First Things First: Study Program, Scholarship, or Letter of Acceptance from University?

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For everyone who is currently preparing an application for his/her study, they might wonder which to secure first: study program, scholarship, or university letter of acceptance (LoA)? To help you answer this question, Novelita Wahyu Mondamina (Veli) is sharing her application journey before she eventually landed a scholarship to pursue her Master’s in Southampton, UK.

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Following my acceptance to the University of Southampton, UK for my postgraduate study, I received many questions about the “appropriate” process for applying to universities abroad. Some of the questions include:

  1. Did you get a scholarship first and then choose a university?
  2. Would it be better to secure an LoA first? But I would need financial support to complete my study; what if I haven’t managed to secure a scholarship?
  3. Should I maybe just do both – looking for scholarships and applying to universities – at the same time?
  4. But hey, is it okay to decide on the academic program that I want to do before applying to universities and looking for financial support?

In my case, I took the last route: choosing an academic program before applying for scholarships or to any universities. After sending the university application, I received an unconditional LoA from the University of Southampton and then applied for the Indonesia Endowment Fund for Education (LPDP) scholarship.

Why did I choose that route?

Working to achieve your dream to study abroad is not easy, but it is not impossible either. When you have discovered what you are passionate about and would like to study, you will be internally motivated and have the drive needed to continue to the next step. However, working on university and scholarship applications can be mentally draining, requiring a significant amount of your time and energy. Therefore, instead of working on all the applications at the same time, it would be better to take a step-by-step approach.

In general, I would recommend an order of priorities as follows:

  1. Allocate your time to focus on searching for one thing, either the study programs, the universities, or the scholarships
  2. Pick your desired program(s) and university(ies)
  3. List potential scholarships
  4. Take notes of important deadlines

Allocate your time

I received my scholarship quite a long time after I graduated with my Bachelor’s. In the period between, my weekdays were full of work. As a consequence, I only had time on weekends to focus on finding information for my postgraduate study.

Dedicating two to four hours of your time on a Saturday and/or Sunday every week should be enough to give you ideas on the specific thing that you were browsing for, either the academic programs or the universities that you want to go to. It will be good for you to use the rest of the day to rest and relax. Well, you also need some time to put your mind off, don’t you?

Pick your desired study program(s) and university(ies)

In my opinion, a study program of your choosing represents your learning interest. If you have already known the subject or field of study that sparks your curiosity, that is amazing! But if not, please do not worry and take your time to find your interest. You can also consider a few potential programs by looking at their respective syllabi. Syllabus gives you an illustration of what you are going to learn. It also highlights the minimum academic requirements that you will need to fulfil prior to being accepted.

Typically, your chosen program will be tied to a certain university. However, in order to help you list potential scholarships later, you can alternatively try narrowing down your university options by looking at global top 100 university lists, which you can easily find online.

Do not forget to also consider the work opportunities in your home country. In many of the university and scholarship applications that you will encounter, there are usually certain parts that will ask you about works or activities that you aspire to do after graduation. Of course, you need to think about the real world implementation of your academic achievement.

Given my Bachelor’s degree in Chemistry, I initially thought that it would be great to pursue further study in a certain area within that field. So I chose green chemistry and started looking for a suitable study program. However, my mind changed since I worked in the State Electricity Company (PLN). As Indonesia still heavily relies on fossil fuel to generate electricity, there is a huge potential for renewable energy in the future. This sparked my interest to learn more about issues surrounding renewables.

So then I began putting in some keywords, such as master in energy management, energy finance and sustainable energy. It was 2014 and renewables were yet to be part of the mainstream energy policy thinking in Indonesia. But keeping in mind that renewables would be the future of energy, I decided to take energy and sustainability as my study program.

Since I finished my postgraduate study and went home in 2016, I have seen an increasing utilisation of renewables in the country. While the progress has been quite slow, I believe renewables will gain a foothold in Indonesia within next few years. Currently, my work focuses on bioenergy from palm oil, an interest and passion I have developed during my study abroad.

List potential scholarships

For me, this was the hardest part in my application journey because usually some scholarships have their own requirements in terms of study programs or universities. For example, some only provide funds for incoming students of certain universities like Erasmus Mundus. However, there are also scholarships that allow us to choose our desired study program and university, such as Chevening and LPDP. Therefore, you have options at hand, whether to follow the scholarship’s requirements or widen your research.

Take notes of important deadlines

This will be very useful to help you keep track of which applications should be submitted when. This way, you will not miss any important dates. To put everything in order, I would highly suggest to have a kind of table which summarises: 1) study program, 2) name of university, 3) last date of university application, 4) potential scholarships that are eligible for your desired study program and 5) last date of scholarship application.

Novelita (fourth from right) with her classmates before poster dissertation presentation
Novelita (fourth from right) with her classmates before poster dissertation presentation

I do hope that my experience can provide some insights for those who would like to begin their university and scholarship applications. However, remember that your journey could be somewhat different from mine, so please be mindful that the above is not set in stone and you might need to adapt given your unique circumstances.

One thing to remember for sure, be confident and do your best to seize all available opportunities!

 

 

Photos provided by author.