Scholarships In Steps I, II, III …

Studying in Central Park, New York City
Image courtesy of Flickr. A woman studying in Central Park, NYC. Photographer:

It’s true. Finding and getting scholarships to study abroad can be such time-consuming and daunting tasks. It is usually a tough competition where out of thousands of applicants, only the selected few will be invited to embark on the wonderful journey in foreign countries. If you’re among hundreds of others who have earned good GPAs in your undergrad school, what can you do to make your scholarship application stand out? If you graduated from a rather unknown university, do you think you would have a chance competing with someone who graduated from the prestigious University of Indonesia? If a scholarship institution has clearly geared its priorities towards applicants from the less-developed provinces in Indonesia, would it even be worth it for you to apply to it at all, if you graduated from a university in Jakarta?

The answer is really que sera sera: “Whatever Will Be, Will Be”. No one knows for sure. You can actually win a scholarship even if your GPA is not that outstanding. Your prestigious university doesn’t necessarily guarantee you a scholarship spot. But it will always be your job to roll the dice and let the odds weigh in. Sometimes you will need to wait for a year or two before Lady Luck comes your way. Other time, the universe could seem to work in your favor and you could go off to a foreign land in one blink of an eye.

I have been in this kind of “que sera sera” situation before, more than 10 years ago, when I was still a fresh graduate out of college. As I embarked on my career as managers for different international organizations in the later stage of my life, however, the “que sera sera” moments become a common situation that I’d have to tackle quite often. They are part of the jobs of being managers and we, managers, work with what we call work plans. We develop short-, medium-, and long-term goals and identify planned and unplanned risks. We count the unaccountable risks and we build smaller- and larger-scale projects. 

In this article, I’d like to see if I could actually reverse time a bit, to position myself as a fresh grad trying to find, compete and win scholarship to study abroad. I would imagine I wished someone would guide me through all the daunting processes. Now, let’s see if the manager’s “work-plan” can actually be applied to help anyone in navigating somebody’s efforts in getting his/her dream scholarship.

I’d start with the mighty tool called Google where you can type in “simple work plan template” and the results will lead you to see, among others, an image that can be found in this link. It is a simple Work Plan Timeline that is somewhat easy to follow. Study the flow of the timeline and see if you could come up with some ideas – and schedule – to fill this out. As for the next steps, all you need is simply some time to ponder and think through everything. Perhaps, also some papers and pencils. Or, some iPad notes. Whatever.

I’ll give you a scenario: You’re a senior in your college, your graduation day is coming soon. Your GPA is 2.8. You speak English quite well and you’ve been continuously taking English classes. Upon your graduation, you’ll earn a Bachelor’s degree but you’re not sure what kind of scholarships you would like to pursue and at which university or country you’d like to study at and go to. You only know that you’d like to study abroad with a scholarship so you could obtain a Master’s degree and improve your career opportunities. The scholarship is absolutely necessary because your parents cannot afford sending you off to study abroad without one.

Now you should be able to weigh in your plus and minus points just by looking at your own situation. Let’s look at this scenario and jot down some plus points:

(1) The last year of college is the perfect timing to start searching for scholarship options. (2) You speak English and have been taking classes (3) If your university falls under the category of the prestigious, recognized ones, good. In Indonesia, these are usually the state universities or institutions. They tend to have stronger links to scholarship opportunities abroad.

You should maintain and if possible, improve and highlight these strong points. Make sure your English language certificates are kept and that they’re marked with almost-perfect scores. You can also start early with an ESL or TOEFL test preparation so by the time you need to take the tests of English as a Second Language, your can get that perfect score. Do NOT settle for less, don’t aim to get a “passing score” for your TOEFL, for example. The more “outstanding” the points you can add to your credentials, the better the chance for you to stand out among the crowd of scholarship applicants and the better you would be at selling and positioning yourself, if you get to be invited for a selection interview later on.

Now for the weakness points? (1) If your college or university is deemed to be not so prestigious. This can be pretty subjective but normally, this factor alone is sufficient to make an applicant feel less confident about his/her own ability to win a scholarship. (2) The 2.8 GPA? Hmm….. most scholarship institutions usually require at least a GPA of 3 or 3.5! So if you have the time and could fix this number, go for it! Be more focused and earn better grades! Whatever your circumstances are, try to get the best grades and be the best that you can be. All these will help you a lot.

