Chevening Scholarship: tips for a 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 best universities in the world. Nearly 1,18,000 student visas were issued to Indian nationals in the year ending June 2022, more than any other country. Art, history and heritage, literature, outdoors, sports and culture that welcomes people of all nationalities and beliefs to the UK, make it a dream destination.

For a select few, this dream is supported by the Chevening Scholarships, the UK government’s international scholarship programme, which enables future leaders from around the world to undertake a one-year master’s degree in the UK. The scholarship covers full tuition, accommodation, travel, health insurance, visa and living costs. Previous scholars have said that, if managed well, the grant is generous enough to fund weekend trips to 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 program in the world. Cohort networks, bonds and shared reminiscences make the Chevening experience more than just a Masters. The academically challenging but rewarding year with opportunities to experience UK culture provides the perfect environment for students to thrive and learn.

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Preparation is key to giving yourself the best chance of receiving the scholarship. The online application and interview are critical to cracking Chevening. The competition is certainly tough, but that shouldn’t stop anyone from applying, so let’s dispel some myths first:

Myth no. 1: “Chevening is only for those from premier institutions in big cities”

The truth is, it’s for the best and the brightest. In recent years, more than 40% of India’s selected academics have come from smaller towns, not metropolitan cities; they are often first-generation learners in their families and represent marginalized communities. And I’m proud to say that almost 50% of the cohort is female.

Myth no. 2: “First you need an offer from a university”

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

Myth no. 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 graduation and includes part-time work, paid and unpaid internships or volunteering. Applicants may list up to 10 different work experiences to meet the required number of hours.

Myth no. 4: “Preferred field of study must match work experience/graduation”

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

Myth no. 5: “You need to hire professionals to write the essays”

Essays should be honest and authentic, so no one can write them better than you. Keep the language simple. Evaluators will spot work done by others and it’s much better if you tell your own story, in your own words.

Tips for sending a compelling application

#1 Take your time: Don’t rush your application and don’t wait until the last minute to submit it. A technical failure or power failure on your end will be very disappointing and not uncommon. Read and re-read the application before submitting it. Getting any of the prescreening questions wrong will result in rejection at the first stage.

#2 Make your app stand out: 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. Includes examples of relationships built with people from different cultures and countries.

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

#4 Transforming the lives of others: You are expected to use the knowledge gained in the UK not only to advance your own career, but to return to your home country. Go beyond “me, me, and myself” when approaching your career plan essay. 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 know you, either academically or professionally, and they should know you well.

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

Tips to pass the interview

#1 Tell us about yourself: A cliche start but almost always baffling when time is of the essence. You’ll have two minutes, so prepare ahead of time. Start with your biggest hit and have a good time.

#2 Be yourself: Speak from your heart, be honest and let your enthusiasm shine through. The basics are central, but not everything has to be programmed, so go with the flow and let the panel know you’re fired up and passionate about your plans; always appreciated.

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

#4 Research in the UK: Chevening is about more than just the degree and you are encouraged to explore the culture and the country. Don’t shy away from the question of how you’ll spend your weekends. The study and other related responses are often self-evident; research the UK and go beyond the mainstream.

#5 Listen and have a good time: The interview lasts approximately 30 minutes. Each answer is scored, so listen carefully, ask for clarification if necessary, and take a moment to structure your answer. Try to answer exactly what was asked and keep your answers short. Ask the panel questions – show you’re prepared and interested. The selection process for Chevening Scholars takes almost eight months from the application deadline until applicants are conditionally selected for an award. Applications for Chevening open from early August to early November each year. Shortlisted candidates are interviewed in March/April of the following year and awards are announced in 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-changing scholarship. All the best and I look forward to reading your Chevening Scholarship application!

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

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