Here’s a (not-so) succinct list of FAQ based on the 6 most asked questions I’ve received so far. This FAQ will only cover the application process and up to the shortlisting for interview stage. It’s good to focus on this stage first because there’s a set of different things altogether to think about for the interview itself, and especially after you’ve been awarded the scholarship. I’ll save those for another post :)
(I am only sharing from my personal experience as an applicant, therefore - all other nitty-gritty on the application and interview process is covered on the Chevening page here: https://www.chevening.org/faqs/?chevening_topic=&chevening_type=&chevening_audience=applicants )
Before I begin, here’s briefly about my background to provide some context to my Chevening experience:
I am a matured student - which means, when I applied for the scholarship, I’m in my early 30s and I have a full time career for the past 8 years.
When I applied for Chevening Scholarship, I already have a Masters degree from University Malaya (Malaysia). So yes, you can apply for your second masters degree, or even after you’ve got your PhD. But remember, Chevening Scholarship is only for Masters degree.
I studied MSc in City Design and Social Science; in the London School of Economics and Political Science, LSE (2017/2018).
Now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s begin :)
What’s the first thing I should do about the application?
Spend some time to read the application pages thoroughly and understand the questions asked and the paperwork that you need to get ready. Prepare a checklist and a personal timeline on your calendar to make sure that you are on track on what you need to complete. Set yourself an earlier cut-off date, say about 2 weeks so you allow yourself a buffer time prior to submission deadline (just in case something came up along the way, as life always do!).
Tip: copy the application questions in a Word file so you can work on it on your own time.
Does the university or programme I choose matter?
I get asked this quite a lot, even from people who are not applying for the scholarship! I guess it has become an assumption that some universities or programmes increases your chance with the Chevening scholarship. I highly doubt this is the case, at least in Malaysia. My cohort applied for quite a wide variety of programmes, which includes education, digital journalism, terrorism and conflict studies, space engineering, LLM, clinical oncology, and myself - city design and social science. You get to state three programmes of your choice (they can be from the same or different universities). The point is to be absolutely sure and confident that what you choose to pursue is something that you really want to do. And you must be able to say why and what you are going to do with what you’ve learned after returning to your home country. It really helps if you can state a specific plan instead of making ambiguous statements about it. But in case you wish to align your application with what the UK is doing at your country, you may visit this link for more information: https://www.chevening.org/faqs/where-do-i-find-the-priority-areas-for-my-country/
Tip: Be absolutely clear about your three options (be it universities or the programmes) that you have chosen. Visit their websites, download and read each of programme briefs thoroughly and be ready to write it convincingly in your application why you chose these three options. This part will also come in handy during the interview stage.
Do I apply for the universities before I submit my Chevening scholarship application?
There is no hard and fast rule with this one here - although it is still an important consideration to make. You may proceed to submit your university application before or just after you have submitted your Chevening Scholarship application - which falls around November to December. Or like me, I only applied only I’ve been shortlisted for the interview (Chevening will notify you via email sometime in February).
Pros of applying earlier is that you get to hear back from your universities sooner, which gives you time to apply for university accommodation (which is usually cheaper than renting outside and the good ones get snapped up really fast!). Also, this will hasten your application for student visa because the university offering you a place must provide you with Confirmation of Acceptance for Studies (CAS) number. You can’t apply for your student visa (Tier 4) without a CAS number. (And you apply for your visa only after you’ve been confirmed for the scholarship and the offer from your university)
Cons of applying earlier is that you have to be prepared to pay for the university applications without the certainty of being offered the Chevening Scholarship. The fees differs from one university to the other, and this cost is to be borne by yourself (I paid £65 for one application at LSE in 2017). If in an unfortunate event that the scholarship fell through - you may write to the university to defer your offer to another year, and you can still give another shot at applying for the Chevening scholarship the following year. Some scholars have done this before and made it the second time, so be assured that you’ll always get another shot!
But if you choose to apply to the universities after you’ve been shortlisted for the interview, you have to do it as soon as you can. I started on my university applications right after I submitted my scholarship application in November - just that I didn’t send it out yet until the time came around.
I submitted my university application on the 15th April (about 1.5 week after my interview on 5th April)
I received an unconditional offer from LSE on the 30th May (about 1.5 month later)
LSE sent my CAS number on the 7th July (slightly more than a month later).
