Financial Aid and Scholarships

Talking to Lavanya, her passion for development and social impact was evident. While working with Bain and Company in India, Lavanya decided she wanted to explore and travel the world. She moved to Kenya to work at the World Bank, where she decided to pursue a Master’s – but required funding in order to fulfill her dream. She was awarded the Chevening Scholarship, a prestigious UK government programme which provides funding to emerging leaders who exhibit experience in leadership and working in developing countries, to study Public Policy at Oxford University. We asked Lavanya to share her tips on how she maximised her chances to win financial aid when applying for a Masters program.

Q. How did you go about researching scholarships?
 
A. I looked at multiple online portals which filter by degree/course, type and location, one example is www.scholars4dev.com. Private foundations and trust funds, such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Obama Foundation, also offer scholarship programmes.
 
Q. When did you start the process?
 
A. I started this process early in 2018 for the 2019-2020 academic year. Applications are usually available at least a year in advance of your start date. Most government run scholarship programmes have a lengthy selection process, so you should start doing your research well in advance. Apart from the general application essays, there will be additional essays which will require to explain why you deserve the scholarship.
 
Q. Tell us more about your research process?
 
A. I created a spreadsheet with a list of the top colleges/courses globally in my field of interest along with the timelines and requirements for each school. While I noticed various similarities in applying to colleges (such as the Statement of Purpose), I also realised that my approach needed to be customised at some points. For example, The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania in the US is known for its finance courses, therefore my essays would be customised based on that strength.
 
Q. What was the most challenging part of the application process for you?
 
A. The first draft of the essays/Statement of Purpose by far. It took me a significant amount of time to introspect, visualise a story, put down initial thoughts, work on the language and improve my case for being selected among the hundreds, even thousands, of applicants. I spent several months focused on just that. After the first draft, it got easier to refine and make changes with feedback from mentors.

Q. What should prospective students keep in mind when writing their essays for financial aid?

A. You need to talk about your background of living/working in a developing country, with less resources at your disposal. At the same time, it is important to keep the tone positive. Do not present a sob story. Mention the hardships or challenging experiences you’ve faced but focus on your learnings from them. In my application, I talked about how the challenges I have come across have made me the person I am and my ability to face anything that comes my way!

Q. How did you balance the application process alongside your normal workload?
 
A. It is possible but you have to be systematic and well-planned in your approach. Start researching a year in advance. Start essays early and get them reviewed. It is not necessary to stop everything else – you can leverage your school projects in your essays – so keep all wheels moving!

Lavanya is one example of a successful scholarship applicant. It is important to bear in mind that financial aid and scholarships vary greatly in availability, amount, and approach based on the country you apply to, whether it is needs based or merit based, and whether you are applying for undergraduate or postgraduate studies. For example, for US undergraduate degrees, almost all awards are institution based (specific to the study institution). Remember to research well about the specific type of awards available for the course and country you are applying to.
Applying for a scholarship to study abroad?
There is a wide variety of options out there besides institution-specific financial aid. Here are a few ideas to get you started:
 International organizations: 
Fulbright Commission | Chevening UK | The Open Society Foundations

Africa specific awards: 
MasterCard Foundation Scholarships | Ashinaga Africa Initiative | Zawadi Africa Education Fund
The Coalition Application in the US:
This system debuted in 2016 and is a relatively new way to apply to US colleges. The Coalition Application platform has over 140 colleges – including some Ivy schools – that provide substantial support through financial aid and scholarships.
 Applying for financial aid and scholarships can be confusing, however, there are various strategies available that can help ease the process. Feel free to get in touch with us if you have questions relating to your undergraduate application!
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