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If you’re planning to do your Masters in the UK as an international student, chances are you’ve already heard of the Chevening scholarship. The UK government’s international award scheme is highly prestigious due to its competitive selection process. My cohort (2018-2019) had over 68,000 applicants from 168 countries, but only 1,800 of us made it! Chevening scholars attain academic and professional growth, extensive networking opportunities, the UK cultural experience, and lasting positive relationships with the UK. And we get to join an exclusive alumni network! How cool is that?
The selection process takes roughly a year, and comprises application, interview, conditional offer, final award and pre-departure briefing stages. I won’t lie, the process will demand exceptional mental and emotional strength, but don’t let that deter you from this life-changing opportunity.
Personally I’m glad I went through the process, and I am now enjoying my Masters here in the UK. If you’re thinking of applying yourself, here are some tips from my experience!
Chevening wants you to use the knowledge you gain in the UK to give back to your home country, not just to advance your own career.
Remember that scholars carry the reputation of Chevening and their home countries, so they are encouraged to look beyond themselves. That’s why we cannot apply to remain in the UK immediately after our studies (instead, we’re expected to return home and work for at least two years).
You’d be surprised how many people overlook this obvious requirement. You’ll need at least two years’ work experience and an undergraduate degree equivalent to an upper second-class 2:1 honours degree in the UK.
Don’t forget to check admission criteria when browsing courses and universities, as it helps to apply to these at the same time. Note that some universities may also charge non-refundable application fees.
The Foreign Commonwealth Office releases a timeline for the selection process each year. Follow them on social media (@CheveningFCDO) so you don’t miss out on vital information. You must be physically present at certain stages (e.g. interview and pre-departure briefing) so it’s best to keep travel plans in check.
You can either choose to apply to three similar courses at different universities, or three different courses at one university. Any recognised UK university and course is fine, provided it is a one-year taught postgraduate course which leads to a Masters degree. You cannot change your choices later on, so this is your one chance to pick something that matches your development goals.
The essays you’re asked to write will be an important part of your application. Think about what you want to say and believe in yourself! I had initially contemplated applying for public policy and governance instead of journalism, but I quickly realised I could not convince myself that the subject was the best choice for me. If you cannot convince yourself of the justifications you are making in your essays, how can you convince the selection panel?
For essays that stand out, explore other potential angles on a topic instead of stating the obvious. In the leadership section of my essays, the easy route would have been to talk about my leadership skills and how I benefited from them. Instead I highlighted how good leadership can inspire and contribute to human capital development. Draw on your experiences where need be but keep examples short and let the word limit steer you to be concise. For after-study plans, it may help to refer to the UK’s efforts in your home country that are aligned to your field of study.
The folks at Chevening want to know who you are as a person, not just your qualifications and career plans. Never get someone else to write your essays because your interview session will revolve around the points you made in them. Beware using repetitive answers as well. It’s easy to fall into this trap as the essay questions are related to each other. Instead, work your essays in such a way that they complement each other, and have a coherent flow.
It’s easier to justify courses in a field of study that you are already involved in, but Chevening doesn’t stop you from choosing a different course from your current career path. If you’re making the switch, you must explain why this is beneficial to your future and how you expect to cope. Talk about your academic / professional background and mention relevant experiences that led you to this decision.
Many applicants choose one academic and one professional referee, but it’s fine to provide two professional ones instead. I approached two bosses who I believed knew me better than professors who might not recall some kid they taught many years ago. Contact your referees when filing your application because if you make it to the interview stage, the referral letters must be submitted before your interview date.
I’m of little help here, since I was exempted from this requirement. What I do know is that you must provide proof of language qualifications (unless exempted) as part of three required documents within a set deadline to secure a full award. If you’re putting off taking the language qualification exams until after the conditional offer, plan well so you can get the results before deadline.
As with all other applications, do not leave anything until the eleventh hour. The online application system can slow down badly as the deadline approaches, so try to get things sorted well ahead of time. This year, the deadline is Tuesday 3 November 2020.
If you need more guidance, I’d suggest you keep an eye out for Chevening workshops. In some countries, the British embassy hosts workshops featuring past scholars and guest speakers. I attended one in Malaysia, where I learned more insider tips on what makes a successful Chevening application. I hope you find these tips helpful, and please don’t be put off applying for the Chevening because the prize is worth the fight. Good luck!
Editor's note: This blog was first published on 08/02/19. We've checked and updated it for current readers.
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A free postgraduate qualification is not the only benefit of a Chevening Scholarship.
Chevening Scholarships enable outstanding emerging leaders from all over the world to pursue one-year Masters degrees in any subject at any UK university.
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