I studied Counselling in the USA on a full scholarship and on my return I started to work as a Student Adviser at the United States Education Foundation in India (USEFI). The job entailed guiding students on how to study successfully in the USA and the most frequently asked question was: “How can I study on a full scholarship?” Having been successful in the scholarship arena I spent a considerable amount of time guiding students with the scholarship process. However, I was always amazed at the myths that surrounded the scholarship process.
Merit vs Need: One of the frequently held myths is that scholarships are given out as charity to a financially needy person. So a large number of students use the Statement of Purpose to write about dire financial circumstances. The truth is that in the arena of international education (Indian students studying abroad) full scholarships are always given on merit. Very rarely will a full scholarship go to a student who has not been academically successful. So save those sob stories and focus on building your academic profile because having top of the line merit will always remain one of the key factors in winning full scholarships.
Academic vs Extra-curricular: At the undergraduate level (Bachelor’s) universities may look for a candidate who over and above academics will have excelled in extra-curricular activities. But a rare student will get a full scholarship only on the basis of extra-curricular activities provided they have been exceptional. So if you have to choose between focusing upon academics versus extra-curriculars then go for a balance and if you can’t manage a balance then tilt towards academics. There are, of course, some extra-curriculars which testify to your academic proficiency, e.g., National Science Olympiad, Maths Olympiad, etc., and they are a definite plus. The other activities that make a difference are Duke of Edinburgh Scheme, NCC, NSS, inter-school/state level sports, etc. So create an Excel sheet of the skills you are learning in these activities and highlight them in your Statement of Purpose.
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