I am often asked this question by former students, colleagues, relatives, friends and mentees. In this brief article, I hope to share some pointers based on my experience and successes in securing merit-based scholarships. I have written this piece around the expected requirements and their weight in most scholarship applications or grants. You should always check the eligibility requirements of the scholarship. There may be other requirements in addition to the outline below, such as English Language Proficiency.
The first and most important requirement in a merit-based scholarship application is your academic record. This often carries a weight of about 50% and you may score 50% if you have a First Class in a relevant undergraduate degree, 40% if you have a Second Upper and so on. If a masters degree is required for a doctorate, a Distinction or the highest grade in the relevant masters plus a First Class grade in the relevant undergraduate degree will give you a 50% score for academic record. To increase your chances in competitive scholarships, you should aim for a good grade in the relevant subject areas.
The second requirement is recommendations/references from your academic supervisors, lecturers and job managers/supervisors. This may carry a weight of about 15% for excellent recommendations. This emphasizes the importance of building a strong professional relationship with your supervisors and ensuring that they are fully aware and have witnessed your actual accomplishments and your strengths.
Personal statement and/or research proposal
A third important requirement is the personal statement or statement of purpose or cover letter or career statement and objectives. This may also carry a weight of about 15%. The statement is expected to concisely summarize your motivation to pursue studies in your chosen area, why the scholarship is important, how prepared you are, and what you hope to achieve on completion of your studies. The statement also demonstrates your writing and communication skills. A concise and excellent statement with relevant and verifiable supporting documents may give you the full score.
For a doctorate scholarship application, the score for the personal statement may be replaced by a research proposal. If required, this should be developed in consultation with your potential supervisors in the institution you hope to carry out your research.
Additional relevant achievements
The last requirement which often separates candidates is the additional relevant achievements. This often shows your ability to make an impact, excel in your studies or contribute to developments if awarded the scholarship. The requirement may carry a score of about 20%. The type of achievements include relevant publications in recognized and quality media, such as journals; previous merit-based scholarships/grants/prizes/awards; professional recognition in a relevant career; outstanding performance in relevant extracurricular activities; and clear demonstrable impact in a relevant area. At least 2 or more verifiable additional achievements should increase your chances in the scholarship application.
As outlined above, the requirements indicate you should prepare for the application early. Your academic records and all other relevant experience and achievements should be captured in your CV or resume and any application form. Further, you should be prepared to articulate the details of your CV and any research proposals at interview if required. You must also ensure that you have all your supporting documents to confirm information in your application.
I hope you find the above pointers useful and I wish you all the best in your scholarship search and applications.