Some universities may take longer to respond with your offer and also the CAS number, and this would delay your Visa application. Ideally, apply for your universities at least 4 months before June (that’s when the Chevening offer results are out). Most people applied in January or February, so my application in mid April is comparatively very late according to some people!
Tip: Depending on which university you apply to, the applications requires quite a lot of work too, as you have to write quite a few essays just like the ones you’d be doing for the Chevening Scholarship. Good news is that you may use the same points from your scholarship essays in your university applications - but do change it a little and paraphrase where necessary so it is more customized for each application, instead of making a carbon copy out of the other.
When do I sit for my IELTS exam?
Again, there is no hard and fast rule about this one but it must go in the same schedule as your university application - because IELTS score is required as part of the university applications. Depending on which country you are from, the complications arises when there is no center to take the IELTS exam in your town. Which means you have to travel outstation to sit for that exam, sometimes even to a neighboring country!
But if you are fortunate to have a IELTS center near where you are, go to the website and look for the schedule and book the best slot that allows you a few weeks to a month to prepare and practice before you sit for the exam. I find the many YouTube videos on IELTS exam very helpful as I get to know what to anticipate, the common mistakes to avoid, and how to score the highest points (especially for the oral section). Most people who sat for the exam often say that it isn’t enough to have a strong command of English. It requires following the instructions carefully and providing a clear answer. For those who aren’t too confident in your English, worry not - all you need is to just practice speaking, listening and writing with the IELTS related resources that you can freely find online.
I took the exam (3 Mac) after I have been shortlisted for the interview (9 Feb), which gives me about a month to get this done before my interview date (5 April). My results for IELTS was released on 17 March - three weeks ahead of my interview.
Chevening don’t require you to already sit for your IELTS by your interview date, but I do think it is bonus if you could tell the interviewers that you have already sat for your IELTS (if they happen to ask). That includes your university applications as well.
Also, your IELTS results is valid for two years - so you can still use the same one in case you need to reapply for the scholarship the following year. The IELTS exam fees differ from places to places (it’s RM795 in Malaysia/ £157) so please check how much you need to set aside for this. Like the university application cost, you will have to bear the IELTS fees under your personal expense.
Tip: Please be very well prepared before you sit for your IELTS exams. I don’t recall if you can request for a remark on your exam, but it is best that you aim to do your best possible because some universities only accept a certain minimum score to qualify for an offer. The general entry requirements for UK Tier 4 (Student) Visa is a minimum 5.5 overall, with no less than 5.5 in any individual component.
How about my reference letters? (UPDATED)
You are required to provide two references for the Chevening application. Your university applications also require reference letter(s) and sometimes they can be very specific as to who is eligible to be your referees.
As for the Chevening application, be prepared to write pointers for your referees to help them recall certain things about you (in case it has been a long time ago since you both last interacted). This reference letter must be written by your referees and submitted by your referees themselves. Overall, Chevening expects that your referees to write the letters with these questions in mind:
1) How long have you known the applicant?
2) In what capacity do you know the applicant? (e.g. professional, educational, supervisory, voluntary, religious)
3) When you last had regular contact with the applicant
4) A brief overall endorsement of the applicant, including their:
Skills in leadership and networking
Personal, intellectual, and interpersonal qualities
Ability to complete a demanding academic programme in the UK
Once you have been shortlisted for an award (i.e. interview), you are required to log into the Online Application System and request a reference from your referees. This request will generate an email to the referees and they will need to submit the reference before a specified date. Which is why it is important that you have your reference letter ready ahead of time. E.g. I received an email from Chevening that I have been shortlisted on the 9th February, and the final day to submit my reference letters was by 27th February - which is well ahead of my interview date (5th April).
Tip: Find a referee who you trust could help you in these applications since your referees have to submit the reference letters themselves. Bearing in mind that your referees may be busy with their own work - do occasionally follow up with them to check on the status of your reference letters, and if they have already received the email prompt for reference request. You cannot risk missing the deadline as there is only a small window of time given to your referees to upload your reference letters. So start early with your referees even before the shortlisting results are out.
How should I write my Chevening application essays?
I get asked this a lot by potential applicants for the past two years. Notably so, the essays form a large part of the application and it is divided into 4 questions:
1) Leadership and influence question
2) Networking question
3) Studying in the UK question
4) Career plan question
(I don’t know if the questions change from year to year - but these were what I had to answer in 2017).
