The Commonwealth Scholarship is one of Great Britain’s earliest international scholarships. It currently has over 27, 000 alumni, since its inception in 1959. It has over 6 different categories ranging from master programs to postdoctoral research fellowships.
Whereas Chevening—the more popular British Government scholarship for international students founded in 1983, deals with the leadership and networking potentials of the prospective scholars, the Commonwealth Scholarship concentrates on the demonstrated track record of academic excellence as well as the potential home country benefit of the applicant’s chosen program. The Commonwealth Scholarship in contrast to Chevening is not open to every country, but only to the 53 member countries that make up the commonwealth. Furthermore, whilst applicants compete nationally for a Chevening award, applicants compete globally for a Commonwealth Scholarship. Both scholarships have the same sponsors and very similar award entitlements.
There are two to three platforms under the Commonwealth Scholarship Commission (CSC) where eligible applicants may apply for a Masters scholarship. These are: The Commonwealth (Masters) Scholarship; the Commonwealth Shared Scholarship; and the Commonwealth Distance Learning Scholarship. Application procedures are pretty much the same, saving only that, in the first, selection is overseen by individual nominating agencies or government ministries in the applicant’s home country; while they are overseen by participating UK universities in the latter two. Other differences are that, while there would be an interview to determine final awardees in the first, there will be no such interview in the latter two. More so, application to multiple schools are permissible in the latter two categories but not in the first case.
Success in any category of the Commonwealth Scholarships depend to a large extent on your class of degree, academic track record, impressive personal statement, demonstrable benefit to your home country due to the chosen program, strong recommendations, and some argument to show that you’re not able to fund an education on your own in the UK without assistance. Here are a few key things to note:
1. Track Record of Academic Excellence. Being on this scholarship myself, I could tell you conclusively that most of my colleagues, say 85 percent are scholars who have either a first class honours or second class upper degree. A few doctors, pharmacists and other professionals who have unclassified degrees or who have second class lower degrees are more often than not in the minority. So what contributes to a strong academic profile would include:
– A good class of degree with high CGPA (3.5 and above)
– Academic laurels
– Excellent undergrad dissertation
– Relevant research, publications and practical experience
– Academic seminars and conferences
– A good IELTS score (not strictly)
Those who show a good standing in these areas are usually one step ahead in the applicant pool. If your class of degree is lower than a 2:2, this scholarship may not be the best fit for you. You may need to redirect your energy towards other leadership, extracurricular or need based scholarships in the UK, US or Canada e.g. Chevening, World Bank, African Leaders Scholarships etc. There is a scholarship for everyone on earth, no matter what your profile may be.
It is often the biggest platforms awarding scholarships that get the most publicity and whose names are well known. This creates the impression, albeit false, that there is a paucity of scholarship awarding bodies, and the fear that with so many applicants it must be impossible to breakthrough. This is far from the truth. There are over 10,000 organisations in Europe and the Americas awarding scholarships. Many of them in fact, have difficulty finding enough applicants. The key is to make your research and find the platform most suited to your personal realities.
2. Impressive Personal Statement. A friend on another scholarship platform shared with me what he believed were tips for constructing excellent motivation statements. In his opinion, focus on linking your career objectives to the intended outcome of the program. Ensure you paint a picture of what the problem has been in your community/country/continent, and show that you remain passionate about addressing them. Illustrate how your personal/academic/professional trajectory have 1. Aided you in identifying the said problems 2. Equipped you to solve some of them and the quantifiable impacts of these interventions 3. Show how the chosen program will further empower you to address the gaps and problems yet persisting. Be pin-point specific and factual. Play a little with statistics, to reinforce your arguments if needed/available. Ensure that your writing is coherent and that the paragraphs link up to one another. Make your story compelling; tell it with emotion by revealing aspects of your personality and driving convictions. Nevertheless, do not invent stories where they do not exist, they always come back to haunt you. Use action rather than passive verbs. Whilst your opening statement should be captivating, your concluding paragraph should be a summary of your interests in the programme, as well as your need for a scholarship.
Having said this, objectively speaking, there is no one best way to write a personal statement. A particular successful approach on one platform, may fail on another. This is why you should avoid submitting one SOP to all platforms. Ensure that the SOP is addressing the essay prompts for the particular school or award where given. Also note that, high CGPAs are not guarantee for selection. A lot still rises and falls on the SOP.
3. Strong Recommendations. You must choose referees who can write tender, strong, detailed, realistic and balanced recommendations on your behalf. Never choose a referee who knows so little about you and may only write two lines. A letter of reference is the place to compensate your weak areas and give yourself the competitive advantage that can make you stand out. Your essays, resume and the interview are simply not enough to help you close the deal. The selection committee would be looking for a third party validation of your entire story. An effective reference letter is one written by a referee who is a champion of the candidate, have worked closely with him/her and has a clear understanding of the unique personal, academic or professional attributes the candidate brings to the table. The letter should state in what capacity the referee knows the candidate and for how long as well as his academic aptitude, the relationship of the candidate’s current or prior work to the chosen program, his work ethic, motivation, unique personal characteristics. Finally, it should state assurances that the candidate will distinguish him/herself on the said program.
Do not simply go for title alone. Avoid using a CEO or professor who can barely remember your name because their recommendations will offer a dystopian view of your potentials and unique differentiating personal attributes. Instead, choose those with whom you have an active relationship with, and who feel strongly about you even if they don’t have big titles. You will need three referees for the Commonwealth Scholarships and they needn’t have professional emails. References are uploaded by the chosen referees themselves.
In conclusion, you may need to go into a bit more detail about your academic laurels, prior work, internships, associations, publications (if any), professional certifications and a rich catalogue of your work experience as contrasted to Chevening. This is because, although these items may not strictly be as weighty as the SOP and class of degree, depending on the quality of the applicant pool, selection can boil down to these addendum.
Whereas a proportion of Cheveners turn out to become national and global leaders, Commonwealth Scholars have tended more to becoming reputable national/global academics. Many applicants usually apply to both. Therefore, while you await the result of your Chevening application, get busy with your Commonwealth applications if you’re eligible. It would at least distract you from the “status syndrome”.
Happy New Year!
*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.