Top Tips On Nailing Your Scholarship Interview!

Top Tips On Nailing Your Scholarship Interview!

Got an offer for a scholarship interview(s)? Congratulations! It means you’re half way in getting your scholarship and are on the top 20% of scholarship applicants. How big is your chance from here? Well, it varies on the scholarship institutions, but it can be as big as 50% (it’s either you or the person next to you getting it).

Going for a scholarship interview (which normally lasts for 30-45 minutes) can be a nerve-breaking process you have to go through, but remember, no matter what, this is not your only chance in life. Being nervous is okay, it means you’re up for something.

I’m gonna share some of interview tips from my personal experiences (do look for other tips too, there are tons of them):

  1. What to bring? Don’t bring unnecessary things. They will tell you what to bring: passport, document, etc. If you have a page of a chart/diagram on a project you’re doing, that might help to show them that you are well prepared. You can take that page out if necessary.
  2. Dress properly. There’s no need to suit up (though you may), but you don’t want the interviewers to question whether you really want this or not. Looking nice can also boost your confidence. More importantly, be comfortable.
  3. Be on time. Come 30 minutes prior to your schedule (unless you’re told differently). You don’t want to enter your interview room gasping for air.
  4. Shake your interviewers’ hands with confidence and greet them, put a smile on your face (no matter how nervous you are). Sit when you’re told to do so. Normally there are 2-5 panelists to interview you. Try to not feel intimidated, they just want to get the most out of you.
  5. Be confident. Don’t look down when answering questions. Be energized (but within normal limits)!
  6. Answer briefly and concisely. Be straight to the point. Don’t repeat things too many times as they may think you are unprepared for other questions, or too comfortable with certain types of questions, or cannot explain your point very well. Don’t rush, it’s okay to think for 3 seconds before you start answering. Don’t explain things if they don’t ask them. I know you feel like there are so many things about you that they should know. Be patient, that time will come! They have their own standard questions that they have to give marks based on your answer, you don’t want them to miss those questions out!
  7. Stop repeating their questions while you answer them, stop buying time! Don’t say something poetic such as “Thank you so much for giving me this opportunity to be here, I feel very blessed,” and so on.
  8. Be honest. If you don’t know the answer to such question, be honest. Tell them you don’t know (in a smart way). But don’t say you don’t know every time, they might think, “What is this person doing here again?”. So, if you don’t know, you can try:
    1. “To that question, as far as I know … (tell them what you know),” and when you have nothing more to say, then say “I wish I could tell you more but that’s all I got so far.”
    2. “I’m sorry, I honestly do not know the answer to that question,” if you’re completely blind to that question.
  9. They will ask you things such as:
    1. Your personal background.
    2. Your educational, career, research background (whichever applies to you).
    3. Your reason for choosing certain subject, how will it relate your life’s goal, to your country’s condition (how will your country be benefited from it). You might get the benefit if you have been consistent with your education/career path. But if you’re not, try to prepare a good reason of why you dramatically switch from your previous background to the next one you’re choosing.
    4. Your future career trajectory: what’s your plan? Will you be back home? What will you do when you’re back home? (Beware of scholarship institution’s regulations). What will you be in 10-15 years time? How will you contribute to this country? (Be concrete, be specific, don’t be too normative/general).
    5. If the scholarship is given by certain type of donors that relate to your country’s development, they may ask about what you know about current Indonesian situation/relation in regards to that donor/country. This type of donor wants to make sure that you, in the future, will give something back for your country. They want to see their scholars to take crucial positions in the country within 10-15 years and build this country! They want their scholars to be the bridge between the donor country and this country.
  10. It’s always good to go through your application (when you first apply), because they will ask you deeper on some things you wrote in there. You don’t want to spontaneously answer, “Owh did I write that? I don’t remember”.
  11. Normally they serve you with a glass of water on your table. It’s okay to drink it! It shows you’re comfortable. But I forgot to drink mine as I was quite nervous.
  12. What if your English is not perfect? It’s fine! Talk slowly and it’s okay to ask them to repeat their questions if you don’t get them clear. But remember, having a bad English is not the same as having a bad content while you’re answering questions. Interviewers will get the sense when you’re “empty” or when you’re actually potential but have language barrier. So you can be “empty” while you speak perfect English. So, be prepared.
  13. When you’re leaving the room, don’t forget to say “thank you” and shake their hands. They may ask you (before you leave) if you have questions for them. Don’t make up questions if you don’t have them just for the sake of asking questions. But if you do, ask politely.
  14. Ask previous scholars. They will help you a lot. Why? They’ve gone through what you’re about to go, and hey, they got it!

So what if you walk out the room feeling not too confident? There’s always an x-factor on things like this. First, applaud yourself that you have come this far. Second, pray. Third, see it as a drill for your next interviews. Good luck!




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Ufara is a medical doctor graduating from Faculty of Medicine University of Indonesia and is currently working at the Office of President's Special Envoy on Millennium Development Goals (OSE-MDGs). She will enrol at the Master Program in Global Health Science at the University of Oxford this year (2013/2014) and gets full scholarship for that.
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