Now, how to answer for certain as to which scholarship to aim for or which country to spend the next two or more years in? Have you done your research? Do you know what kind of places appeal to you the most? Have you spent at least two hours every day trying to google and read more about Australia? New Zealand? Japan? Sweden? How is life as a student in each of these countries? Do you know someone who’s just returned from his/her study abroad? Have coffee with him/her and talk things out. Better yet, use Indonesia Mengglobal forum wisely! Communicate and talk with the forum’s contributors or writers and express your concerns and pose any questions you may have! You can also talk with your professors to help you navigate what sort of possible studies you could possibly take based on your academic grades. Research, talk and communicate! Get as much info as possible until you’re overwhelmed by it, then…… focus and narrow down your options.

This will let us to the baby-steps of making a realistic, workable Work Plan:

Phase I – for fun, I would call this a “messy baby steps”: basically, this is about what kind of starting steps can I take to reach my goal (of obtaining a scholarship)?

Under the “Activities” Column, you could put:

(1) Taking some steps to improve my “2.8” GPA –> Outcome (1) At least a GPA of 3.0 is achieved. Put all the steps that you could take to improve your GPA under “Activities”: (a) Talk to some lecturers/professors to give you remedial classes; (b) take extra tasks etc.

(2) Doing research for at least 2 hours per day to help you make a decision on which scholarship to get and in which country —> Outcome (2) To come up with at least 10 scholarships to apply and know what their requirements are.

(3) Doing research on students’ lives in different countries, including cost of living and potential accesses to better jobs or career —> Outcome (3) To be able to narrow down the options and to come up with only 5 countries you could potentially live for 2 years as a student.

These are just examples. You can create as many activities and outcomes as you’d like, as long as they can help you take the very first steps to help you move forward with your ultimate goal of winning a scholarship.

Phase II – let’s name this phase the “defining period” where you can actually get into the game!

The same steps are to be repeated. You define activities that you could do with the expected outcomes (results) that you hope you would achieve by doing such activities. More examples?

Activity (1) Name 2 scholarships that you will be your first priority and get information on the requirements, dates and deadlines to apply for these scholarships –> Outcome (1) You are able to compile 10 documents required for scholarship #1 and 15 documents defined for scholarship #2.

Activity (2) Name 2 other scholarships that will be of less priority but is worth applying for anyway –> Outcome (2) You are also able to compile all the documents required for all those less-of-a-priority scholarships.

Activity (3) Name 5-6 other scholarships that you think you can apply just like that, without working hard on them and that if you don’t get any of these 4-5 scholarships, it doesn’t really matter to you –> Outcome (3) to have a sense of “back-up plan” and peace of mind, knowing you have set your priorities but that there are other options that might work out anyway.

Repeat Phase I, add as many activities and outcomes as you like, but they should be more specific because the overall goal for Phase II is for you to know all the requirements, documents, timelines and dates needed for you to apply for those scholarships you feel you’d be most interested in or have the most chance to win!

Phase III and IV – I will leave this exercise in your hands. What I can tell you is that Phase III should be activities and outcomes that are related to your preparation to send in all the applications. You should also include efforts to communicate with professors at universities that you’d be interested to apply and/or any communications with admission or scholarship staff, if possible. This will get them to recognize you and your interests. You could include different dates to send your application in to each activity: one deadline for one activity and outcome.

Just a hint, Phase IV can be related to the final stage of your application process: be it your preparation for interviews, your efforts to follow-up with the scholarship board on the status of your application or your “back-up” plans if all these don’t work out.

You can be as detailed as possible or you can be quite general, but whatever you want to do, make sure that these plans help you navigate your way around. You can even repeat the same Work Plan Timeline for each of your application to each individual scholarship/university! For example, if you would like to have a separate work plan for both Chevening and Fulbright Scholarships, you can definitely create separate “Phase I-IV” for Chevening and a separate one for Fulbright.

So, yes, you can definitely “steal” ideas from managers or any project-management guide books and apply them for your own needs. Setting-up work plans is a fun exercise and it will help train your mind to learn to work with anything that life throws at you in your study, career and just about anything in general.

Who says there’s no such thing as a good “Work-Life Balance” when you can apply some things usually found at work, for the useful benefits of your own personal life’s goals? :)

Photo Credit: Cherry blossom and girl studying via Flickr.  Photographer:

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Yunetta Anggiamurni
Yunetta managed international development programs for several years at the United Nations and the Association for Southeast Asian Nations, before moving to New York to work in financial services. She earned her M.A. in Political Science at KU Leuven, in Belgium, with an Academic Excellence scholarship from the Inter-University Council for Development Cooperation. Yunetta enjoys writing and has published her work at the Jakarta Post and Asia News.