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Scholarships and More


Hello, from sunny UK! Yes, we’re approaching autumn but it has been rather sunny and warm since I got here. I will write about my time here in the later posts, but I’ve been getting requests from friends and strangers to do a write-up about my talk on scholarship applications, which was organized by Mensa Penang in August. It is the scholarship application season now, so I hope what I’m about to share helps you in your preparation.

--- The overwhelming response was incredible. Thanks for coming, everyone!
— The overwhelming response was incredible. Thanks for coming, everyone!

Just a brief background about myself – I was sponsored by PETRONAS for my undergraduate studies, and now I am a Chevening scholar pursuing my masters in London. Yes, I was pretty much a freeloader where education is concerned.

The session was an hour long, where I spoke for almost forty minutes, and another twenty minutes was allocated for a Q&A session.

But to keep this post brief and precise, I will publish the important points that I shared on the “Scholarship & Success Rates: What You Need To Know” presentation.

Scholarship vs. Sponsorship

A scholarship is usually awarded by a government organization (sometimes, private organizations as well) where there are very little to zero attachments upon the completion of your studies. Which means, so as long as you do well and not cause any trouble, you do not have to pay or serve the awarding body when you’re done with school.

A sponsorship is typically a form of financial aid given by private corporations that have terms and conditions even after you have graduated. For example, a Petronas sponsorship will require its scholars to serve X amount of years with the company, depending on the length of study. Being bonded to your sponsors is not necessarily a bad thing (I mean, come on, they did pay for your studies) – it does protect you from the ailing job market to a certain degree.

Regardless of the terms and conditions, both avenues are actually quite similar: the sponsors or awarding bodies are looking for motivated, bright and mature candidates to uphold their image throughout their education tenure. When you’re a scholar, you’re representing the people who paid for your education. When you understand that it’s not really about what they can do for you, but what it is that they really want from you – you’ll begin to make sense of what I’m about to say next.

What Happens Before, During & After a Scholarship

Before: Your Grades Do Actually Matter (to a certain extent)

Yes, your parents were right all along to push you to study hard. I know in a world where we’re often motivated by stories of university dropout billionaires it’s hard to see why studying is so important. But here’s the thing: These dropouts GOT into university first (and not just any university but the likes of Harvard, Stanford, etc.) – which means that at some point they were pretty smart kids.

Let’s say you’re a very successful investor who has made a lot of money. Someone comes up to you and asks you to pay for university. What comes to your mind? Surely, even if you were kind enough to help a stranger, you want to know that this person is worth investing in in the first place. You would want to know that this person did well in school, has a good attitude and will not put your money to waste.

Which is why your grades are important. They put you through the first round and help you secure that interview. How good is good? The best that you can ever achieve. I was not a straight A’s student and neither did I graduate first-class for my bachelor’s degree – but I worked hard and managed to get rather decent academic results and I was very active in other activities outside of school. I will elaborate on that later, as I go to the next part.

During: It’s All About YOU Now.

So you have some pretty impressive paper qualifications and you’ve scored a slot for an interview. What next?

This is where the real test begins. You will soon realise that nobody is looking at your grades anymore. Because by now, everyone who has made the mark with their grades are already there with you.  Now your interviewer is looking at you, and he or she wants to get to know you for you.

So, by all means, apart from just great results (which EVERYBODY who secured the interview has), you need something more important.

You need to get some LIFE. Here’s what I mean by the LIFE your interviewer is trying to identify within you:


1. Leadership

Ask any scholar and they will tell you that this is one of the key things your interviewers are looking for. They want to know if you possess any leadership qualities, and they will most likely ask you what leadership means to you, and what real-life experiences that you have encountered in a leadership position.  This is where your involvement in extra-curricular activities inside and outside of your school/workplace counts.

Why It Matters:

No, they’re not looking for someone with the ability to boss people around. It matters because they are looking for someone who has the potential to be change agents and pioneers for them. People with leadership qualities often possess a high level of accountability, which is the sense of responsibility and ownership when they are in charge of something bigger than themselves – they complain a lot less, and do a lot more. A person who is accountable will always ensure that they will not in anyway jeopardise the image of their sponsors.

Great leaders who work in groups also often display very good communication skills. They don’t just talk, but they are prepared to listen. They are also not afraid to be wrong or be the first person to apologise. Most of my interviews often end up as a two-way thing – my interviewers don’t only ask me questions, I also try to understand who they are by asking them questions about themselves and their cause. At the end of the interview, they often remember me by name because in that brief moment, we have already established an amicable relationship, sealed with a firm handshake.

