Universities Part 2: Applying

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By: T.A.

As with the first part of this post, I will start of by reiterating the importance and need for research and hard work that ultimately, no one can do for you and I can’t stress enough the importance of it. Not just in the context of selecting and applying for universities, but throughout the application process as most of the time you may be talented but so are other applicants, the difference between success and failure often boils down simply to preparedness and who put in more effort.

  1. APPLICATION

The Partner University Myth

I have found this question come up time and time again…No, YOU DO NOT NEED TO APPLY TO A CHEVENING PARTNER UNIVERSITY TO BE ELIGIBLE FOR A CHEVENING AWARD… To be eligible for Chevening your course must be:

  • At ANY UK university
  • A Full Time masters course
  • Taught (NOT research)
  • Duration between 9 and 12 months, no more, no less
  • NO FEE LIMIT (except MBA which should not exceed £18,000)

Partner universities have some additional awards available where the university covers full tuition fee apart from the usual awards where they fund 20% (applicable to any university in UK if you are offered a Chevening award), so please stop worrying about if it’s a partner or not and go to the universities with the perfect course for your career plan (visit part I of this article for university choice advice https://thescholarsjourney.wordpress.com/2017/06/14/universities-part-one-selection/)

Application fees

Some universities require application fees which can vary between £25 and £150 pounds and without payment of which your application will not be processed. Chevening will neither cover nor reimburse this fee so it is your sole responsibility as an applicant to cover it and often universities will not waiver this because you intend to apply for a scholarship, unlike the tuition deposit fee (discussed later in this post).

Before applying, find out whether your university has an application fee, how much it is and how it can be paid. Ideally, you should make this part of your university research when selecting because if you are too broke to afford the application fee and can’t source it from a third party, or have the money but are simply a cheapskate who isn’t willing to spend money to possibly get rejected then cut your losses early on and decide on another university which has no application fees.

Application fees are paid in British pounds and can usually be paid through Western Union, Debit or Credit card or Bank transfer. Different universities may offer you only one of these methods or a choice out of them all. As with everything else concerned to The Scholar’s Journey, do your research on this and prepare for it well….if it is by bank transfer, does the bank you have an account in permit you to make foreign transactions and if yes what are the procedures and requirements? Find out and get that ready. What is the exchange rate between the pound and your currency? Find out what it has been on average in recent months and save a little over the required amount bearing in mind that exchange rates fluctuate and might be higher when you finally apply than when you were doing your homework and of course there may be exorbitant bank charges.

This list is by no means complete and exhaustive, but from research with other Chevening hopefuls and online resources, I have found the following universities have application fees on some specific courses or all courses:

  • London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE)
  • University of South Wales
  • University of Nottingham
  • University College London (UCL)
  • University of Warwick
  • University of Bath
  • Durham University
  • University of Manchester
  • University of Cambridge
  • University of Oxford
  • Imperial College London
  • SOAS, University of London
  • University of Edinburgh
  • University of Surrey

Timing of applications

Applying early helps you to be less stressed, affords you flexibility in choice and feel less pressured. So if you can, apply to universities at the same time you are applying for Chevening (as they suggest) or even before rather than to apply only when shortlisted or after interview or worse, after results are announced and risk losing the scholarship due to no offers!

In addition to this, an offer is considered an ASSET by the Chevening selection committee during ANY stage of selection, so having an offer over another applicant without one may give you an advantage. Moreover, if you applied to universities and get rejected before you have submitted your application, it means you can change the courses before submission and if you apply before interviews to several schools you MAY be able to negotiate with the interview panel to swap out a school that rejected you for one that accepted you. In contrast, if you apply after interviews and all your schools reject you, you are pretty much in big trouble.

A lot of the higher ranked universities accept applications on a rolling basis and have a set number of spots for a given course so it is almost ‘first come, first served’ (provided you have a good application) and will close to applications if they have filled their class, so you can have brilliant grades, great essays and relevant experience but if someone just as good or a little worse applied sooner, they may get that spot and you lose out. Also some universities set deadlines for applications e.g. Oxford and Cambridge take applications until around December/January only, then close to applications until the following year.

So early bird gets the worm. You lose nothing by applying early and only gain stress-free time waiting for Chevening results while others stress over applying.

