How it all started
Having worked in the private and development sectors, within the field of agriculture, for a couple of years, I realized that I needed theoretical knowledge to go up to a higher professional level. I knew a masters education would be helpful and I always wanted to study masters, preferably in developed countries such as UK, USA, Germany or a few other countries in Europe where I could get the best education. I actively started seeking various scholarship programs and began networking with alumni of those programs to get more information and some advice, as well as tips on how to win the scholarships. I applied for DAAD scholarships to study in Germany, FulBright in USA and a few more programs, but unfortunately I didn’t get selected. This was probably because, at that moment, I needed some more experience to understand why and what I really wanted to study. My area of interest has been agricultural development as it is a driving factor of our country’s development. I thought I should gain a better in-depth understanding of current challenges in my chosen field. That was when I joined Agro Horizon Project of USAID which helped me get some valuable experience and to better understand current issues in agriculture in Kyrgyzstan. In the meantime, I kept searching scholarship programs and finally found out about the prestigious Chevening Scholarships Programme. I learned in detail about this programme: selection criteria and application process both online and from current alumni who were studying in UK via Chevening at that moment. I decided to give a try and was now finally chosen for Chevening 2016-2017.
Now a little bit about Chevening
As most of you might already know, Chevening is a scholarship programme of the UK Government that supports young professionals, with strong leadership and networking potential, to study one-year masters in the UK universities that have world-class reputation. More detailed information can be found at www.chevening.org. However, if you want to grow professionally and academically, build lifelong relationships with other like-minded people around the world and learn about British culture, Chevening would be the best chance for that.
The 1st step is online application which includes four essays on topics: Career Plans, Study in the UK, Leadership and Networking. In your essays, you should convince the reader (Chevening) that your chosen field of study is very important and largely contributes to Kyrgyzstan’s development. Thanks to your existing work experience in that certain sphere, you have a clear understanding of situations/issues and already see some areas you want to focus on and develop more. Therefore, probably you already set up some certain goals and plans. Write about how studying at a certain UK university can help you achieve your future goals, and how education and experience you will have gained in UK can be beneficial to Kyrgyzstan’s development. Also, write about what leadership roles you have demonstrated so far, the results of your leadership and networking skills you possess. Here are some pieces of advice on essays:
– Make your essays as short, simple, precise and as realistic as possible. An ideal essay is one page. Do not write ‘mumbo-jumbo” (unnecessary words or sentences that are off the topic or just too much). This was one of the biggest mistakes I made when I wrote essays for other programs. For instance, I wrote a three-page essay for DAAD programme to study masters in Germany, although one or one and a half pages could have been enough.
– Try to only answer the questions. Questions guide you through what you need to write about.
– Use numbers in your essays. Numbers or statistics make the area that you want to focus on more legitimate, but avoid plagiarism and do not forget to quote or cite if you are using some resources. E.g. World Bank report on Food Security states that XX% of people in the world are hungry…
As an applicant, you will have to choose three potential universities where you wish to study. Do research on universities before finally selecting them; pay attention to each university’s entry and language requirements and deadlines for submitting your application. In terms of languages, most universities in UK require IELTS, but you can also find some universities that accept TOEFL iBT if you prefer TOEFL rather than IELTS. I took TOEFL iBT and my current university (University of Reading) accepted it. So, before you apply, get in touch with the universities to find out more information and ask questions if you have any.
Your references should be individuals who you know well personally and professionally. It is not required, but I would suggest that you get a recommendation letter at least from one international person that you have worked with or who knows you well. This already tells about international networking skills that you possess. In my case, my references were my former director (American) and my professor. Again, this might help your application be successful, but references from Kyrgyzstan would be fine if you don’t have any non-Kyrgyzstani colleagues or professors.
Step 2 – University applications
After you submit your online application for Chevening, you will be applying for universities that you have chosen. Each university has its different entry requirements, documents to submit and deadlines. You will complete online application for each university separately, write essay(s) again (usually one essay), submit documents such as university transcripts, English language certificate, etc. So, three universities – three different applications. As for English language requirements, I would encourage you all to get average 7 scores on IELTS and 90 on iBT TOEFL. The more, the better. Of course, it will also depend on your chosen course. Lower scores might be good enough for some courses, but I have mostly seen 6.5-7 (IELTS) and 90-100 (iBT TOEFL) on most of the universities’ websites. Personally, I took iBT TOEFL twice. The first time I got a lower score, and the second time I got an OK score (normal) with which I could get accepted to my preferred university. (Useful links for English tests: www.ets.org, ielts.org, testden.com). Start preparing for the test as soon as possible and practice as much as you can.
My university – I chose University of Reading (UoR) as the preferred university along with two other universities: University of Exeter and University of Edinburgh. I have read lots of information on the university’s website and watched videos on YouTube about UoR. University of Reading has a really good reputation worldwide. It is ranked number 1 in UK (the Complete University Guide) and 12th in the world for agriculture and forestry as per QS World University Rankings. These are the key reasons for why I chose UoR.
If your online application for Chevening is successful, you will be short-listed for an interview. Here are few pieces of advice on the interview:
– You might be asked traditional questions about your future goals, leadership and networking skills, but you may also be asked questions that you may have not expected. In addition to questions around your chosen field, be informed of current political and economic issues in Kyrgyzstan and your personal point of view about them as a young leader. In addition, you might also be asked about UK, and “London is the capital of Great Britain” is not enough)).
– During the interview, ask the interviewer to repeat the question if you don’t understand it. In my situation, I asked several times to repeat the same question. If you pretend that you have understood the question, your answer might be wrong or unrelated to the question at all. Therefore, make sure you answer the question after you clearly understand it. Be open, honest, persuasive and show the interviewers that you are the best candidate.
Deadline for Chevening applications is November 8, 2016. It is fully possible that you can become the next Cheveners! Wish you all the best of luck!