those who already have done so much but are sitting in front of their screen and doubting that they have what it takes to click on “Apply Now.” It is meant to help you get a deeper look into yourself and to take an honest look at your life to figure it if you are that person, or if you just may be able to pull in all your resources and become that person—if you want to, of course.
It isn’t all there is to it, but it will recommend you tremendously. Not only will it allow you to apply for many prestigious scholarships, give you an advantage in front of the selection panel, but it will also increase your odds of getting admission in globally recognized universities like UCL and others.
START WORKING EARLY
Whether it’s volunteer work, internships, community service—Chevening accepts all forms of work experience. Moreover, it will go a long way towards helping you realize what you want to do in life, excel in skills that aid your profession, and build your knowledge about the world. It will also help you become computer-savvy. So many suffer from the Chevening application process due to simple technical issues or a general lack of competency when it comes to technology. Learn the basics at a young age, or take the time to right now. Better late than never!
BE A LEADER
According to their official website, Chevening is the “UK Government’s international awards scheme aimed at developing global leaders.” Their selection criteria aims at identifying “high-caliber graduates with the personal, intellectual and interpersonal qualities necessary for leadership.” So what does it take to be a leader?
BE DISSATISFIED ABOUT SOMETHING
If you’re living on planet Earth, chances are there’s something that’s not quite the way you want it to be. If you’re living in a developing country, chances are everything is not quite the way you want it to be. It doesn’t have to be a global problem either. It can be as simple as wanting your department to look a certain way or provide a certain activity/club/course. It can be as complex as believing that the academic curriculum is outdated or the administration at your workplace is doing a poor job of assigning relevant tasks.
BE EVEN MORE DISSATISFIED
While finding something to grumble about is a worthy initial step, you won’t get anywhere unless you’re frustrated enough to want to change it. I know many people who feel dissatisfied about things (dissatisfied is an understatement). And boy, do they know how to pick at things. But as soon as you offer to collaborate with them or propose a plan to do something about it, they’ll start hurling at you all the reasons why you or anyone else shouldn’t bother. They will tell you that it is no use. They will tell you that others have tried before and failed. They will tell you that problems run deep, that the whole system is corrupted, that the only way to fix it is to uproot it, and that you certainly aren’t authorized to do that. Don’t be them. Be bothered enough to attempt to change it—even if it’s just a humble start.
HAVE A VISION
Every single thing that pains and frustrates you and the people around you—imagine it all gone. Imagine it better. Go wild in imagining. Make the country you live your very own utopia. Mentally clean the streets, color the walls, purify the air you breathe in and the water you drink, and even get rid of corrupt politicians. The passion this will instigate is boundless.
PARTICIPATE IN YOUR COMMUNITY
You can do all the talking and imagining there is, but nothing will make you aware of what needs to be done, and all the obstacles that lay in the way of doing it like actually engaging and taking open action. When you put yourself out there, you’ll be facing the very nitty-gritty of the work that you need to do. You will also add to your work hours, meet new people, and build an impressive profile.
MAKE A PLAN
Turn the vision into a practical, implementable step-by-step plan and commit yourself to following it. (more below)
These people are usually those who share your dissatisfaction or have the same vision as you, but have no idea where to start or what to do. They are your team, your victors, your allies, and your followers. Sometimes, they will even know how to lead in the rare moments when you are unable to—let them; know when to lead and when to follow, it’s part of being a leader.
KNOW YOURSELF AS A LEADER
If you’ve done the above, know and believe that you already are a leader and start consciously incorporating it. Take a step further to know what that means to you and to the people around you. Ask yourself the following:
What does being a leader mean to you?
Different people have different definitions and viewpoints of what leadership means. Find out what yours is (hint: self-awareness is a must).
What are some people that you admire?
Both global leaders and people in your community. Think about what traits they have that make you feel so drawn to them. See if you can find any parallels between your personality and theirs. Focus on any personal traits that you have, traits that you are known for, that fall within your definition and vision of the leader you are.
What is your leadership style?
Are you more assertive, confidently assigning tasks or do you take a more democratic approach and get a feel for the opinions and ideas of others? Knowing the way you act when placed in a leadership role can help you better recognize the reactions of the people around you and get more insight about humans in general. It will also allow you to know your limitations and your strong points and take on projects that you can thrive in.
FORM A NETWORK
Your network is comprised of fellow leaders and activists—these people may not follow you, nor will they share all your dreams and goals. Instead, they will hold your hand and help along the way. While their paths are parallel to yours, both of you will need each other in the instances that those paths cross. You may find them and be the one to take the initiative, or they may be the ones that reach out to you. There will be many connections that you make, that you will not have actively pursued. If you’re academically on top, professionally competent, and have a friendly and even slightly charismatic character, people will come to you, and they will be the right kind of people. But maintaining that relationship and keeping it steady and consistent is something else, and the more conscious you are of the importance of having like-minded individuals in your life (and the earlier you start), the more you’ll put conscious effort and work into making sure they stay in your life. Your network will have abilities/skills you don’t, authority you don’t, and connections that you don’t—which will also help you expand your own.
Keep in touch with your professors. Remember their birthdays. After you graduate, you will find they are more open to forming an equal, peer-to-peer relationship with you. Invite them over to lunch, celebrate their accomplishments, and keep them updated of your own. Translate that into your workplaces as well. Be cordial with everyone, pay attention to small details about them and their lives, and always make sure to clear out any misunderstandings.
More importantly than the amount of people you know, form a deep enough bond with each, a bond deep enough that they’d be willing to listen, to join, to help you in whatever endeavor you embark on. Ask yourself the following:
What does networking mean to you? Decide the type of relationships you will have and determine their value. Who do you need to be alongside you? How do you “network,” what’s your social style?
Introverts, I sympathize with you (the struggle is real). The written word is your power. At the end of my college years, I typewrote a coffee-stained thank-letter, rolled it up into a scroll, and left one at the desk of all my professors. It left a huge impression. Hand-write notes and invitations. Social media is also a great networking tool as it attracts people from all over the globe. Use it to your advantage whether through blogs, twitter, and Facebook pages and groups.
HAVE A PLAN
Know where you’re headed, where you want to be, who will join you, and how you’re going to get there. Of course, this will always be a work in progress. No one expects you to have this completely figured out. No one expects you to follow it as judicially as a mouse follows breadcrumbs. Life isn’t linear and will throw surprises and curve balls along the way. Make sure your plan is one that you’re passionate about, is dedicated towards achieving your vision, and is compatible with the abilities of the people involved (your network, team, and own self). Make sure your plan is do-able, effective, and will make a positive change in your community/city/country. Ask yourself: What are you good at? What can you change? How can you change it?
MAKE A LIFE REVIEW
After all’s been said and done, gather everything that you’ve done, everyone you met, and everything you are. Because after you’ve become that someone—well after that, the Chevening application process is all about putting the you that you’ve become on paper (help on the essay-writing process, coming soon!). So I really don’t know how I got selected—but I do know this for sure: one less work hour, one less ounce of passion, one less sleepless night, would’ve greatly reduced my odds. I’m here to tell you, now and always, to give it everything you’ve got. To join the clubs and societies that you’re passionate about. To publish that article. To risk that work project. To live your life to the fullest. It makes all the difference.
Shakespeare always had us think that there were three different types of people: those that are born great, those that achieve greatness…and those that have greatness thrust upon them. Well, if you’re aiming for Chevener, make sure to be all three. And for those of you who already are all of that and more, but didn’t get selected,
Know that you already are Chevening.
*Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not reflect that of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) and its partner organizations.