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Planning to study abroad? Here’s how to maximise your chances of winning a scholarship

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Nowadays, the competition for international scholarships is intense, and students need to start the process at least a year in advance. For Indian students planning to study abroad,  foreign universities  have several scholarships for undergraduate, post-graduate, and Ph D programmes.

Students can get scholarships that cover 25 to 100 percent of the tuition fees and living expenses. Universities take into account several factors, including the student’s profile and the programme she has applied to, when deciding on the scholarship.

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Below, we have listed some of the most important parameters when it comes to scholarships.

Build a strong profile

If you wish to apply for a scholarship, work towards it from your school days. These days, several students are well rounded, and have a strong academic and extra-curricular profile.

Building a strong profile depends on the field you aspire to study in, what your chosen universities look for in their students, and so on. For instance, research-based scholarships require research skills demonstrated by way of publications, research assistantship experience, and teaching-based stipends.

Tuition waivers require excellent communications skills and high marks in the spoken section of the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) or the International English Language Testing System (IELTS). Both are English language proficiency tests for non-native English speakers. Merit-based scholarships require excellence in academics, while scholarships for management programmes also require demonstrated leadership in extra-curricular activities or at work, prior to  joining the programme.

“Besides academic performance, the university also evaluates how students have fared in their extra-curricular activities, which includes debates, paper presentations, technical seminars, and more,” says Ashwini Kumar, General Manager and Vice-President of MPOWER Financing (India), which offers student loans and scholarships. “My recommendation for students who are in the 12th grade and thinking of is that they start to build a strong profile from now. You can’t do it overnight,’’ he adds.

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Where to apply ?

Most foreign universities offer scholarships. Go through their websites to understand their eligibility criteria, once you’ve made a shortlist of colleges you’d like to study at.

“Most students restrict themselves to the school’s website alone,” says Kumar. For instance, students applying for  MBA programmes often  only look at the MBA school’s website, missing out on a host of other scholarships which the university may be offering. Students should also reach out to alumni on social media to understand the different scholarships available, and also engage with the admissions committee. You’ve got to make a strong case for the university you wish to apply to, and the reasons why you deserve a scholarship.

A student can apply for multiple funding sources. However, there are conditions, and usually a student who bags multiple scholarships should accept the  most generous one and forgo the rest for a more equitable distribution of funding resources among the student community. In certain situations, brilliant students do manage to bag multiple scholarships from the university, the government, etc.,  if there is no bar  to the same.

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Apply early

Both government and university scholarships often have an early deadline. While many universities have three or four rounds of applications, usually, there’s a fund allocated for scholarships, and it’s better that you apply for a scholarship in the first or second round.

“If you’re applying in the third or fourth round, the likelihood of getting a scholarship starts dropping because the university might have exhausted their funds,” says Kumar.

Anyone looking for scholarships must begin their search early with thorough research.

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Alternatives to scholarships

“In research-oriented programmes, the professor will have some funds available to provide for a scholarship,” says Ankit Mehra, Co-Founder and CEO of GyanDhan, a firm that offers education loans. A student applying to an MBA course who already has experience in a particular domain, say, accounting, can probably reach out to one of the accounting professors and enquire about the scholarship and funding opportunities, either via the university or other sources within the accounting fraternity that the professors may be aware of.

Trusts such as the Narotam Sekhsaria Foundation and the JN Tata Endowment offer `loan scholarships’ to students planning to study abroad. For instance, the JN Tata trust offers a one-time `loan-scholarship’ of  up to Rs 10 lakh to students pursuing post-graduate, Ph D, or post-doctoral studies, at a simple interest of 2 percent per annum. However,  the  trustees may, at their discretion, waive  or discount the interest.

In order to win such scholarships, besides your academics, you need to compellingly articulate why you want to go abroad for higher education,  and why they should give you the scholarship.

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Don’t fake it

Education counsellors advise students to be realistic and truthful when applying for scholarships. Scholarship panels consist of experts who can sniff out a hyped or fake profile from a mile.

Moreover, interviews are an integral part of the scholarship process, and in this, a student’s strengths and qualities are tested. Any hint of hype may lead to the application being rejected.