Chevening Scholarship: Tips to submit strong application, ace interview

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Thousands of students from India travel to the UK every year to study at some of the world’s best universities. Nearly 1,18,000 student visas were issued to Indian nationals in the year ending June 2022 – more than any other country. The UK’s compelling art, history and heritage, literature, great outdoors, sports and a culture that welcomes people of all nationalities and beliefs, make it a dream destination.

For a chosen few, this dream is backed by the fully-funded Chevening Scholarships, the UK Government’s international scholarships programme enabling future leaders from all over the world to pursue a one-year master’s degree in the UK. The scholarship covers the tuition fee in its entirety, accommodation, travel, medical insurance, visa, and living costs. Previous scholars have said that, if managed well, the stipend is generous enough to fund weekend travel across the UK.

Each year, Chevening awardees include 1,500 scholars from around 160 countries. India alone offers up to 100 awards, making it the largest programme in the world. Networks, bonds and shared reminiscences of the cohort make the Chevening experience more than just a master’s degree. The academically challenging-yet-fulfilling year with opportunities to experience the culture in the UK, provides the perfect environment for students to flourish and learn.

Preparation is key to giving yourself the best chance of being awarded the scholarship. The online application and the interview are pivotal to cracking Chevening. The competition is undoubtedly tough, but that shouldn’t stop anyone from applying, so let’s first dispel a few myths:

Myth#1: “Chevening is only for those from premiere institutions in big cities”

The truth is, it is for the best and the brightest. In the last few years, over 40% of the selected scholars from India have come from smaller towns not metro cities; they are often first generation learners in their families and represent marginalised communities. And I’m proud to say, almost 50% of the cohort are women.

Myth#2: “One needs an offer from a university first”

Selecting and mentioning the right courses in the right universities is an important aspect of the application and the choices are countless – with over 12,000 courses in over 150 universities to choose from. But, you don’t need an offer in hand while making your application. You will have nearly 6 months after writing your application to get an unconditional offer from one of the listed universities.

Myth#3: “Two years of full-time work experience is mandatory”

Chevening offers a lot of flexibility. Work experience can be completed before, during, or after graduating and includes part-time work, paid and unpaid internships or volunteering. Applicants can list as many as 10 different employment experiences to meet the number of hours needed.

Myth#4: “Preferred area of study must match work experience/graduation”

These don’t necessarily have to match. As an example, many engineers and lawyers as Chevening scholars are pursuing a degree in development studies and other courses in liberal arts.

Myth#5: “Need to hire professionals to write the essays”

The essays need to be honest and authentic, so no one can write them better than you. Keep the language simple. The assessors will spot work done by others and you’re much better off telling your own story, in your own words.

Tips on submitting a strong application

#1 Take your time: Do not rush the application and do not wait till the last minute to submit. A technical glitch or a power failure at your end will be extremely disappointing – and is not uncommon. Read and re-read the application before submitting. Getting any of the pre-screening questions wrong will result in rejection in the first stage itself.

#2 Make your application stand out: The essays are critical and tell your story, so keep them personal, not generic. Reflect on your journey so far, and what you hope to achieve beyond the scholarship. Share examples of your leadership and networking skills with the impact they had on the lives of others. Include instances of relationships built with people of different cultures and countries.

#3 Research the universities/courses: Choose your three courses carefully. You will not be able to change your course choices after submitting your application unless you are granted permission to do so at the interview stage. Even so, the courses can only be changed slightly since they are the focus of some of your essays.

#4 Transforming the lives of others: It is expected you will use the knowledge you gain in the UK to not just advance your own career but give back to your home country. Move beyond the ‘I, me and myself’ when tackling the essay on your career plan. A good idea, for example, is to link your goals with your country’s priorities.

#5 Choose your referees wisely: References are an integral part of the selection process. You must provide the names of two referees when you submit your application. Referees should be known to you, either in an academic or professional capacity and they should know you well too.

Being shortlisted for an interview is half the battle won and you are in the top 10% of applicants – now just a step away from the award…

Tips to acing the interview

#1 Tell us about yourself: A clichéd start but almost always baffles when time is of the essence. You will get two minutes, so prepare beforehand. Begin with your biggest achievement and keep good time.

#2 Be yourself: Speak from your heart, be honest and let your enthusiasm shine through. Groundwork is central but everything must not be scripted, so go with the flow and let the panel know you are driven and passionate about your plans – it is always appreciated.

#3 Read your application: You will be asked a series of questions on the information you provided in the application form. The panel will ask you to explain your personal and professional aspirations, and how Chevening can facilitate your achievement of these goals. Your course choices will also be discussed and you will be asked to provide an update on your application.

#4 Research the UK: Chevening is about more than just the degree and exploring the culture and the country is encouraged. Don’t shy away from the question on how you would spend your weekends. Studying and other related answers are often obvious; research the UK and go beyond the run-of-the-mill.

#5 Listen and keep good time: The interview lasts for roughly 30-minutes. Every answer is scored, so listen carefully, ask for clarifications if required, and take a moment to structure your answer. Try to answer exactly what was asked and keep your answers brief. Ask the panel questions – it shows you are prepared and interested. The process of selecting Chevening scholars takes nearly eight months from the application deadline to when applicants are conditionally selected for an award. Applications for Chevening open from early-August to early-November every year. The shortlisted candidates are interviewed in March/April of the following year and awards are announced by mid-June. Selected scholars travel to the UK in September/October.

The selection process is demanding but don’t let that stop you from applying for this life-transforming scholarship. All the best and I look forward to reading your application for the Chevening Scholarship!

The author is Head of Chevening Scholarships for India at the British High Commission in New Delhi.





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