Defining your course choices



By M.G.


  • Outline why you have chosen your three university COURSES.
  • Relate those choices to your ACADEMIC or PROFESSIONAL BACKGROUND and to your FUTURE PLANS.

The above are the essay prompts for addressing the career choice essay. Unless your essay clearly and convincingly answers these questions, you may be unsuccessful—even though the other three essays may just be perfect.

Recall that one of our past articles titled, Universities Part One: Selection, addressed how to research and choose your intended Universities and to some extent—your intended courses. This article deals with how to choose what to write in the actual essay stressing the “why?” of both your course and university choices.

The application for a Chevening award is a marathon and not a sprint. It takes months of committed research and careful execution to yield the desired results. Devoting appropriate time and resources to each stage of the process will set you up for the interviews. Nowhere else is the lazy investigation skills and carelessness of the average applicant evident than in the career choice essay. Doing well in this segment requires insight, and insight is a product of extensive research. Many applicants pass this segment off like it’s just another essay—one that they believe to not nearly be as important as the leadership or networking essays. The assessors will put a hefty premium on this segment nonetheless. They want to see whether you take the interest in letting them know how much you want to study certain courses and why certain universities, and why the UK?

The following are the questions you must bear in mind as you begin addressing the above essay prompts:

  • What courses are you applying to? You will need to mention them one after the other instead of lumping them under generic clichés like, “my chosen programs will equip me with skills in business management, marketing, corporate finance and entrepreneurial skills”.
  • Why study only this course? Are your academic and professional backgrounds as well as your future goals in sync with the chosen programs?
  • What are the course modules that are challenging yet interesting to you? Which ones will particularly address your current knowledge and skills gap?
  • How will the mode of instruction in these schools suit your learning needs?
  • Are there any professors you’d like to work with and why? Are they engaged in any project or research you’d love to be a part of?
  • Do you have any innovative/creative concepts that are original to you—something you’d like to research that will contribute to the understanding, teaching, and implementation of this chosen fields of knowledge?
  • How much and what kind of experience do you already have in this field? Use technical jargons moderately to demonstrate your insight.
  • If you’ve got quite some experience in the field, what additional skill-set are you looking forward to acquiring from the Degree?
  • Which skill-set are you bringing to the table?
  • What are your expectations from both the program and your chosen school?
  • Are you in touch with any previous alumnus or current student in the program?
  • Do you have any idea what the student life and culture is, at this chosen institutions? How might you fit in?
  • How do you intend to promote your university’s common good during your studies and postgraduation?
  • Why the UK?

Do well to write down the answers to these questions separately before starting to write your essay.

Now here comes the daunting challenge: You will need to address these questions for all three chosen and university choices you have made; and that, in just 500 words.

Dedicate one paragraph each to your three different universities, and mention them by names. Please do not be tempted to use a bland template or copy and paste segments from previous applications written either for other scholarships or to other schools. Customize your answers for every school mentioned. This is one of the biggest mistakes applicants make, that is, to simply change the relevant names and program title while maintaining a bland and generic write-up. This portrays laziness and poor investigation skills. That the courses are quite similar is no license for you to be generic or to lump things together, because every university is different, has different ideals, different approach, different strengths, different weaknesses, and different characteristics that define them.

You will need to bear these differences in mind and customize your statement accordingly. You must convince the assessors that you will fit into each particular program (and this segment of the essays is your only opportunity to do that). Mere changes in name and details won’t suffice. You should be thorough with the details of the universities you’re applying to, and write down all the things you like about each university before starting to write.

Again, avoid generic clichés like “I would love to join your Institution because of its global reputation” or “I would like to study here because of its research intensity”. NO! That’s not the way. The assessors probably already know how reputable and research-intensive those Institutions are. Get down to specifics. What exactly do you love about them, that you so badly would want to be there? Even if it is their research intensity, which ones? Can you site one or two? Can you name a professor involved in the study? Let me make something up to provide an example:

“I am aware of your ultramodern Amina Obasanjo research laboratories. The fact that it uses the back slab for blood culture and other microbiological specimen analysis will prove helpful for my studies in molecular biology. The fact also, that unfettered access is guaranteed to researchers into such labs 24 hours a day, will afford me the opportunity to work in the labs day and night without restriction”.


“I especially want to study Global Health under Prof. Angelina Rodriguez PhD at XYZ University, as I have been an avid follower and admirer of her work in the field of global health; a field wherein I plan to do my research study focusing on the global health impacts of climate change. I will be more than honored to have her tutor me and guide me being one of the leading researchers in this field, and also perhaps earn a spot in her research team”.