References

References WILL be required by ANY university you apply to. This is irrefutable and there are no two ways about it. Some will require one reference and some will require 2. Some may accept ONLY academic reference while others will accept professional references as well so you can have one of each or 2 of either professional or academic. Personally I recommend having both if you have worked because it gives a more balanced view of you –the student and the professional.

So if you had dreams of applying to a UK university ninja-style with no one from work or your past university finding out, dream on.

Academic References

If you are anything like me, you were class president, the most talkative of the lot and whose absence in class was missed and you participated in many extra-curricular activities, were popular on campus and lecturers love you, remember you and you still keep in touch… but seriously, and bragging moment aside… it is good to keep in touch with your lecturers after graduating as they come in handy for situations such as this and many others (issue for another day)…but if you haven’t kept in touch, don’t despair. Do so now:

  1. Try to get in touch with your references early, the earlier the better. Hopefully your lecturers remember you because you stood out somehow (for a good reason I am hoping), and if they don’t the more reason to remind them early on as they are unlikely to be willing to provide a glowing recommendation for someone they don’t remember AND got in touch with them last minute. Contact your referees a few months before you intend to apply, reintroducing yourself if necessary, reminding them of how you know them or your achievements, what you are currently doing, stating your intent to apply to universities and scholarships, which ones they are, around when you hope to apply and politely ask if they would be willing to be your reference and if you will be applying to many universities/scholarships, make this clear at the beginning and apologize in advance so the lecturer knows what they are getting into so they are not annoyed when they get an email requesting a reference in your name from the 15th university or you don’t feel bad about asking for the 9th reference letter in a short space of time.

A sample would look a little like this

Dear so and so.  I hope this email finds you and yours well? I am such and such who was in your Plant Pathology and Entomology classes in 3rd year and graduated in xyz year. I hope you remember me? I was the best graduating student in horticulture in that year.  Since I graduated, I have been working at xyz as xyz and the knowledge I gained from my bachelors have been invaluable to me in this position but in an ever more competitive market/in my desire to advance a career change into xyz I am thinking of pursuing an *insert generic or specific field of interest here* agribusiness related field at a UK university (specify if you know where) and applying for some scholarships available for this and for both admission and the scholarships I will require an academic reference and am writing to enquire into whether you would please accept to be my reference in this endeavor and to bear with me as, given the high competitiveness of scholarships and university admissions, I will be applying to many places to increase my probability of success? I intend to start applying in *state the month*. I look forward to a favorable response’

  1. Some lecturers are not reliable in their communication (old timers who don’t like their email) or some just don’t remember you and could care less for you so may not bother replying so try to contact 2 or 3 lecturers and if they all respond, the better, you can split the references between them for different applications
  2. Closer to the date you start applying or will be submitting your applications, contact your lecturer again, reminding them and informing them that you are now applying so that they keep an eye out for communications from universities requesting references. If possible, send this email IN RESPONSE TO THE ORIGINAL EMAIL REQUESTING REFERENCES so that your referee immediately remembers the issue from all those months ago and also that he COMMITTED to being your reference.
  3. Whenever you make a new reference request for a different place, read the guidelines and tell your lecturer what is expected of that reference. Tell him if it should be on headed paper, signed and stamped, what he is expected to talk about and if there is any particular achievement you would love for him to mention that may not immediately come to memory (e.g. a volunteering, academic or other award, extracurricular activity, if you were on the Dean’s list or top of your class etc.) because remember they probably get many reference requests so help your lecturer help you. However, the standard for references tend not to vary much and a lecturer can even write you one generic one that you can use interchangeably to many places.

Also if your university is nearby e.g. in the same town where you work or not far off and you can make the time, go and see your lecturers personally for that first discussion. It can have a huge impact.

Professional references

Striking a balance between self-development and serving your employer is incredibly difficult. This is especially true if you work in the private sector. All I can say to you is have no fear and never put an institution’s goals above your own when likely if the roles were reversed, they wouldn’t blink about, for example, making a decision to lay-off or retrench x percentage of employees to cut their losses. Passion doesn’t put food on the table but failing to pursue further education that could possibly gain you a more fulfilling (in whatever way) job in the name of job stability which frankly isn’t so stable in most sectors lately with the global economic crisis is honestly just irresponsible on your part.

