As you may have figured out by now, getting the Chevening scholarship is a yearlong process, from the time that the awards open in August to actually receiving your award letter and beginning the journey, the next August. However getting to the end is heavily determined by how well executed your first step is. That step is what decides whether you will get called for interviews, and get to the finish line. That step is the almighty essays.
The first time I applied for the Chevening scholarship, I approached the essay section in a laissez-faire way. I did not take the time to really engage with the questions and figure out how best I could align my professional experience with my future ambitions. I spent only a day on them before I felt my answers were satisfactory and pressed the send button. Big mistake! As you can imagine, I didn’t make it to the interviews. I was devastated, frustrated and demoralized, but in all honesty I had no right to be. I put in 10% and got the same result. I did not take into account that I was competing with 50,000 brilliant people from all over the world. It took some months of self-introspection before realizing that if I had any chance of being a Chevening scholar, I would have to start thinking and reasoning as one. This year I got my scholarship and it’s been surreal experience up to this point and I can’t wait to see how my life will change from my year as a Chevening scholar.
Having said that, the following tips are a not bulletproof, they are just that, tips. However they may just give you the confidence you need to know that, if a small time girl like me could apply herself and be considered “worthy” then so can you. It’s not magic, it’s just being street smart, and putting your money where your mouth is.
First things first, DO NOT LIE. This is the quickest and surest way to ensure that your application goes in the trash. The selecting panel can usually spot the lies because they have been doing this for a while now. Liars also don’t substantiate their claims; they speak in great hyperbole but cannot provide supporting evidence. Even if you think you have gotten away with the lie and proceed to the next stage, the interview is there to make sure they sift the grandstanders from the truth tellers. Don’t do it, it’s not worth it.
The point of this section is for you demonstrate that you have the potential to be someone your country can one day depend on to bring change in your sphere of influence. Leadership exists in different spheres and it doesn’t always have to mean being a director of an organization, or leading a social movement. What they want to see is that you possess the courage, and the determination to see a problem around you, gather enough support around it and execute a plan of change. Even if the change doesn’t happen, what’s important is that you have what it takes to be a change agent.
If this has never been your experience, you have between now and November to look around you and see the needs that exist in your community, work, or religious space and determine to do something about it. Get together some friends, colleagues or family members and rally them to get behind your initiative. As far as Chevening is concerned, there is no substitute for leadership and influencing! You have to be about your community and your country, so get off your butt and get to leading!
This was for me the hardest part of this section. It took me a whole week to think of ways in which I had demonstrated my networking skills. I had to think very creatively and once I got into the groove of it I realized I had been doing a lot more networking than I had even imagined. Again, do not lie.
Networking comes in different shapes and sizes, but is most manifested in the connections you make through social media and the intentional relationships you build when carrying out your leadership activities. For example you can talk about how you used Facebook or Twitter to spread publicity about your initiative, and through that your story got picked up by BBC and thus brought worldwide recognition to it which resulted in you receiving a 1 million dollar donation from a well-wisher in Finland etc. etc.Its a stretch I know, but you get the idea. Social media is a powerful networking tool and knowing how to use it efficiently is a powerful skill not to be ignored.
Human networking is just as important if not more significant. In every space you find yourself in is a potential field of networks just waiting for you to explore. And because networking always has an end goal in mind, this requires you to be proactive, be confident in your craft and selling yourself or your product as the next best thing and why anyone would be lucky to be associated with your brand. It’s easier than it sounds, and it gets better the more you do it. Thus when writing your essay, you draw upon these experiences and demonstrate how these various networking opportunities resulted in you achieving your intended goal. You also use the same experiences to show how as a Chevening scholar you would use these networking skills within and for the Chevening community.
- Chosen University and University Courses
This part of the section is somewhat easier as it gives you the opportunity to exercise your freedom of choice and to justify your choices. An article has already been written about choosing your universities and your courses by my colleague on this blog. Please read it and read it again thoroughly! I cannot stress this enough because once you send your application through you cannot change your mind, so choose wisely and carefully.
In answering this question make sure to mention your previous academic qualification, which for Chevening is at minimum a university degree, the work you did after you got that degree (briefly!) and why this has led you to pursue your chosen Master’s course(s). Your courses have to reflect some continuity with your previous work and studies. They don’t have to be identical but they must be within reason. You cannot for example have a degree in tourism worked in the hotel and hospitality industry and then decide you want to do masters in (a)Architecture (b)International Public Policy (c)Early Childhood Development. I mean, you can, but good luck justifying that on paper and in the interviews (lol)
Once you have made that initial connection, you need to then speak about why you have chosen each specific course at the specific university. You have to demonstrate that you have thoroughly researched the school(s) and the course(s) that you are applying for by highlighting their strengths, the skills you hope to gain and the impact you hope this will have in your future career. Please write your answers in a logical coherent manner, so that the person reading your answers is able to follow your thought pattern. Give each school and course its own paragraph from first to second to third choice and be clear about why you have ordered them in that way.
This is the most crucial section because after all is said is done they want to know how Chevening will help you become the leader your country needs. They want to see that you understand that a Chevening Scholarship is not a one way ticket to leave your country behind and start afresh in the UK! If you sound even in the least bit unconvincing about this, you can forget seeing that scholarship. This essay is where a lot of people trip up and end up losing out on one of the best opportunities one can ever get. It’s the most crucial section yes, but it’s not the most difficult. Why do I say this? Because this is the opportunity you get to flex and really show off the amazing ideas and plans that you have for your community and for your country. No one can invalidate your dreams as long as you are perfectly clear about
- The leadership element that this scholarship will afford you to continue to do the work you are already doing
- The networking opportunities that being a part of the Chevening community will give you to further your dreams and ambitions
- The way in which the work the UK government is doing in your country is aligned to your proposed field of study and how this will enhance cooperation between the two countries
- The quantifiable impact that your study will have on groups of people back home (this is important because they want you to see the trickle-down effect your studies will have on other people)
After you have done all you can to write your perfect essays, I strongly suggest showing them to a couple of people(especially previous scholars) who can proofread your work, offer structural advice and help polish your answers. Never be arrogant enough to think you know it all and don’t need the help of anyone else to succeed; this is the surest way to fail, I can attest to that. Have a small support team of people who will you cheer you on, who will read and critique your work, pray with you and drive you to the airport when you finally begin the second phase of the journey to the UK J
Finally, being the kind of leader that Chevening is looking for is not something you can make up on paper, it has to be sincere and come from the depths of your heart. If it does, you will find this process to be long yes, but not hard, and you will do everything that you possibly can to ensure that your dreams and passions and vision come to life. Good Luck, and may you soon be #chosenforchevening.
*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.