Or even:

“The University of QRS offers ‘the International Health Policy Geneva’ study tour module. These tours will provide me with the skills requisite for dealing with international organizations and strengthening cross-national ties. This will be invaluable for me, being a healthcare provider in humanitarian crises”.

And as a final example:

“The BXT module at the Einstein’s University will equip me with research competencies necessary for conducting independent research in the future at my home country. These transferable skills would be brought to bear in evaluating and designing intervention programs in the areas of ……………”

As much as it lies on you, let your chosen courses be in harmony. Do not be scattered. Do not choose for instance, a first course in Clinical Pharmacology; second choice – MSc. Interventional Neuroradiology; third choice – MBA in Healthcare Management. Although, these choices are within the faculty of Medicine and Clinical Sciences as well Health and Social Sciences, they call to question your judgement and will depict you as being unorganized and not so sure about what you want to do. This may be permissible only if you have a strong unifying story to connect these varied areas of interest, that is, if your previous studies, work experiences, and volunteerism cut across these sectors. Still, it would be better you find a program that unites some or all of your passionate interests in one. Perhaps choosing ONE Health for a candidate who is interested or has experiences in human medicine, environmental science and veterinary medicine. For example, I have a friend who got a scholarship in Canada to study ‘Advanced Civil Engineering and Public Policy’, a program that clearly unites his background in engineering with his desire to become a policy maker in the sector.

It is also best to have a harmonious choice of courses which fall within a department or at best a faculty of knowledge. E.g. International Health and Policy, Global Health and Management, and Applied Public Health. This can stand you out as someone who has identified his chosen career pathway and is focused and unflinching in his resolve. Nonetheless, it is also important to state that focus does not necessarily mean linearity: choosing the same programs in three different universities or choosing very similar programs with only slight changes in their titles at the same university. At worse, this too, can pass off as poor commitment and lazy investigation skills. The take home message is, be very focused and (or) have a unifying story where several skills and interests abound.

Final Thoughts:

For any segment of your essays to sell, it should have the following six attributes

  1. Captivating – The essay should capture the attention of the assessor. It should be memorable. A captivating essay will make the assessor remember your story even after reading thousands. It takes 30 seconds to make an impression. It takes 100 times as much time and effort to reverse it. Never start off on the wrong footing. Your essay is your opportunity to market yourself. To be captivating, you must weave into your essays – passion, personality, guts, insights, honesty and authenticity. (Please never stretch the truth in an attempt to be interesting. It is OK, to be normal and to write about ordinary things).
  2. Credible – Your story must be believable. Given your academic and professional background, is it reasonable to have chosen the courses you chose or the schools? Is it reasonable to expect that you will attain your outlined career goals? Avoid highfalutin and unrealistic aspirations. While your vision has to be big enough to warrant your chosen program to get there, it has to be feasible. For example, saying that your program will enable you become the Mark Zuckerberg of Africa but having little evidence of ICT passion and skills will leave the assessor in doubt of your sense of judgement and reality. This doesn’t mean you cannot become anything you want. The challenge is, at the level of application, you have got to show that your chosen program is sensible and your goals realistic.
  3. Compelling – Be consistent! Be coherent!  This is an area where many applicants derail: they write essays devoid of a unifying theme. You want to do an MBA, then you want study Environmental Conservation and Sustainable Energy. Next, you’d also like to study International Human Rights. Do not be tempted to put all of your experiences into what you write except you can relate each one to the chosen course and to your career goals. Quality is always better than quantity.
  4. Clarity – Unclear essays are quickly discarded, because the assessor will be unable to isolate the overriding theme of your write-up. Clarity entails addressing the who, where, what, when, how, why, and so what (impact) of what you’re writing about. What is the program? What is its uniqueness? Where will you be studying? Why there? So what? If you study there? What will be your gains? What will you be contributing? By using this guide you can eliminate unnecessary aspects of the story, thus presenting a clear picture of your motivation in your essays. Write formally and avoid abbreviations unless previously explained.
  5.  Concise – This is also related to clarity. Get to the point quickly, so the reader can get a clear message of your story. Please always adhere to the word count. Do not try to be smart by collapsing single words into compound words or using hyphen or slashes unnecessarily. It is important to use an outline rather than setting off writing just about anything that comes into mind. Of course, revisions cannot be overemphasized. One of my previous successful scholarship applications was revised 16 times before the final draft. Behind everything outstanding, there’s an outstanding effort! Good luck.


*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), its partner organizations or any scholarship awarding institution. 



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