Acing the Scholarship Application: Giving the Soul to Your Application

Photo from BW Education

As the upcoming scholarship season starts to roll around, it’s important to understand what part of the application to focus on in order to have the best chances of succeeding. In this article, columnist Steffen Hadi shares some insight into why he believes that the essays and interviews are the most important parts.

For scholarship hunters, mid-year is known as the scholarship season. Have you learned key elements sought by the scholarship examiners?

Why is this important?

A scholarship application is not only about providing required documents, such as your GMAT result, IELTS score, university transcript, or recommendation letter. The scholarship essays and interviews are also detrimental. In fact, the more prestigious the scholarship, the more essays and interviews it requires. Through essays and interviews, the examiners want to understand many things about you, from your character to your potentials. That is why carefully choosing your answer for every question asked in the essay and interview is extremely important.

I have experience in mentoring a number of scholarship applicants and I often notice that the applicants are too preoccupied with fulfilling the requirements (e.g. sophisticated letters of reference, GMAT scores, and IELTS scores), but when it comes to the beauty of their applications, many of them are sub-par, made in a rush, and lacking proper structure. Please note that a good essay cannot be made in one night; it needs proper contemplation and a good concept. Like making a movie, you need to think first which side of a story that you want to show. Then after you draft your essay, make sure that you show it to other people and ask for their thoughts. Do this process repeatedly. For the interview, you need to rehearse many times and do it with people who have experience in scholarship application and interviews.

One time, I helped my friend rehearse. After her mock interview, she felt that she wasn’t confident enough and considered changing her style. However, I recommended her to stick to her style: humble and honest. I believed that it would be unique for the interviewers as there would be many interviewees boasting about themselves during the interview. Fortunately, she passed the interview and she is now a prestigious scholarship awardee in the United Kingdom.

Fulfilling the requirements for a scholarship application is important. However, it is more important to craft your essay carefully, giving the soul that makes your application you.

This is not the key answer, but a map to find the answer

Frankly, there is no one key criteria for all scholarships. Every scholarship is different. Therefore, you should craft each scholarship application accordingly.

You mean faking my personality and accomplishments in the application? Nope. Certainly, as a person, you have many strengths and unique characteristics which will make you different. A scholarship application is not your biography. Instead, it is the art of knowing which part of yourself to showcase for a particular scholarship.

How do I know when to bring that side or this side of my personality?

Here, your diligence is tested. Each scholarship has its unique policies, which are certainly not disclosed. However, we can attempt to find this out by reading news, press releases, or testimonies that the scholarship provider shares. By doing this, we can get a gist of what kind of people would be selected as the scholarship awardees.

Let me give you a few examples:

Endeavour Scholarships and Fellowships

This is a scholarship provided by the Australian government. Thus, Endeavour’s policy must be closely related to Australia and Australia-Indonesia relations. Here, you have narrowed down your research scope already. You can now read up on recent issues concerning this topic.

Indonesia Endowment Fund for Education (LPDP)

This is a scholarship provided by the Indonesian government, so the examiners are expecting problem solvers for Indonesia’s problems. Though this may sound easy, you must be specific in addressing certain issues.

One precious additional tip for LPDP applications from me is “Be entrepreneurial! Be creative!” What do I mean? Look at Nadiem Makarim as your answer.  

Wrapping this section, let’s look at an example.

Let’s say you apply for Endeavour and LPDP for scholarship in oceanography and coral-reef preservation. Here, you are about to exploit your strength in leadership and the fact that you wish to strengthen the Indonesian sea borders by the ocean-mapping technology that you studied comprehensively. In your application for Endeavour, you may bring your leadership characteristic, but let’s not bring the fact that you are motivated to improve Indonesian ocean-bordering technology (this is a sensitive political issue). Instead, let’s exploit the fact that you are intrigued by the unique characteristics of the Great Barrier Reef (GBF) and the Australian government effort to restore the dying reef in that area. Let’s say that by case-studying restoration efforts of GBF, you can be the key person in Indonesia to improve Indonesia maritime life conditions.

On the other hand, for LPDP, you may bring the issue of ocean-mapping technology, strengthening the Indonesian borders, which you choose not to bring when applying for Endeavour.

See the implementation? It’s not about being fake. It is about carefully choosing which side of yourself to showcase wisely.

High GMAT scores, IELTS/TOEFL scores, famous referees, can all be overshadowed by a unique essay

In a scholarship competition, many outstanding applicants are ready to show glittering achievements in their applications. If you are one of them, remember that your essay can be either the winning ball or the deal breaker. If you feel you do not have such glamorous achievements, there is no reason to worry because the determining phase is your essay and interview.

What you need is one unique and out of the box answer in your essay or interview to assure the examiners that you are indeed the person that they are looking for. As an example, imagine you are the examiner, facing thousands of applications that exploit superb achievements of the applicants. Then imagine that after thousands of applications, you find an applicant who has not had many opportunities in her life due to her financial situation, but then shows that she has potentials to fight discrimination against women if she is given the opportunity to do it. If I were the examiner, I would certainly choose this applicant.

All in all, your test scores, GPA, and perfect English form only the outer appearance of your application. What matters is the soul inside it. Good luck!

Photo from BW Education

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Steffen Hadi studied LL.M. in University of Pennsylvania Law School and Wharton Business and Law Certificate of the Wharton School at the same university. He was the Class President of Penn Law LL.M. Class 2016, Penn Law Students Representative in University of Pennsylvania’s council, and international associate editor in Penn Law Journal of International Law. Steffen also interned at a prominent international law firm in Philadelphia. Aside from LL.M. Steffen also holds a Sarjana Hukum (LL.B. equivalent) from Parahyangan Catholic University. Steffen has been practicing law as a corporate lawyer in Jakarta and Singapore. Presently, he is a senior associate in a prominent law firm in Indonesia and independently assisting few legal issues for start-ups. In his spare time, Steffen is a movie freak, loyal runner, and outdoor trekker.


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