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Thursday 10 December 2020

International Student: How to Write a Winning Scholarship Essay

Last week, I wrote about why you should pursue your Masters degree in the UK.  A common question I got asked was how to obtain scholarship or funding for the Masters programme. I've given bits of advice regarding this in the past. But today, I've decided to just pen down all I say to people for easy access.

I'm a beneficiary of a few scholarships. First, I attended secondary school on a full scholarship by the Federal Government of Nigeria covering tuition, boarding, feeding, uniforms and exercise books. Then in 2016, I won the Developing Solutions Masters Scholarship offered by the University of Nottingham. This scholarship covered my full tuition which was £21,200. 

My husband has also benefitted from scholarships. He was a recipient of the Total Nigeria National Merit Scholarship award at undergraduate level and The Global Scholarship Award worth £10,000 which covered part of the tuition for his Masters programme. 

Some scholarships require that you write exams - my secondary school scholarship and husband's undergraduate scholarship. Others require short essays. For my Masters scholarship, I answered the following questions:

  • Why have you chosen to study this academic programme?
  • Why the University of Nottingham?
  • Why should the panel select you?
  • How will it benefit you and your country?

And a question about my future career ambition.

Before I get to the tips on writing a winning essay, let me give you some general advice on getting a scholarship for your study.

1.  Do not put all your eggs in one basket. Apply to as many scholarships as you can find. Don't only apply for the popular scholarships like Commonwealth and Chevening, apply to the unpopular ones as well. Check the funding page of the school you want to apply to study for any scholarships you might be eligible for.

2. Start early so that you can meet up with deadlines. Many scholarships have early closure dates. Apply to the school early. Many of the scholarships require you to secure an admission before you are eligible to apply. Since you are not sure how long the admission process might take, apply early so that you would have obtained your offer letter before the scholarship deadline.

3. Find out the application requirements early and begin to gather them. For my Masters scholarship, I needed to write IELTS because some of the scholarships required it. Also, I needed to obtain the transcript for my undergraduate degree. These processes could take their own time, hence the need to start early.

Now to the tips that helped me write my own essay.

How to write a winning Masters scholarship essay 

1.  Do your research. Read about the school, the course you want to study, look at the modules, talk to students of the school. Your reason for choosing the school is not just because they offer scholarships. Think about why you would choose that school if you got the same scholarship opportunity in two other schools

2.   Tell a personal story. This appeals to the emotional side of the judges. My approach to my essays was not just academic. I told the story about how I am really passionate about public health because of the lack of health information and proper health seeking behaviours, saying for instance, how during the Ebola epidemic in Nigeria my own mom advised me that a salt bath would prevent infection. Be authentic though.

3.  Show passion through your experience. Start building your portfolio now by getting involved in significant events happening around the area you want to study. I had applied and got into the Regional Leadership Centre in Accra, Ghana for the Young Africa Leaders Initiative (YALI). When I attended YALI, I had not yet planned on applying for a Masters but when I started applying, I used that experience to show my passion for Africa, development and leadership. So before you even start thinking of a Masters programme, you could get involved in projects, seek volunteering or leadership opportunities, or fellowships in the area of your passion. I know a colleague who had done some community development projects during his National Youth Service year and had pictures where he received award for this. This was what he used in his application to get a 100% tuition scholarship. In my husband's case, he used to run a career mentoring organisation for secondary school students alongside his regular job.

4.    Show passion through education. I had done some free online courses on global health and public health. If you have not studied the course at undergraduate level, show your interest by taking courses and attending conferences.

5. Understand the goal of the scholarship body and answer in those lines. For Developing Solutions it was to make a difference in the development of your home country. So I had to show passion for development of Africa.

6.    Proofread. Having errors in your essay does not speak of excellence.

7. Get other people to read. If possible connect with people who have previously succeeded in getting that scholarship.  

I hope these few points are useful for you in your journey. Do not let the lack of finances stop you from pursuing your educational goals. Scholarships are largely available and you CAN win.

Please leave a comment if this post has been useful to you and come back next week for a new post on funding accommodation and living expenses. 

What else would you like me to write about? Feel free to contact me at chidiogoradiant@gmail.com


Radiant ~ December 2020


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