Friday, October 26, 2012

The ABC of Applying for Scholarships in Tanzania


By Kapongola Nganyanyuka

1. Je, scholarship huanza kuombwa baada ya kupata admission?

There is no single answer for this question – it varies for each scholarship. For instance, if you are to apply for a scholarship whose provider is different from the admitting university, then you would first apply for admission and later seek for scholarships. The last time I checked, this is the case with World Bank Japan Scholarships. However, other scholarships would require submitting both applications in a single package regardless that they do not admit students (the case with NFP). I would advise you to read specific scholarship instructions to understand what you need to do.  

From my own experience, it is good to prepare in advance so that it becomes easy and fast to apply when you come across scholarship opportunities. Things to prepare may include a statement of intent, CV, certified certificates, scanned certificates, summary/abstracts of your publications etc. Keep in mind that you will need to review and edit all documents to ensure they suit particular scholarships (except your certificates off course).

2. Je, ni mhimu kutuma vyeti vya `O LEVEL' na `A LEVEL'?

I personally feel that you can only attach them if you are required to do so. Personally, I can’t remember using O-level and A-level certificates for scholarship purposes.

3. Je, ni content gani hasa huwa inakuwa kwenye recommendation letter? Je, pia kuna uwezekano wa mimi kuhakikisha kuwa kinachoandikwa kwenye recommendation letter kinani `favour'?

Scholarship recommendations letters are meant to provide the selection team with a third party perspective on your strengths and the reasons why you qualify for the offer. Usually many scholarships will state the kind of information recommenders should include. Likewise, some will go as far as providing templates for the letter. In general, the letter will include your relationship with the recommender, your strengths and specific reasons on why you qualify to receive the scholarship. I have used the word specific purposely, as it is important that the information given in the letter describes you and fit your personality as much as possible. Remember, it is such information that will set you above all other applicants. In that regard, your recommender should include examples of your achievements and initiatives you have taken to tackle any challenges encountered along your academic/professional journey.

I have had challenges with recommendations letters – delays from professor/lecturers. Be sure to inform your recommenders in advance and ensure that they know what you expect from them including deadlines. Here is where your interpersonal skills need to work to their best capacity. The challenge is to give them constant reminders about the deadline while ensuring they don’t feel hurried.

How do you see the content of the letter? In fact, I can’t tell for sure, it will depend on your relationship with the recommender. However, most recommendation letters are meant to be classified information unless stated otherwise. Similarly, your family members do not qualify to be your academic/scholarship recommenders.

4. Je, hiyo recommendation letter ninakabidhiwa mimi zen niitume kunakohusika au inatumwa pasi mimi kuiona?

Most selection teams will require sealed and signed letters. How do you send the letter? - It varies for each scholarship. While others may require you attach it with the rest documents (you will be the one to send in a single package), in other cases the recommender will be asked to send it directly to the scholarship institution.

Being in the dotcom era, some universities may just ask you to provide email addresses of your recommenders and they will contact them to inform how they will submit their letters. Others may require recommenders to fill an online form and thus all communication will be between the recommender and your scholarship institution. Whatever the case may be, it is important that you inform your recommenders to get them prepared. Likewise, it will help you to (re)create rapport with the recommender in case you have no regular contact. You have to realize that your professors meet a “bunch of students’ so they are very likely to forget specific information about you irrespective of your close relationship with them during your school days.

5. Je, hiyo recommendation letter ni vyema ikaandikwa na DR au PROFESSOR? (Uzoefu utumike hapa)

Prominence of the recommender may help to answer the ‘who’s opinion matter’ question, however, I feel that much emphasis is put on the content of the letter. And remember, this information will also be compared to your skills, achievements and what you have written in your statement of intent. All these issues need to balance and you should not expect the recommendation letter to do all the magic. Nonetheless, there will be cases where reviewers will be biased and give more value to recommendation letters from prominent people. Imagine being recommended by Bill Gates, Obama etc. However, I personally think that the odds are very marginal here.

The bottom line is to select a person who knows you well (professionally) and will be able to provide information that correspond to what I have discussed in question 3 above.

6. Je, inawezekana application kuwa accepted kwa kutumia transcript tu bila certificate? (nahisi cheti kitachelewa kutoka zen nikawa out of deadline)

I have no correct answer for this but as usual, check the instructions. If not satisfied, contact the scholarship institution and explain your situation. If still not satisfied, just ask yourself these questions, does it kill to apply? Is it worth to give a try?

7. Je, ni information gani hasa hasa huwa zinatakiwa  kwenye statement of purpose/letter of intent? (ni vyema ningepewa highlight juu ya format yake)

This is one of the key pieces of information in your application for most scholarships. You need to put more effort on this part. You should remember there will always be scarce resources (scholarship funds) compared to the demand (including you). This is a long topic but I will just list a few things to consider when writing your statement of purpose.

· Tell a story – personalize your statement and show that you have interest in what you are doing or planning to do. State your purpose, strengths, and how you plan to achieve your goals (consider immediate and long term goals). Give concrete examples as they will distinguish you from the rest of the applicants.

· Frame your statement to fit your funders’ goals/objectives (if they want to fund students to later become community workers, make sure this is shown in your statement OR if they fund research on HIV your statement should somehow be in that direction).

· Show coherence between your experience, the scholarship and future goals (your background should show that you can well accomplish your academic goals as well as help accomplish those of the funders). For Social Sciences scholarships, usually it is recommended to show how the public will benefit from your education.