So your boss may not take it well that you want to go to school full-time for a period. Maybe because he is scared the qualification threatens his position or means he will lose an asset (you) to another employer as you upgrade your job market value, whatever the case, your boss is likely the last person you want to know that you are thinking of (even temporarily) jumping ship, so what do you do?

Well I have good news for you my boss-cowardly friends…professional references do not need to come from your direct boss or line manager. They can come from a peer (i.e. someone working at the same level as you), someone more senior than yourself but whom you do not answer to directly, a previous employer or someone from your professional activities that are not your job e.g. a professional body you belong to or an organization you volunteer for. The key thing is to identify someone you can TRUST to keep your plans hush until things work out and you need to have an official discussion with management about leaving to study. No one can be fully trusted of course but younger managers tend to be your best bet, they tend to understand the value of pursuit of education and tend to not have the mindset that one must be a tree with roots in the institutions destined to never ever leave and just die there. Managers who are relatively new to the company and haven’t been there forever are also a good bet but this is not set in stone. Go for people you are on friendly terms with, can trust and seem to have your best interest at heart.

As for contacting them, the same goes for the guides of contacting your academic reference – let them know a couple of months before then closer to the date and what they are expected to write – although you probably don’t need to do it via email (which can be forwarded to anybody you work with who you do not want to know your business). You can simply call and ask to see them and discuss it.

How References are submitted

References may be submitted in one of two ways:

  1. By you (the applicant) uploading a pdf that your reference would have given you onto the application portal.
  2. By the university contacting your reference for an email or portal submission directly from them.

Note that some universities give you a choice between the two but some will only accept one of these formats so please:

  1. Choose referees with consistent access to email and familiarity with the internet. Sometimes your application becomes void simply because your referees don’t respond to the university’s requests and your hard work goes to waste.
  2. MOST universities require that the email address of the referee be a professional one, i.e. .org, .co, .edu, .gov or .company name not personal e.g. gmail, hotmail, yahoo which you could just as easily open yourself under a different name and be your own reference and even if the university accepts personal email accounts, professional accounts always lend more credibility and all things being equal between you and another applicant, the quality and source of your reference may carry weight.

Lastly, lecturers and professionals are not obligated to provide you with references so when all is said and done, be polite and considerate enough to let them know of the outcome of your applications, good or bad, and thank them for their time. This can go a long way in building a good relationship as you may yet need them again in the future when applying to a PhD or a second masters or to reapply for the scholarship after failure so please, I beg, don’t be that ungrateful person who gets into schools, gets a scholarship, goes to the school, graduates, works or that person who doesn’t get it then like 4 or 5 years later wants references again. I know I would be upset and wouldn’t bother the second time around. A little courtesy can go a long way.

Statement of purpose

I will start by telling you what a statement of purpose is not:

  1. It is not a CV where you regurgitate your CV by converting it into paragraph format. The application portal would have probably already given you space to either upload your CV or to fill in your work experience: where you worked, for how long, your position and your duties
  2. It is not an academic profile. Once again the application has given you space to upload your transcript which details your courses and grades and a space to fill in you course, your university and your final grade
  3. It is not to be taken lightly.

So what then is a Statement of Purpose or Personal Statement?

 I see it as a window to your soul.

 It is an introduction of yourself to the admissions committee who have never met you, a summary of your academic and professional experience coupled with your passions, ambitions, what drives you and what has attracted you to a course and an institution, that shows them how a combination of factors make you the ideal candidate for a spot in their next academic class and not person xyz.

Virtually everyone applying has experience and has gone to school and possibly have more experience and better grades so what will give you competitive edge over other candidates is your story which is told in your statement.

So take your time with your personal statements, advertise yourself as much as possible and suck up to the school a little, show them you looked at the course and school in-depth beyond just say looking at rankings (mention the university’s research that interests you, the modules of your course, their alumni network, an extracurricular activity etc).

Lastly, have someone take a look at your essay, preferably two people, one close to you and one who isn’t, the opinion of the person who doesn’t know you very well being very important as they are getting a first impression because remember, the admissions people don’t know you either. Have them comment on the overall impression, clarity (if people need you to elaborate because something is not clear immediately then rephrase because the admissions committee won’t be able to clear the confusion with you) and grammar as poorly written essays can be wearisome to read and create a poor impression of your not taking the application seriously.

