Where did I go wrong? Reading Committee feedback for applicants

As Chevening Scholarship results are announced, you may find that you have not received the news you were hoping for, and in this case will no doubt wonder where you might have gone wrong in your application – after all, you’ll want to review your application ahead of reapplying with even stronger essays when applications reopen soon!

Chevening uses independent Reading Committees to assess all eligible applications, and this year, they assessed over 53,000 eligible Chevening Scholarship applications for 2020/2021 intake. Based on their collective feedback, we have highlighted some of the most common reasons applications were not scored as highly as they could have been, and what applicants can do to improve their essays for the future.

Leadership and influence

Chevening is looking for individuals who will be future leaders or influencers in their home countries. Explain how you meet this requirement, using clear examples of your own leadership and influencing skills to support your answer.

Strengths:

  • The best scoring applicants demonstrated clear examples of leadership and influencing with concrete results.

Weaknesses:

  • Very few applicants were able to combine successful leadership qualities with evidence.
  • Some applicants focussed on leadership examples from their early academic experiences, even their school experiences, rather than examples from their recent or current professional experience which may have provided more relevant examples of leadership ability.
  • A significant number seemed to have assumed that occupying a particular position or role was in itself sufficient to demonstrate leadership skills. Thus, detailed instancing of how influence was successfully gained and deployed, and the beneficial outcomes of this, was fairly rare.
  • The most common error is students continuing to define leadership rather than provide examples of their traits and linking them to the degree/post-study work plans.

General recommendations:

  • Taking more of a STAR (situation, task, action, result) approach may have helped to refine these responses.
  • Applicants should focus less on the collective “we” and “team” in this answer and place greater emphasis on their individual contribution, to achieve a higher score.
  • Examples required more focus in terms of exactly how they led and, more notably, what were the results of their leadership and how did that have a long-term impact on their professional development.

Networking

Chevening is looking for individuals with strong professional relationship-building skills, who will engage with the Chevening community and influence and lead others in their chosen profession. Please explain how you build and maintain relationships in a professional capacity, using clear examples of how you currently do this, and outline how you hope to use these skills in the future.

Strengths:

  • Strong applicants in this section used specific examples of their own networks, describing unique and diverse ways of maintaining networks, and discussed how they facilitate networking.

Weaknesses:

  • Many applicants scored ‘good’ as they could clearly evidence networking skills, and even the start of building networks within the current Chevening community, but few expanded on this.
  • Merely joining a social media network is relatively straightforward and quick to organise, and probably not the strongest example of relationship building skills; few applications demonstrated in specific detail how and why creating and joining these networks had proved beneficial.
  • Many of the applicants found it difficult to connect their notions of networking with clear examples of using them at work. Answers were often generic with relationships and collaboration with direct and indirect colleagues discussed, but not expanded upon to clearly show how these relationships would help the individual in the future.

Studying in the UK

Outline why you have selected your chosen three university courses, and explain how this relates to your previous academic or professional experience and your plans for the future. Please do not duplicate the information you have entered on the work experience and education section of this form

Strengths:

  • The strongest answers had a clear focus on study outcomes with evidence of research at institution and course level.
  • The applicants who answered this question best did so by having distinct paragraphs discussing their courses.

Weaknesses:

  • Applicants frequently did not specify their chosen universities or demonstrate an awareness of key details from within their fields.
  • Applicants who had applied for three very diverse course subjects did not inspire confidence in their research into courses and were frequently unable to give clear and coherent reasons for these choices.
  • While many showed a cursory or better than cursory knowledge of their chosen course and university, often the detail given on this read like a cut-and-paste from university promotional material rather than real engagement with subject or course detail.

Career Plan

Chevening is looking for individuals who have a clear post-study career plan. Please outline your immediate plans upon returning home and your longer term career goals. You may wish to consider how these relate to what the UK government is doing in your country.

Strengths:

  • The strongest responses tended to be based on an outline of specific, concrete goals, which usually therefore seemed more convincing and achievable.

Weaknesses:

  • Applicants often listed future aims in relation to their careers, and some explored realistic next steps in depth. Yet most did not give a strong rationale, which made a potential clear career path unconvincing.
  • Many applicants illustrated a desire to do a PhD in the post study section. This is ambitious and realistic, but wasn’t always a convincing career goal on its own. That is to say, it needed to be backed up with reasons why they wanted to pursue research work and how it plays a part in their longer-term ambitions.
  • Career plans were too often poorly developed and it was not possible to discern how a Chevening Scholarship would be of benefit.

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