· Ensure that your statement is free of spelling mistakes, jargons, acronyms that are not defined and any other typos (e.g. advice instead of advise, Zanzibar instead of Zimbabwe and vice versa).

· Ask your friends/colleagues to read your statement (more than one/once) and give you constructive comments. You should restrain from asking them to write it for you.

· Each scholarship is different; do not submit the same statement for more than one scholarship. Still, you are the same person and probably have a single story, try to retell the story to suit the scholarship. No lying here.

·  In relation to the preceding point, be honest and consistent. The world is like a village, you never know who will read your stuff (virtue should also guide you here).

· Formats for statements are diverse but it will be nice to choose what works best for you. Try to look at what others have written and identify things that drew your attention. It is like writing a letter; there is a common agreement on what should be on the first paragraph etc. Check online resources for further information.

· Coming up with an excellent statement of intent takes time – it is not a one day thing so take your time (it involves drafting and lots of editing - keeping in mind English is our third language, at least for me).

8. Kuna kitu kinaitwa TEOFL TEST/IELTS TEST/CAMBRIDGE TEST, lakini wametoa maelezo kuwa kama ulipata degree yako toka kwenye chuo ambacho kinatumia English kama instructing language hutahitajika kufanya tests, swali ni je hiyo inawezekana ikahusisha vyuo vyetu vya Tanzania? (naomba uzoefu utumike zaidi hapa). Na kama inawezekana je kuna namna yoyote ya mimi kuwa na document inayothibisha kuwa nipo exempted from test?

From my personal experience, most universities in the US will require you to sit for TOEFL or any other accredited English certification regardless of English being the language of instruction in your bachelor degree. Few exceptions will be for those who received their education from prominent/credited International schools e.g. the International School of Tanganyika. In contrast, universities in UK and other European countries are likely to waive TOEFL certification for Tanzanian students.

Alternatively, the English Department of the University of Dar es Salaam provide English language certification for similar purposes but I can’t tell its credibility (I am also not sure if students from other universities in the country are eligible). The certificate mainly shows that English was the language of communication in your studies and you have enough skills to write and speak the language. You can visit the department for further details. (Personally, I don’t have this certification but a couple of friends have benefited from it). Still, I would advise you to read well the application instructions and possibly contact the admission team for them to clarify any unclear issues including English language requirements.

Other Stuffs
· Think of the scholarship search as a project and for its success it requires your time, money and other resources. You need a comprehensive plan to accomplish this project which will guide you over the time e.g. necessary resources, time frame and how you will measure success. For instance, I personally drafted a plan (a matrix) which shows types of scholarship, requirements, application deadlines, recommendations etc.

·  The internet should be your friend. It provides essential resources that cover all issues discussed in this piece. My advice might be a “single story” thing, and the internet will expose you to how others have done it or are still doing it. Most importantly, the internet will keep you at the cutting-edge.

· How to stay up-to-date – you need to use some tools of the internet that are designed for that matter. For instance, make use of email alerts, feeds from blogs, follow people on twitter etc. (you can search the internet on how to do all these). However, beware of internet security etiquettes.

· Personal advice on writing emails. Things I liked in your email – good title (relevant to the content of the email), good introduction and very elaborate and specific questions. Things I feel that you need to improve (my personal taste) – include paragraphs and separate them by a line. Proofread what you have written (your email had several spelling mistakes and connected words). Most of us are affected by the academic upbringing where correct spelling and good typesetting cannot be separated from the content of any written text.

· Lastly, ‘plant many seeds as you never know which ones will grow to bear fruits”, so apply for as many scholarships as you can. Do not lose hope when you receive “we regret’ messages. Analyse why you were not successful, work on the gaps and continue applying with new improve applications. If you are not sure of the reasons for failure, you can write to the admission team. They are usually kind enough to give you feedback. I once wrote to Oxford University as to why I had not succeeded to get a PhD scholarship and they replied explaining all the factors to that effect. I worked on my weaknesses and improved my succeeding applications. You may not always have a chance to work on weaknesses but it will give you peace of mind. For example, you can’t do anything if you are told you have one year experience instead of three.

· In general, if doesn’t kill, try it.

*Here is a list of scholarships:
a)      Scholarships at my current university:
b)      Subi has created a very rich and useful resource for scholarships: http://www.wavuti.com/scholarship-list.html#axzz29xEH4Ugq
c)       Another page from Subi (provides selected list of scholarships as they become available); http://www.wavuti.com/scholarship-posts.html#axzz29xEH4Ugq
d)      The World Bank scholarships
g)      Makulilo has another great resource for scholarships (optionally, you can subscribe and receive email alerts when new opportunities are posted):

**You can also look for these scholarships (they invite applications on an annual basis):
1.      Aga Khan Foundation Scholarships
2.      Gates Cambridge Scholarships
3.      Commonwealth Scholarships (this is one of the best scholarships with respect to amount of stipend and other benefits, however, its application process involves the Ministry of Science, Technology and higher education, subjecting it to TZ tailored bureaucracy. This should not discourage you, give a try).
4.      Australian International Scholarships
5.      Ford Foundation Scholarships
6.      NFP (for studies in the Netherlands)
7.      DAAD scholarships (Germany)
8.      Rotary Foundation
9.      VLIR (Belgium)
11.  HUYGENS scholarships
12.  DFID



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