What leadership qualities do you need to become a Chevening Scholar?

Are you considering applying for a Chevening Scholarship? Are you wondering how you can demonstrate the ways in which you meet Chevening’s leadership requirements? We hear from 2020/2021 Chevening Scholar Sushma Mahabala about her journey to achieving a Chevening Scholarship.

When Sushma Mahabal applied for her Chevening scholarship, she had to overcome her fear that she wasn’t ‘good enough.’ She reflected on her past successes, showed resilience in the face of her failures and set realistic aspirations for her future. In doing so, Sushma demonstrated many of the leadership qualities that we seek out at Chevening. Here, Sushma reflects on her Chevening journey and how she overcame her fear.

The dilemma of an aspiring Chevener – should I apply or not?

Many of us suffer from imposter syndrome, feelings of inadequacy and self-doubt. I delayed applying for a Chevening Scholarship until I gave myself time to contemplate what was stopping me. I soon realised that my real concern was ‘what if I’m not good enough?’

I’m lucky to have built close friendships with people I trust and admire who provided reassurance. A dear friend said, “Your job is to apply. The Chevening screening team will assess your application and decide whether you are good enough. Don’t do their work, focus on yours instead.” Focusing on the things I can control rather than the things I can’t is advice that has stuck with me every time I feel anxious.

My best piece of advice to all Chevening applicants is to be unafraid to call upon your support network to help you overcome your concerns and organise your thoughts about what you really want from life.

In talking to my friends, I realised where my real passion lies and what I wanted to study: Social Innovation and Entrepreneurship at London School of Economics (LSE). My friends also helped boost my resilience in the face of additional stress that comes with college and scholarship applications. I have been diagnosed with Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder. During September 2019, I depended on medicine and weekly therapy to help reduce the pain I experience for two weeks of every month. I will always be grateful for my support network who helped me navigate through the difficult days.

Irrespective of your mental health, forging relationships and having a band of people that you can depend on will always hold you in good stead.

Completing the application

Generally, I dread writing, but I enjoyed writing the Chevening essays. Despite talking to friends and mentors about my career aspirations, putting it on paper served to strengthen my conviction.

It also gave me a chance to pause and look back at all the initiatives and projects that I have spearheaded over the years. It was an overwhelming experience to look back at my accomplishments, as well as to analyse the lessons I’ve learnt from my failures. My main priority was to write an honest, authentic essay.

After pressing the submit button I wrote a detailed plan B! I had already made up my mind to re-apply for a Chevening Scholarship in 2020.

It was at my best friend’s engagement that I received the offer email from LSE. A few days later, I received the email from Chevening that I’d been selected for an interview.

I prepared a list of questions that I thought the panel would likely ask and researched my answers. Unlike writing, I do enjoy talking. I was excited about the interview and it went well. I was over the moon when I saw the ‘congratulations’ email from Chevening on 16 June 2020.

My advice?

Those who are planning to apply this year, applications are now open. Start writing your essays!

Those who are planning to apply in the future, do your best to get experience in your chosen field of work.

For those of you who are uncertain, as I was when I first heard about Chevening in 2015, take the time to explore new things, find out what you want to do, and make the most of any opportunity that comes your way.

In a world with many problems, Chevening gives hope. It gives scholars an opportunity to study at the best universities in UK, come back and work in their respective home countries. It connects scholars with Chevening Alumni across the globe, enabling scholars to collaborate, amplify their work, and live their dreams. If you’ve thought about applying for a scholarship, go for it! Any idea that’s not executed is merely a hallucination.


Cheveners from around the world have shown us that effective leadership comes in many forms, as part of our current #BeALeader campaign. Check out the campaign on our social media channels or get involved today! Simply write down what attributes you think a good leader has, take a photo and share it on your social media. Don’t forget to tag us as we’ll share our favourites!

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