Good sources of inspiration include (plus millions of samples just one Google search away):

https://www.exeter.ac.uk/media/universityofexeter/careersandemployability/pdfs/pgstudy/pg_application_personal_statement_example.pdf

https://www.prospects.ac.uk/postgraduate-study/masters-degrees/personal-statements-for-postgraduate-applications

https://www.studential.com/personal-statement-examples/structural-engineering-personal-statement

https://www.thestudentroom.co.uk/wiki/Category:Postgraduate_Personal_Statements

Also, nothing ruins a good essay like grammar, so use this handy websites to check your essays from grammar, spelling, punctuation and comprehension:

http://www.hemingwayapp.com/

https://prowritingaid.com/

Waiting

First of all find out what the average waiting period for a certain university is as knowing the expectation makes it easier to cope than if the period is unknown and the period for different universities can range for anything from a few working days to 10 weeks and for certain medical subjects several months! You can usually find out on the university’s website or checking out forums on websites like https://www.thestudentroom.co.uk/ where people who have applied can tell you how long their answers took. No use freaking out two days after applying if the university takes 3 weeks to respond.

Second, distract yourself. Go on about daily life, think about other things, and focus on work, on hobbies, time with loved ones and personal time. Life shouldn’t stop because you are applying to universities.

If you can, don’t apply to your universities at the same time. Submit one then start on another. That way you are so busy working on an application, you don’t have time to think about the last one you applied to. Also, the earlier you apply, the less anxious you are likely to be.

Tuition fee deposits

If you are accepted into a university, a lot of the times it will require you to make a tuition fee deposit to firm your offer. The deposit is often for CAS purposes (a thing you need for VISA but that is a discussion for another post) and can vary anywhere between £500 and £3,000 pounds and often is non-refundable unless you get a scholarship which covers tuition so the school will give you your money back.

Chevening says two things which are a bit contradictory:

  1. Applicants should not enter into any financial agreements with universities until they are selected for scholarship
  2. Applicants are responsible for securing their offers and Chevening will not negotiate on their behalf

So what then do you do Chevening hopefuls?

  1. First try to negotiate with your university. That email asking you to make a hefty deposit at a time when you know Chevening results will not be out seems set in stone but in many cases it is not (I wish I knew that as I took out a bank loan because the language was like so threatening lol). If you email the university informing them that you are applying for Chevening and that results will be out by such and such a date and request exemption or that they extend the deadline on this basis they will likely accept
  2. Some universities are extremely competitive and will not give exemptions and will likely give your spot to the next best candidate. In this case it is your choice whether to risk it or not. How badly do you want to go to a certain school and how confident are you of getting Chevening? If your answer on both of these is positive then go ahead and pay it. No risk, no reward. If you get Chevening, you will likely get the money back and you can save it for your return home (or use it to party like a rock star in the UK lol?). If you don’t get Chevening, you can probably defer admission for the following year and reapply for Chevening with an offer in the bag. Or maybe you lost your money if you don’t get Chevening in that year and the following year you defer to, but at least you tried, don’t be too miserable, just imagine you got robbed. You will make that money and more someday in the future. So if you can afford it go for it. If you can’t afford it or just are not willing to take the risk, let the offer go, apply elsewhere where the fees can be exempt or have a late deadline (which you can find out on the university website or by mailing them ahead of your application enquiring)

Handling rejection

So your university has rejected you, now what?

Your ego and feelings may be bruised but don’t let it get you down, keep at it. What differentiates successful people from less successful ones is simply how often they are willing to pick themselves up when they are knocked down.

Don’t take it personally. UK education attracts students from ALL OVER THE WORLD, some of them geniuses as well as people from varying walks of life, some with more experience and others with heart wrenching stories that no admissions committee can turn down even if their grades are poor! So put out your best self, hope for the best but know that your best self may not always be enough and sometimes luck plays a role.

Who knows maybe if you had applied last year or next year with a different pool of applicants you would have stood out and gotten the place? But we are not in the past and not in the future so for now if one school rejects you cry a river, build a bridge then walk over it chin high and start applying to other schools. Reflect on what you can improve from the last application and ameliorate that. Your best WILL be enough for at least ONE school somewhere in the UK. Sometimes reaching your goals may mean compromising and going to a different school (if you are that hell bent on a particular school you can always go later for a second masters or PhD after improving your CV) so keep applying.

 *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.

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