I’d like to think that you are allowed to be creative with these sections, since the minimum words you can write is 50 words, or you can use up the cap of 500 words if you so wish. The people who would be shortlisting the applications will be reading these essays and it is important that you stand out in your writing in such a way that it is a delight to read. Imagine, the shortlisting committee had to sieve through thousands of applications for at least 2 months; and we can only imagine how dreadful that might feel after a while.
But, I also advise against overdoing it to the point that it doesn’t, or vaguely answer the questions asked. Try to balance between facts (i.e. real experiences/accounts of what you did, or achieved whether during your academic days or at work, including why it mattered: for question 1 and 2) and aspirations (e.g. make your statements compelling and convincing, and also realistic to achieve: for question 3 and 4).
I usually get asked to share my essays but to be honest, I am not comfortable to do so simply because it is my personal statement. It is a write-up of my life, my experiences, my identity and my values. I don’t think anyone should be asking for this (even if other Chevening scholars may have no qualms in sharing). But if you are really at loss with what to write for these essays, you must take time to honestly assess why you are applying for the scholarship. Only then you will be able to write your own story without the need to read another person’s personal statement as a guide. Remember, these essays are not an exam with right or wrong ways of writing - it is your voice and a reflection of yourself :)
On top of that, the interviewers will likely ask you questions from what you wrote in your essays, and you must be able to share and expand on what you wrote and why you wrote it the way you did. Keep in mind to be genuine in your responses, which actually begins from your essay. During my interview, one of the interviewers specifically pointed out my essays, saying that it is different from the rest which he has come across. While it was nice that he actually noticed, I take it as a cue that these essays is an area where you can actually stand out among the stiff competition (because let’s be honest, there will always be someone who has better grades and higher achievements that we have to compete with!). So, take this opportunity to allow your personality to shine through your essays :)
Tip: It is really important that you write as genuinely as possible, to reflect your individuality that is uniquely yours and to showcase your achievements and what more you could offer by being given the opportunity to be part of the Chevening network (without sounding conceited). If I can put it this way, just write like how you would write to a new friend who is just getting to know you.
To summarize, I’ve listed down my Chevening scholarship application timeline so you could have an initial idea of you’d likely be going through as well:
8 Aug - 8 Nov 2016 : Chevening Application
9 Feb 2017 - Interview Shortlist Notification
3 Mac 2017 - IELTS Examination
17 Mac 2017 - IELTS Results
5 Apr 2017 - Chevening Interview
15 Apr 2017 - LSE Application Submission
30 May 2017 - LSE Unconditional Offer
9 Jun 2017 - Chevening Scholarship Offer
7 Jul 2017 - CAS number from LSE
4 Aug 2017 - Final Award Letter (FAL) from Chevening
11 Aug 2017 - Visa application appointment
Yes, as you can see, the entire application to confirmation took about 10 months! I am not going to lie and be overly optimistic about this, but it is a grueling journey, although not an impossible one. Another important thing to take note is how much you need to set aside for the university applications, IELTS and other relevant costs you may incur along the way. The Chevening application is free of charge but as you may already picked up from this sharing, you need to bear some costs. Here’s a breakdown of the expenses you need to prepare with ballpark figures:
University applications cost for three programmes: £180
IELTS exam: £157
Postage, travel, public notary certification, etc: £50
Total: £387 (or MYR1,960)
Again, this is just a ballpark estimate, as the actual cost may vary quite a bit depending on the costs of your university applications (e.g. if you apply for more than one programme in the same university, you may be required to pay the application cost only once) and the amount of travelling you have to do to get some of these things done (e.g. sitting for IETLS, attending the scholarship interview, etc). Also, do consider the fact that most of the fees has slightly increased over the past two years, e.g. LSE application fees was £65 in 2017, now it is £70 in 2019.
Honestly, the Chevening journey commonly begins with stressful moments, self-doubts, anticipations, self-reflection and all that roller-coaster of emotions that one can go through. So it is okay if you feel the anxiety - because it is after all a big decision that would potentially change your life. I had to put a pause button on my life back home, leave my loved ones and friends behind, halt my career growth for one full year - which isn’t the most easiest thing to do for some of us who already have personal and financial commitments back home.
It took a bit of adjustment to go back to being a full time student with its own set of challenges and opportunities. The Chevening scholarship is really an opportunity of a lifetime and looking back after a year in London, all of this was worth it and I wouldn’t have it any other way. Support from your friends and family is especially crucial throughout this journey. Take heart and brave on, you deserve this chance!