Scholarship Hunter, Your Story Matters!

by retnolestari

Having worked with so many people for the past three years on their journey to get a scholarship makes me realize that a good story really matters. Unfortunately, those who failed have not been able to find and deliver their story in a compelling way just yet.

What do I mean by a story? It is something unique about you; it is the way you present your logical thinking; it is “the how and why” instead of “the what”; it is your contribution to a cause; it is your achievement; it is your ability to have the power to lead and influence others. Sounds a lot? Yes, it is. Those who managed to get a scholarship have all these qualities.

But then the question is how can you obtain all the above? Can you as a fresh graduate have a chance to compete with the people who have extensive experience? If the answer is yes, then how can you do it? I will give you the findings from my observation, reading many successful essays, and talking with successful candidates.

Four Types of Scholars

In my opinion, there are four types of scholars who are given a scholarship by the panelist. In my scholarship cohort, there are those who have very long working experience, mid-career, early career, and fresh graduate. So, if you feel like you don’t have a lot of working hours, don’t be discouraged. Your chance is the same as the very experienced ones.

Scholarship providers want to give the same opportunity to people from different backgrounds, ages, races, religions, etc. Diversity is being upheld high by these organizations.

Then, what makes one person being chosen over the other? What story did they deliver?

How to Create a Story That Matters?

I will start with my own story. I was a former TV journalist who turned into an entrepreneur when I received a Chevening scholarship and managed to reach the interview stage of Fulbright and AAS. Through my journalistic work, not only could I directly help the lives of other people but also influence policies in my country. I presented my experience in creating a feature program about underprivileged athletes despite their contribution to the nation. I also wrote about how I advocated breastfeeding through my involvement in a health program in my home area. I showed that my experience was not only on a national scale but also on an international level. I presented my leadership examples through my work in big projects that overcame many challenges. And yes, I had 14 years of working experience when I applied for the scholarship. So I am one of the “old” categories 😉 More than that, I really care about the media development in my country that neglected their educational responsibility. I said that education is the foundation to build a nation while media act as the biggest power tool to influence people. Why have these two failed to intertwine?

I spoke to one of my friends that has only one year of working experience before receiving a prestigious scholarship. She is one of the most genuine people I ever met, smart and a hard worker. I read her essays and her essays are very honest, very touching, exactly just like her in real life. She wrote about how she inspired her juniors to balance academic life and social work when most of her friends failed to do so. From her application, I learned that writing an essay has to be very personal and genuine.

One of my mentees has a very unique approach to his essay. He has a few pillars to tell his story. His pillars were diversity and tolerance. He focused on the storytelling by presenting what he has done on these two topics. He has many achievements, but because he knows how to write with a storytelling approach, it sounds very humble. When I read it, I praised him. He showed that he wants to promote those two pillars through his job.

Another friend of mine was a fresh graduate when she received a scholarship. How come a fresh graduate from a bachelor’s study managed to secure a master’s scholarship only a few months after she graduated? It turns out, she spotted a big problem in water sanitation through her research. The development of the city in Indonesia has not been accompanied by a good clean water plan infrastructure development. She wanted to present her findings to the government in Indonesia and all the stakeholders involved. She found her cause and worked on it!

Learn Writing Skills to Formulate a Good Story

I assume that you already understand what kind of substance that works. Now the next step you need to do is to learn writing skills. We have to admit that most of us don’t really write. If we are not a researcher, a journalist, or someone whose job is writing, we don’t really find the need to master these skills. But, in my humble opinion, in the era where almost everything is online, having writing skills is a must.

So, what kind of writing skills do you need to learn? Before you decide what to learn, the first thing that you have to do is to understand the nature of each scholarship. You have to analyze what is the expectation of the scholarship providers from each country in your essays. A scholarship from the UK might have a different approach from the US, and so on.

Now, if I can give you a suggestion, you might want to learn these type of writing skills:
1. IELTS Writing Essay Task 2. This will give you an understanding of a basic structure. You can read it in my previous blog post.
2. Academic Writing. I know that you are not a student just yet. But, learning academics in advance will help you a lot. You will understand, for instance, how to put phrases to make your essays sound sophisticated.
3. Journalistic Feature Writing. Read feature articles from Reuters. From all the news sources, I love the way Reuters journalists write about a simple feature story.
4. Documentary writing. I suggest you watch a documentary on Netflix whose narrator is Sir David Attenborough. Beautiful voice, beautiful writing.
5. Screenplay writing. This is very useful if you want to present a conflict. You might want to learn screenplay three-act structure technique, for instance.

Too much? I know! But, if you want to get a scholarship so bad, I guess you’re willing to go the extra mile. This year at TransforMe, I will create a complete package course of writing techniques for a scholarship essay. We will have it in Bahasa Indonesia. But If there are many people interested I will make it in English. Please drop an email so that I know there is a demand for the English version at

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