The Future Leaders' Scholarship; My Chevening Experience
Author: Oluwole Oyetoke (19th April, 2017)
Chevening Scholarship Program, i.e., the UK Government’s international awards scheme aimed at developing global leaders started as far back as 1983 and ever since then, the UK government has maintained consistency in identifying potential leaders from over 160 countries and territories, yearly. Essentially, the Chevening Scholarship Program is one of the UK’s foreign agenda to forge early alliances with potential leaders of governments and industries in various countries of the world, as they progress towards these heights in life. The hope is that when these individuals finally make it to the top of their spheres, forging even stronger alliances with them (at that point) will not be too difficult to realize.
The UK Government extends the first hand of friendship by offering these potential leaders an opportunity to come into the UK for fully funded studies in any UK-based University (tuition fee, living allowance, visa fee, in/outbound flights etc all paid for). The aim is to give these potential future leaders a UK experience, allowing them have more targeted interactions with other future leaders, experience the working systems of the UK, its multicultural feel etc., with the hope that this will further stimulate the impact potentials of these individuals as they go on in life.
You can visit the Official Chevening Website to learn more about the program
My Application Experience
Before I Applied
My Chevening experience started in September 2015 when I decided to file in an application for the scholarship. The first important thing for me prior to applying was my decision to apply. The Chevening application process can be a bit demanding, and sometimes, deciding to go all the way with the application may boil down to one’s resolution to get it done.
So as to have a good idea of the application essentials, prior to applying, I logged in to the application portal to have a scan through the application form. I was able to pen down things like the documents I will need to upload, writings to do, number of referees to get etc. In summary, these were the important parts of the application that needed careful consideration and a meticulous approach:
- Previous employment details, including number of hours worked and role description
- Four (4) Essays on Leadership, Networking, Course/School Choice and Post Study Career Plan.
- Need for two (2) Referees
- School and Course Choice Details
One of the things I also did was to connect with people I knew who were then Chevening scholars and also have a good read of the FAQs so as to know a lot about the do’s and don'ts.
Disclaimer 1: Note that the application format is not guaranteed to remain the same, it may change at any point in time, however, this post is based on the 2015/2016 application cycle experience
I had to delay the submission of my application till sometime around October 2015 which was when my work experience would clock the required 2-year minimum. Within this waiting period, I tried as much as possible to make the best use of it, meticulously filling the application form, checking it over and over again to make sure there weren’t mistakes, securing unconditional admission from the University I wanted to go to, crafting my essays and sharing with as many friends as possible for feedback. Different people came back with different feedbacks. However, I made sure I gave each feedback special attention, initiating changes to my writing/approach when necessary.
Filling the application form can be quite challenging, with various sections of the application form addressing things like career history and all that. None the less, I found it quite straight forward and well commented. Based on my experience, here are a few sections where I would say I took a more cautious approach and a few words of advice on them:
I made sure my work experience hours weren't below the stipulated minimum. Also, I would say it is important not to be flimsy about the work description for each of the places one has worked. I believe they all count.
- Leadership Question: Here I tried as much as possible to make sure my essay touched points such as:
- My Leadership and Influence Philosophy
- My interested area of influence e.g. in finance, sales, science & technology etc.
- A number of my own life examples to expatiate on my leadership capabilities
- A summary as to how all of these (put together) qualifies me to be the kind of leader Chevening was looking for
- Networking: Here I tried as much as possible to make sure my essay touched areas such as:
- What I understood networking to be
- Projects I had done/contributed to, and how they required networking
- How the result of these projects qualified me to be the kind of leader Chevening anticipates
- How active and enthusiastic I still am with networking along my field of interest
- Course/Uni Choice: Here, I tried as much as possible to maximize my word count, giving so little attention to my other two course choices, becuase I felt in the end, there is only one particular one I wanted and will finally attend if given the scholarship. I mention the rest briefly, but spoke more broadly only on the exact one I was going to go for. I touched points such as:
- How I became interested in the main course
- How the main course blends with my previous academic course and career path
- How expertise in the area is needed by my home country
- Unique fact about the course
- How UK schools were one of the best school around the world offering such courses
- How it fits into my longer term career plan
- Post Study Career Plan: Here, I wrote more about:
- My educational background
- My immediate post-study plan
- My longer term goals
- How my post study career plan and longer-term goal would affect my home country
One thing I tried as much as possible to do was to make sure my essays resonated the UK priority areas for my home country. I felt it was important to let Chevening understand how passionate I was about some of these same goals (e.g., Science and Technology, governance, peace, religion, energy etc)
Chevening was quite clear on what they need from the referee. However, what I tried to consider when choosing my referee was to choose a referee with a reputable societal standing e.g., a Professor, Director, Doctor etc, and to choose one who had known me for several years. So essentially, for me, my selection was based on reputation + length of acquaintance.
For the education section, I felt it will project me as even more enthusiastic about the scholarship opportunity if I could let the Chevening assessment panel know that I had already gotten an unconditional offer of admission from the University I wanted to attend. I made sure I secured this unconditional admission letter and stated it in my essay before submitting my application form. You never can tell, it just may count.
Post Aplication (Interviews)
About 3 to 4 months later, I had progressed to the interview stage. The interviews are typically panel based where each candidate will be interviewed by a panel of about 3 people. Interviews were standard and of course were structured to validate the candidate's leadership traits and interest level.
Few months later the nominations were out, and now, out of the over 4000 applicants from my home country, 54 were finally chosen. It was time to begin my UK experience (fully funded). Right from then, Chevening took over, Overseeing visa applications, flight to the UK for resumption, paying the full tuition fees, arrival allowance, monthly stipends for the scholarship duration, regular conferences, events and overall, I found it to be a really welcoming program.
Word of Advice
To prospective applicants, Chevening scholarship remains one of the most prestigious scholarships out there. I believe every effort put into the application process will turn out to be indeed worth it when one finally gets the goal. Clinching the Chevening Scholarship award is not just about handing in a fancy and well done application. A lot also boils down to who we are, personally. You can tell great stories about yourself, but your traits might not be the kind of traits the Chevening organization is looking for. So, before putting in an application, I will advice that you assess yourself to be sure you are the kind of leader Chevening is watching out for. If you feel so, then my final advice will be to let you know that the outcome is sure worth the application effort. Put in the effort and be deliberate about it!
Disclaimer 2: Please note that the opinions expressed in this post are those of the author and are independent of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO), its partner organizations or any scholarship awarding institution.