Chevening Scholarship: Tips for Submitting a Strong Application, Excellence Interview

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Thousands of Indian students 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. The UK’s fascinating art, history and heritage, literature, wide open spaces, sports and culture that welcomes people of all nationalities and beliefs make it a dream destination.

For a chosen few, that dream is supported by the fully-funded Chevening Scholarships, the UK government’s international scholarship scheme for future leaders from around the world to pursue a one-year master’s degree in the UK. The scholarship covers full tuition, accommodation, travel, medical insurance, visa, and living expenses. Former academics said that, if managed well, the stipend was generous enough to fund weekend trips across the UK.

Each year, Chevening Fellows include 1,500 scholars from approximately 160 countries. India alone offers up to 100 rewards making it the largest program in the world. The cohort’s networks, connections, and shared reminiscences make the Chevening experience more than just a master’s degree. The challenging yet fulfilling school year with opportunities to experience UK culture, provides the perfect environment for students to grow and learn.

Preparation is key to giving you the best chance of getting the scholarship. Online application and maintenance are essential to cracking Chevening. The competition is undoubtedly tough, but that shouldn’t stop anyone from applying, so let’s dispel a few myths first:

Myth #1: “Chevening is only for people from top institutions in big cities”

The truth is, it’s for the best and the brightest. In recent years, more than 40% of selected scholars in India have come from small towns, not metropolises; 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 are women.

Myth #2: “You need an offer from a university first”

Selecting and mentioning the right courses at the right universities is an important aspect of applying and the choices are endless – with over 12,000 courses at over 150 universities to choose from. But, you do not need an offer in hand when applying. You will have almost 6 months after writing your application to get an unconditional offer from one of the listed universities.

Myth #3: “Two years of full-time work experience is required”

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 volunteer work. Candidates can list up to 10 different work experiences to meet the number of hours needed.

Myth #4: “Preferred field of study must match work experience/graduation”

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

Myth #5: “Need to hire professionals to write essays”

Essays should be honest and genuine, so no one can write them better than you. Keep the language simple. Evaluators will spot work done by others and you’re better off telling your own story, in your own words.

Tips for submitting a strong application

#1 Take your time: Do not rush the application and do not wait until the last minute to submit it. A technical problem or power failure on your end will be extremely disappointing – and is not uncommon. Read and re-read the application before submitting it. A wrong answer to any of the pre-screening questions will result in rejection at the first stage itself.

#2 Make your app stand out: Essays are critical and tell your story, so keep them personal and not generic. Think about your journey so far and what you hope to accomplish beyond the scholarship. Share examples of your leadership and networking skills and the impact they have had on the lives of others. Include examples of relationships established with people from different cultures and countries.

#3 Research Universities/Courses: Choose your three dishes carefully. You will not be able to change your course choices after you submit your application, unless you are allowed to do so at the interview stage. Even so, the courses can only be changed slightly as they are subject to some of your essays.

#4 Transform the lives of others: You are expected to use the knowledge gained in the UK not only to advance your own career, but also to give back to your home country. Go beyond the “I, me and myself” when addressing the essay on your career plan. A good idea, for example, is to link your goals to 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 must be known to you, whether academically or professionally, and they must also know you well.

Getting shortlisted for an interview is half the battle won and you’re in the top 10% of applicants – now one step away from the prize…

Tips for a successful interview

#1 Tell us about yourself: A clichéd start but almost always disconcerting when time is of the essence. You will have two minutes, so prepare ahead of time. Start with your greatest achievement and keep it good.

#2 Be yourself: Speak from your heart, be honest, and let your enthusiasm shine through. Groundwork is central, but not everything has to be scripted, so go with the flow and let the panel know you’re driven and passionate about your projects – it’s always appreciated.

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

#4 Research the UK: Chevening is not limited to the degree and exploration of culture and country is encouraged. Do not hesitate to ask yourself how you would spend your weekends. Studies and other related answers are often obvious; research the UK and go beyond the mundane.

#5 Listen and stay on time: The interview lasts approximately 30 minutes. Each response is scored, so listen carefully, ask for clarification if needed, and take a moment to structure your response. Try to answer exactly what was asked and keep your answers brief. Ask questions to the panel – it shows that you are prepared and interested. The Chevening Scholars selection process takes nearly eight months from the application deadline to when applicants are conditionally selected for an award. Applications for Chevening are 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 researchers 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. I wish you the best and look forward to reading your application for the Chevening Scholarship!

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