Fulbright, Rhodes, Marshall, Gates, Davies-Jackson. If you ever have wanted to get out of good ol’ America for a year or two, trek across the pond and study in chilly England, you have probably heard of these international scholarships.
You might have even thought of applying. But then you went on the website, saw the endless requirement for forms, saw how many previous recipients have gone on to cure global diseases or save the world (multiple times) and you threw in the towel.
I’m here to tell you to pick it back up. Give these scholarships a chance. They could change your life.
I should know. I am on one: the Davies-Jackson, given to first-generation college students from smaller schools in the United States. The Davies-Jackson allows me to study for two years at Cambridge University, all expenses paid and a stipend provided. Is it amazing? Absolutely. Did I think I would get it? No. No, no, no. So I can understand your hesitation, your nerves, your conviction you won’t be successful — only you could be. Seriously.
Here are my tips, along with advice from various other international scholarship recipients, on how to get one of these international scholarships.
Apply. If you don’t try, you will fail. If you do try? You just might get it. You might have the Fulbright committee ringing you up asking you to an interview, or the Gates saying they want to send you to Cambridge for a good three or four years, are you interested? I know the forms are tedious. I know there are piles of references required. Just deal with it and do it.
“I never thought I’d get the Gates,” said Eva-Maria Hempe, a Gates doctorate studying engineering. “I think I was just myself, as cheesy as it sounds.”
People never think they’ll get the big scholarships. I have spoken with dozens and dozens of different scholarship winners during my two years at Cambridge. Not once has one of them leaned back, kicked up their shoes and declared they knew they would win.
You’re not alone in doubting. So go apply.
Know your scholarship: All right, cowboy. So I’ve convinced you to apply. Now you’ve got to do your research.
The Fulbright, the Rhodes, the Davies-Jackson — they all target different kinds of students. Mine, the Davies-Jackson, is geared specifically at first-generation college kids who want to do more than merely study. We want to go out there and take life by the horns.
The Fulbright wants someone “open minded, interested in trying new things and interacting with new people,” explained Alex Hudson, a Fulbright Master of Science in theoretical chemistry. “Fundamentally, it’s a cultural exchange program, so that’s really important.”
The Gates is more “about bringing people together to connect and network and become academics if you want, but not academia for academia’s sake,” said Jessica Cooney, a Gates doctorate in archaeology.
Don’t just take my word for it. Research. A lot. And then more.
Know your passions: So you know your scholarships. You know you want to apply. Now know yourself.
Committees like to see that you are interested in something. It doesn’t have to be saving the world. It could be examining how new media is impacting global development, or studying the finger flutings of pre-historic children on the walls of caves.
“I think that I might have stood out because I’m doing a not-so-common Ph.D. within a not-so-common field,” said Cooney.
“I don’t think a lot of archaeologists apply [to the Gates]. We’re not going out and curing the world of cancer, so at first glance it seems like why would Gates want to fund us?” Yet Cooney’s passion came across. She pursued something she was genuinely interested in. Now she spends her year traveling through caves in France and Spain.
“Do interesting stuff you’re passionate about,” Hempe agreed. “Be genuinely interesting.”
When you love something, when you’re excited about something, it’s hard not to share that love and excitement. Scholarship committees want to see that you care. So make sure you do.
Be unique: If you’ve championed steps one through three (though not in that exact order), it’s time for my final piece of advice: Figure out what makes you unique.
Are you a multi-hat-wearing runner who likes to sing in the shower while researching the unfolding of proteins? Have you spent your last 19 years living on a small farm in the middle of Nebraska? Do you whittle your nights away reading guidebooks to foreign travel?
This makes you unique. It also makes you interesting.
Use your uniqueness in your essays and interviews. The committees want to know that you’re academic, bright and motivated. They also want to know that you’re not the standard Bob Smartypants.
In my essay to Cambridge, I wrote about my passion for baking. Seriously. I wrote I wanted to come to this grand university so I could cook. Of course, I then tied this in to how that related to learning, my studies and the Davies-Jackson scholarship… but I came at it with a unique angle.
Sort out what makes you you. Share it.
Let me know if you’re successful. I hope to see some of you here in Cambridge soon.
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