One of the biggest issues that almost all applicants face is the financial factor while applying to universities abroad. Given the tuition fees, living costs and other expenses of most universities, it becomes next to impossible for a typical household to afford such education. Hence, knowing how to get financial aid and scholarships comes into the mix.
Differences between aid and scholarship
In most cases, there are two types of scholarships offered by the universities -- merit-based scholarships and need-based scholarships. Getting merit-based scholarships is not contingent upon the applicants' financial status and need. If the applicants can meet the undisclosed criteria that are set for scholars, they can have a certain percentage of tuition fees waived off, or in some cases waived off entirely. These criteria usually are the applicants' academics, extra-curricular activities, essays, the coherence among all of the components of the application, etc.
"For most Bangladeshi students, financial aid is the best choice. Scholarships usually cover the tuition fees leaving out housing fees, health insurance, etc. adding up to US$ 20,000 to 30,000 per year," said Intiser Rajoan Parash, a full-ride undergraduate scholar at Vanderbilt University. "Financial aid covers all the expenses related to the college making it feasible for most Bangladeshi applicants."
Financial aid and need-based scholarships have certain similarities. Getting these depends on the household income of the applicants in addition to the academic, extracurricular activity (ECA) and other criteria. Financial needs usually cover all the expenses associated with the college-- tuition fees, housing and food costs, expenses for books and accessories, and stipends. However, some colleges offer scholarships that waive off the tuition costs and housing costs too. That is where research comes into play.
The importance of academics
"The whole scholarship procedure is very holistic in nature. So, even if an applicant slightly lacks in one aspect, it is very much possible to make it up with essays, volunteering, etc," said Mathira Kawser, full-ride Lester B. Pearson scholar at the University of Toronto. "I was the gold medalist of my school for getting the most A*s in my O-levels exams. And if you have 90 per cent or more scores in your academics, getting scholarships at Canadian universities becomes easier."
The high school scores carry much significance in the scholarship application. So, having good scores in SSC, HSC or O-levels, A-levels and other academic scores can help the applicants a lot.
"If an applicant focuses only on academics with little to no concentration to ECAs and vice versa, that hurts that applicant's chance of getting the scholarship. It is important to show academic potential to the admission committee as well as drive to do things beyond reading textbooks," said Farhan Kamrul Khan, a full-ride undergraduate scholar at New York University Abu Dhabi.
There is a preconceived notion that the NCTB (National Curriculum and Textbook Board) results do not get much importance in university admission abroad which is not true. "I could have applied with my HSC scores only. It wouldn't be a problem and I could still manage to get the scholarship from that college. So, SSC and HSC scores do matter," shared Farhan.
The CGPA from a postgraduate applicant's university carries the same significance. However, there is no permanent cut-off CGPA for the applicants. Most universities share the statistics of their newest batch such as median CGPA, median GMAT, GRE and other standardised tests' scores, average work experience of the applicants and so on.
A coherent plan
The whole application has to have a continuous flow of a particular theme that an applicant has in mind. "I took around a month to self-reflect and decide which activities go with my applications and will help me. I decided on a theme which was how I evolved as a person," said Parash.
There are mainly four major parts of the application that need to be kept in mind. The applicant's background is the 'why'-- why a particular theme, college have been chosen. ECA is the 'how'-- how has the applicant shown his/her interest and dedication to the particular theme and the college. Accomplishments are the 'results'-- showing the college that the applicant has translated the dedication into tangible results proving his/her merits. Lastly, the major a candidate chooses will reflect the future plans which should also be in line with the rest of the facets of the application.
The ECA factor
"I participated at an international dance competition in Thailand but I did not mention that. I was among the top-11 participants in the National Bangladesh Economics Olympiad, a participant in the National Physics Olympiad, and debated in international tournaments," said Mathira. "But the ECA focused the most on my 12-year dancing classes at Chhayanaut because I was passionate about it and that is really important."
In terms of ECAs, having a bunch of irrelevant ECAs and making the application big does not help. ECAs have to be coherent with the applicant's plans, purpose and the major of the college. It is important to highlight one ECA more than the rest. It does not matter if the activity one is passionate about is internationally recognised or not.
"In the common app's section of giving additional information about myself, I put that I loved reading books, watching movies etc. As long as it goes hand in hand with the application and describes more about you to the college, go ahead and put them in," added Parash.
Work experience almost substitutes the ECAs in the case of post-graduate admission. In order to secure a good chance at getting financial aid and a scholarship, an applicant needs to have a curriculum vitae that reflect his/her plans. It is better to show experience aligned with one's career goals than a diversified portfolio.
When it comes to getting scholarships, the university has to believe that the person is worth the investment. To earn that faith, the application has to reflect such confidence. In the end, why say so much about yourself when you can simply show?
The writer is a BBA student at IBA (DU).