If you are a Bangladeshi student, you likely want to go abroad for higher studies. However, the tuition fees in countries like the USA, the UK, Canada, Australia and other European countries are so high that even a well-off family in Bangladesh cannot always afford the expense.
One way around this predicament is to seek out grants or scholarships.
There are many types of scholarships. While most grants will waive the tuition fees only, there are only a few scholarships that will provide not only a hundred percent tuition fee but also other expenses – from accommodation to travel, educational materials, etc.
One of them is the Chevening Scholarship, the flagship scholarship opportunity by the British government. It is one of the most prestigious and highly coveted scholarships in the world.
The Chevening scholarship is funded by the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO). Started in 1983, the programme provides scholarships to 1500 candidates each year in 140 countries. It allows students from developing countries to have access to the UK education system.
The application process for Chevening Scholarships 2023/24 cohort is open now. The deadline is on 1 November 2022.
In the last cohort (2022/23), 22 Bangladeshi students were awarded the scholarship. Bangladesh has over 330 successful Chevening scholars in total. And last year's 22 awardees was the highest number ever.
But what does it take to get the scholarship?
The Business Standard spoke to Chevening awardees to find out. They shared ins and outs of their personal experiences in getting the scholarship, their long and arduous journey throughout the process and at the end dished out some suggestions.
Lamia Mohsin was awarded Chevening this year. She currently works at the UNDP climate change programme. She is going to study at the London School of Economics where she will be doing her master's in Environment and Development.
According to her, job experience played the biggest part in getting the scholarship. The fact that she could connect her experience with what she planned to study was a strong point in her application.
"It should be strongly reflected in your motivation letter. I believe in my case I was able to do that," she said.
However, it is not just the experience itself (because all the people applying here have good experience), but rather how your experience is connected with your vision and how compelling your story is. That gives you an edge over other applicants.
Lamia said, "To be honest, Chevening scholarship judges from the start – essay, interview. They are looking for people who can project themselves as leaders in their particular country; people who lead and innovate, and who can bring change. This makes Chevening different from other scholarships. It emphasises leadership and networking skills (and how you build relationships)."
Lamia has been working on climate change for the past two and a half years.
"I graduated from Development Studies from the University of Dhaka. I completed my first master's with a major in Public Policy from the same department. After that I narrowed down my work to climate change as a development agenda," she said.
"Given that I have been working on issues related to climate and environment, I felt that combining my educational background and my work was for the best. So, what's better than pursuing environmental development right? I chose the subject keeping that in mind. I wanted to pursue studying environmental-related policies. That's why I chose the subject at London School of Economics (LSE)."
Fatema Tuz Johoora who studied at the University of Sussex corroborated Lamia's claim. According to her, CGPA and extra-curricular activities with leadership skills and job experience are important. But the essay is the thing that binds everything together and adds the most value.
She was preparing for Chevening for three years. From her experience, she laid out what an aspirant should do.
"From the very beginning to the last, it's a very gruelling process. It can be mentally stressful. You cannot just focus on only one scholarship. The criteria are demanding – it looks for leaders in specific sectors. So even if you have a very good academic record, it does not guarantee anything. So, keep other options open. Moreover, it's very hard to make it on the first try. Many people apply here several times."
She added, "Secondly, it takes a lot of time. So you will have enough time to prepare. Make use of that time, and plan from A to Z. Look at YouTube videos, and tutorials – there are tons. Connect with the people who can help. For example, you may collect sample essays from previous awardees."
Both Lamia and Fatema said that there are lots of good materials on the Internet – blogs and YouTube. Aspirants students could know all the facts and preparation guidelines from alumni who have shared their personal experiences there.
For Lamia, however, she was connected with a couple of Chevening alumni of the past years. She got to connect with them through mutuals.
She said, "I felt throughout the process that I need a lot of guidance and suggestions. I did reach out to many people. They were very generous with their time. They groomed me, I had mock interviews, and they gave feedback. At my work, there were a couple of previous Chevening scholars from previous cohorts."
According to Professor Obaidul Haque, a Chevening scholar who is currently a professor of International Relations at the University of Dhaka, Chevening scholarships are given in diverse sectors – doctors, policymakers, government employees, and social and business entrepreneurs. So anyone from any field can get a scholarship in theory.
He added that there is no such thing as a "typical" Chevening Scholar, but those who are successful tend to have ambition, leadership qualities, and a passion for influencing positive change in their home countries. Aspirants must have extraordinary leadership qualities in any field and they must prove this in their essays and interviews.
"Though applicants from Bangladesh are welcome to pursue any course of study, they are particularly encouraged to engage in certain fields such as law, climate change, human rights, international security and energy security. The selecting committee in Dhaka looks favourably on these particular areas because they are the key priorities for the country in terms of development – both politically and economically," said Professor Obaidul.
The application process
The application process for the Chevening is fairly easy. The basic criteria are that you have to be a citizen of a Chevening-eligible country with a graduate degree [passed with upper second-class marks (60-70%)] and two years of professional experience.
First of all, you have to sign up and complete your profile on the official Chevening website (www.chevening.org). In the next step, you need to choose three master's programmes you would like to apply to. This is a crucial step because you will not be able to change them later.
After application, the two biggest hurdles appear: the first is the essay and the second is interviews. You will be given directions for writing an essay. Here you will need to prove that you are worthy of winning the scholarship. This is the most crucial part of the application process as most of the applicants get eliminated here.
Applicants who pass the essay screening phase and are selected in any one of the three master's programmes they applied for are finally called for interviews, the last stage. The process of selecting Chevening Scholars takes a minimum of eight months from the application deadline to when applicants are selected for an award.