Applying for Scholarships

22 minutes

You’re reading an excerpt of Admitted by Soundarya Balasubramani. Written by an Ivy League graduate from India, this is the proven guide for students worldwide looking to pursue undergraduate or graduate study abroad in the U.S., Canada, or Europe. Purchase for instant access to the guide and other exclusive resources—including sample SOPs, sample resumes, scholarship lists, and a private community with other readers.

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The only way to fund myself is through loans is one of the most common myths while applying to graduate school.

We say that from personal experience.

storyAfter I was done applying to all the universities, I began focusing on scholarships right away. Fortunately or not, I didn’t have anyone who could guide me on this path, which meant I didn’t have anyone telling me that the chances were low or that it wasn’t worth my time. So I applied anyway. I spent dozens of hours spread across a few months searching for scholarships across Quora, various websites, and student forums. In the end, I ended up creating a list of almost 25 scholarships, of varying reward amounts, and about a dozen conferences to apply to in the future. All that was left was to submit an application for each.

I did it incrementally over the next few months. In the end, I ended up receiving the J.N. Tata Endowment Scholarship* and the K.C. Mahindra Education Trust Scholarship,* which covered a significant portion of my tuition. Sai also applied and got selected for the J.N. Tata scholarship.

We understand you might have heard from someone that scholarships are only reserved for the best of the best.

That’s not true.

Each scholarship is unique, and has its own set of eligibility criteria and selection requirements. While your chances of getting selected are still low, it’s undeniably worth spending a few hours on. Below is a more accurate version of the myth.

The only way to fund myself is through loans if I’m too lethargic to spend a few hours researching and applying for scholarships out there with an unwavering hope that I will get it even if the chances are low.

Now, that’s more like it.

However, you are not lazy. Right? You’ve read this far because the fire in you hasn’t died yet. In fact, it probably got stronger. When I got the calls informing me that I was selected for the scholarships, I felt a swelling pride in myself. I realized I found a way to fund myself partially and achieve a sense of financial independence. We want to help you get there.

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This is an interesting question to think about. Why is someone funneling money into your career voluntarily while knowing that you are not making any explicit promise of paying back the money, ever?

You must think it’s goodwill. True, that’s one reason, but it’s not the only one.

First, scholarships can be given by the following entities: governments, companies, organizations, and nonprofits.

The J.N. Tata Endowment Scholarship spun out of the Tata company and the philanthropic philosophy of its founder, Jamsetji Nusserwanji Tata. The Narotam Sekhsaria Foundation, a non-profit, was set up in 2002 by the eponymous founder, also an entrepreneur and visionary.* The Fulbright Scholarship—if you remember from the first chapter—was concocted by a U.S. senator who championed international goodwill through exchange of students in education, culture, and science.*

The intention behind scholarships can vary depending on the source:

  • Governments give scholarships to promote the economy of the country by sending its citizens abroad in the hope that they return to the country better educated and able to contribute.

  • Companies give scholarships to boost their corporate social responsibility (CSR) and be competitive in a job market where job seekers have vast options.

  • Organizations and nonprofits give scholarships in many cases because of an elite philanthropist who believes in the value of education.

danger Although you might think that scholarships are given on a no-strings-attached basis, many of them have a clause somewhere that you need to satisfy post receiving the scholarship.

For example, the J.N. Tata scholarship required me to report my GPA at the end of every semester to the Trust to remain in good standing and receive the rest of the money. Other examples of attached strings include returning to your home country after a period of time,* and demonstrating financial inability at the time of application.*

In all cases, by bestowing the scholarship upon you, the institutions expect a level of excellence out of you either in the immediate or long-term future. To do that, you must first expect excellence out of yourself to satisfy that clause. Are you up for it?

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Yes… and no. Sorry.

Yes, because of the boom in information technology that democratized collective human knowledge to everyone with an internet connection. No, because of the boom in information technology that has made finding relevant information exponentially harder.

So the process of finding the list has become easier, but it still requires dedicated research to pick out the right ones to apply to. Let’s look at a few ways to generate this list first:

Your Alumni Network

More often than not, if a senior from your university obtained a scholarship, they would add it to their public profile on LinkedIn or another social networking site. An alternative is to check with your university’s career center. The career center watches hundreds of students travel abroad to study every year, many of whom receive scholarships and grants. If they aren’t crowdsourcing information from the alumni yet, you need to ask them to begin right away. Apart from gathering knowledge, they can also look for endowments from alumni who might be financially well-off.

Articles and Crowdsourcing Groups

We cannot stress this enough: take advantage of the articles and forums where your questions have been asked and answered already.

Don’t try to reinvent the wheel here.

In-depth articles have been written both for a global* and India-specific* audience, stating 20+ scholarships to apply to.

Quora, Reddit, and Facebook (with the help of past students) have done the work for you already. Join the various information sharing groups in these sites, where you will have access to the accumulated wisdom of the past and present students. Ask questions (and answer the ones you can to help others). Some students get pretty specific with theirs.*

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Dedicated Websites

If you want to go beyond the information you obtained from past students, you can make use of the numerous websites that are dedicated to keeping an updated list of all scholarships.

India Specific

  • MHRD Government of India

  • Buddy4Study

  • Study Guide India

  • Motachashma

International

  • World Bank Scholarships

  • GoGrad

  • IEFA

  • We Make Scholars

All the above details are specified after carefully perusing each website to find out if they have useful and relevant information. But don’t forget that scams are unavoidable on such sites.

danger Before you even think about applying, understand the indicators of scam:* asking you to pay money to apply, asking for personal information (Aadhar, PAN, credit card, passport, etc.), or asking you to not do anything and simply fill in the basic details. If something seems too good to be true, it most definitely is.

While there are dozens of resources out there, the onus is still on you to spend time hand-picking a few of the above (or all of them, if you’re really motivated) and going through each portal, choosing the right filters (host country, major, degree), and combing through each scholarship to see if it’s a fit.

Honestly, we feel that spending some time picking the ones to apply to is a small price to pay for a big prize in return.

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Yes, but before you leave, we thought it might be helpful to create a database of scholarships based on our research as well. We curated a list of 20 general scholarships, and 10 women only scholarships, which can be found in the Scholarships sheet in your Resources folder. Each scholarship has details about the eligibility, award amount, and deadline to apply. We’ve added the deadline based on 2020 since it was the latest available information, so be sure to check the deadline for your year of application.

However, keep in mind that this is an ever-evolving list.

danger Many of the scholarships I applied to in 2017 are outdated now, and new ones have sprung up since. So while we will periodically update this (once a year), you need to do your due diligence and spend a few hours researching on your own. And hey, if you find something that we missed, please do let us know.

We made this list specifically for you, someone who took the time and money to purchase and read this book. We cannot curb plagiarism altogether, but we hope you will honor our request when we ask you not to share this (and the other resources in the folder) widely.

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Yes. Before you begin your research and applications, we wanted to mention a few more sources of funds to keep in mind that can help you in the future. Apart from scholarships, you can offset your graduate school cost through assistantships and part-time jobs.

Assistantships

Graduate assistantships (GAs) are the ideal path to earn and learn at the same time. You work for a predetermined number of hours every week in exchange for a waiver on some or all of your tuition and a possible monthly stipend. What more, GAs are an attractive addition to your resume, as aptly described on University of Louisiana’s website.*

Graduate assistantships are professional positions. The experience you’ll get looks great on a resume and holding such a position will give you that professional experience that employers (or doctoral programs) are looking for. For master’s students applying to doctoral programs, an assistantship on your resume is a feather in your cap and demonstrates that you have experience, that your master’s program recognized you as the best of the best. In many research fields, if you didn’t have an assistantship, those PhD programs you’re applying to may wonder why. And if you’re planning a career in academia, an assistantship is essential for getting the teaching and research lab experience you need.

Graduate assistantships (GA) can come in two forms that are most common: research assistantship and teaching assistantship.

In simple terms, research assistants (RA) assist professors on hardcore research, whereas teaching assistants (TA) assist in preparing class materials and grading (and sometimes teaching).*

Sometimes you will also come across other types of assistantships. I was a course assistant at Columbia where the responsibility entailed grading assignments, and at times assisting the professor with classes. Understandably, it also paid less since it required fewer hours. The bottom line is, look for assistantships in all forms.

Universities are generally vocal about GA openings and send out the application to all students to fill in. However, if that’s not the case for you (or even if it is), proactively reach out to your graduate program coordinator and ask about the process to follow.

Since these are coveted roles that pay handsomely, you will see fierce competition from other students.

The best way to stand out is to begin early.

If you’re looking to be an RA, you need to directly approach the professor who can be your potential supervisor. We don’t have personal experience approaching professors for an RA position, but at the very least we can recommend that you don’t use a generic email template and bcc ten professors at once.*

Part-Time Jobs

In India, the concept of universities offering part-time jobs on campus is virtually nonexistent. If it’s similar in your country, then it might seem surreal when you encounter this concept in the U.S. and elsewhere. You get to work for up to 20 hours a week (or more under special circumstances*) and earn money to support yourself financially as you earn a degree.

statsThe pay for a part-time job varies based on the state you’re in, but the minimum wage in most states is between $7 and $10.* If you worked 20 hours a week for $10 an hour, that’s $800 a month, a pretty sizable amount that will cover most or all of your rent and other expenses.

We know it sounds attractive, but remember that money is not your greatest asset in graduate school.

Your time is.

Unless you are in a dire financial situation, strike a balance between earning enough money for your living expenses and capping the number of hours so as to focus on more important activities, such as assignments and job hunting. Ideally, you should cap it at ten hours, so it doesn’t eat up more than two hours a day. However, make this choice based on the job and the kind of cognitive resources it entails.

The job itself can be useful based on its tasks. Categorizing based on the location, you could find a job at the library, administrative office, athletics/fitness center, career center, and cafeteria. At least, these are the major sources. There will be others specific to your university.* If you end up becoming a librarian, you could leverage the quiet environment to focus on other hobbies, such as reading or listening to an audiobook. However, if your role is to be an examiner, that wouldn’t give you time to focus on your own tasks while you’re working.

It’s up to you to find a job that you’re qualified for, that pays reasonably well, and that gives you some flexibility.

To be proactive, take a look at the university website a month or two before you begin your program and email the various offices offering part-time roles. Similar to the assistantships, the demand will always be greater than the supply. You need to find non-traditional means to obtain a role, by either networking with your seniors who had it previously or knocking on the door of the office directly to show your interest.

storyI was a mathematics tutor for undergrad athletes. I got the job by talking to seniors, getting a list of roles I could apply to, and directly going to the athletics office (more than twice) and expressing my interest. It turned out to be one of the most flexible jobs on campus. The pay per hour was extremely high ($40, compared to the $11.80 minimum wage) and the working hours were mutually set by me and the student per our convenience.

The downside was they capped the number of hours per week, so I could not earn more than a certain amount per week even if I had the time to do so. Still, it was a convenient way to earn some pocket money for my living expenses and took a mere three to four hours a week.

So while you’re applying for scholarships, keep in mind the other ways you can fund yourself in the future and make a note of them somewhere.

We also came across two university programs that offered free education: NYU Medical School.* and Washington University Medical School* If you are planning on becoming a med student, that’s a pretty sweet deal.

Three Things to Remember

As you go and begin your application now, keep the following in mind. First, the importance of applying on time cannot be overstated.

The people on the other side see things as black and white. If you miss your deadline, or apply when you’re not eligible, it will be an outright rejection.

storyI applied for the PEO Peace Women’s Scholarship* on time, but the professor who submitted my recommendation did it two hours after the deadline. So they told me they could not accept my application. I emailed back explaining the situation and the why, but this was their response:

“I am truly sorry but there are no exceptions on the deadline.”

I spent weeks preparing my application, but all they could see was a two-hour lapse. After sending a few more passionate emails explaining the effort I put into the application, I realized they wouldn’t budge. I ended with a long passive-aggressive monologue criticizing their black and white perspective on things. I never got a response to it, but it helped me anyway as a form of catharsis.

We hope you learn from our mistakes and send your applications in on time, or earlier, because they will not show you mercy.

Second, know that bagging scholarships is a numbers game: the more places you apply to, the better your chances. There are not many high-paying scholarships (>$10,000), but there are plenty of micro-scholarships.

Instead of putting your eggs in a really big basket, try diversifying and applying to more of the small scale ones, where you have a better chance.

Finally, we know getting a scholarship can be a huge ego-boost. However, unless this is a true necessity for your higher education, don’t spend time on this at the expense of filling out your applications, which is what will decide whether you have a chance to go in the first place. This should always remain a second priority.

Final Thoughts on Scholarship Applications

We are optimists, so hearing someone say that it’s not possible to do something doesn’t always make sense to us. Now we know from experience that it is possible to obtain scholarships and fund oneself through other means. We are not discounting the effort it takes to apply or the very low chances one has of obtaining them. We are simply saying it’s possible, and worth giving a shot.

First, start with your immediate seniors and ask them about the ones they have heard of (or obtained). Next, hunt for these in crowdsourcing groups on websites such as Reddit and Facebook, where you have access to the knowledge of the masses. Finally, if you want to go the extra mile, do your own research through the websites we mentioned and curate your list. We didn’t want to just give you the tool here, though. Out of personal curiosity, and to save a few hours of your time, we found a list of 20 general and 10 women-specific scholarships you can apply to. Start from there.

Apart from scholarships, you can also fund yourself through assistantships and part-time jobs. The former pays well and may even waive your tuition altogether, while the latter can be used to offset your living expenses. If neither of these concepts are widely prevalent in your country, they may seem extremely attractive at first. However, because they are attractive, the demand outweighs the supply. So begin your research early in both cases, and keep a conscious eye on the number of hours you’re signing yourself up for (especially for a part-time job that doesn’t add direct value).

Coming back to the scholarships, check the eligibility requirements and deadlines very carefully, apply to a diverse set of scholarships, and put in your applications early. I would hate to see you make the same mistakes I made. Hopefully, you end up getting one (or more) to fund yourself. When you do, be sure to pass on the optimism to those who come after you.

A Little Reflection on Scholarships

thinkHow important is it for you to obtain a scholarship?

What are the other means through which you can fund yourself? Does your university offer GAs and part-time jobs?

Assuming you obtained a scholarship, how can you help your juniors now?

Preparing for Interviews28 minutes, 1 link

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storyI remember dressing up in an orchid pink Allen Solly shirt (the only one I had back then) and black high-waisted pants to have a conversation with a laptop screen. In my undergraduate university, girls had a curfew that prevented us from stepping outside the fortified walls of our hostel after 9:00 p.m. on weekdays. So, I had to resort to sitting inside the common room on my floor, desperately hoping that no one would walk in, as I had my interview at 11:30 p.m. The internet connection failed me twice, and finally worked the third time, just long enough for me to answer five pre-recorded questions that flashed across the screen.

What does ethics mean to you? (unexpected)

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