2. Intention

This one is a little tricky. If you’re just finishing high school, most likely your intention of securing a scholarship is just getting a free education because your parents told you so. Despite your current state, whether you’re a wide-eyed wondered teenager, or an adult going through some life crisis – you have to identify what your real intentions are in applying for this scholarship.

Why It Matters:

Your sponsors need to know that you have a plan. Typically, they’ll ask, where do you see yourself in 10 years? It’s okay if you’re not entirely sure, they just want to know if you’re working on it.

Your intention to obtain this scholarship usually goes hand in hand with convincing your sponsors why you picked the particular course of subject. They can tell if you’re making something up, or if you are being honest.

For example, I chose mechanical engineering for my bachelor’s degree simply because I wasn’t sure and I wanted to keep my options open later in the future. I know for a fact that mechanical engineering allows me to dab into chemical, electrical, civil, and other forms of engineering disciplines throughout its course. And that’s exactly what I told my interviewers. If you know from the start exactly what you want to be, that’s awesome. But if you don’t, it’s not the end of the world – you’re just normal.

When you are able to convey the rationale behind your choice, it also shows your level of maturity and decision-making skills. Just like a game of chess, you may not know exactly how you want to check mate your opponent yet, but you have planned two or three steps ahead for every move you make to help you get there.  That’s right – identify your intentions and plan your way solid around it.

3. Fearlessness

If you have already begun applying for your scholarship, allow me to congratulate you. It’s not an easy feat, putting yourself out there and risk being rejected by people in high position who barely know you. The scholarships that I have obtained were not the only scholarships I have applied for. They just happen to be the ones where my sponsors said “OK.”

What’s the worst outcome of it all? Well, it’ll just be a “No.” Then life goes on.

Why It Matters:

When you dare to try, and you dare to fail – you will find yourself walking into that interview room (and life, for that matter) with nothing to lose. And my friends, that is the best feeling that one can have in such situations. Immediately, your confidence is boosted and you might actually enjoy the interview. As mentioned in the first point regarding Leadership, your interviewers are looking for pioneers. They want somebody who can get off the beaten path and are able to seek and create opportunities, even if the outcome may be uncertain.

I come with a strong background in the oil & gas industry, and there I was, explaining to them why I wanted to go in sustainable energy. In fact, I also had to explain it to my bosses when I asked for my study leave! I’ll leave my rationale to your imagination (this could end up in another post).

And last but not least, when you’re fearless, you’re probably a little less shy than your peers. This means that when you’re put in a social setting, you are able to network with others instead of standing in one corner all of the time (I actually do that, but when duty calls, I can carry a good conversation). Networking also opens doors of opportunities, not just for you, but for your sponsors as well.

4. Effort

This is probably the most important one for me. Your effort says it all. If you’re going to ask for a large sum of money from someone, at least have the decency to find out more about your potential sponsors. Find out what they do, what their causes are and how you intend to represent them as a scholar.

Unsure of what you really want to do or which university you want to study in? Research! There’s no such thing as withheld resources anymore. So instead of Googling who Taylor Swift’s next boyfriend is going to be, find out more about your options. Make a Plan A, B, C, etc.! One of the most glaring things about a candidate is if they have put in sufficient effort in their application. If your application has certain pre-requisites (ie. IELTS, GMAT, etc.) – meet them all as soon as possible. When you tell your interviewers you have all those qualifications ready, they know that you are all set and just raring to go.

Why It Matters:

It shows how much you really, really, want the scholarship – even more so than the next candidate with more A’s or more accolades than you. This is no time to be high and mighty or think that you’re above your interviewers. Remember, you are not entitled to anything, and they owe you nothing. And last but not least, you also owe it to yourself to ensure that you’ve done all that you can and whatever happens after, is no longer in your control.



After: What Next?

You wait. And if you’re religious (or not religious), you pray.

If you get the scholarship, you are now an ambassador and you will have to carry your sponsor’s image throughout your tenure. Congratulations!

If you don’t succeed, it doesn’t define who you are. Remember, as humans we are often clouded by judgment and perception based on our own understanding of things – and so are the members of the scholarship committee. What can you do? You try again. You reassess your options. You learn from the rejection. You dust yourself and get up. And then you move on.

You see I’m not here to give a 100% guaranteed fail-proof method of securing a scholarship. But I’m here to tell you that there’s something more valuable out there – YOU. Focus on shaping your own LIFE qualities (or whatever relevant qualities for that matter) – it will transform you into someone better and bring you to greater heights, one way or another. Take care of your own business first, and the rest will take care of itself.

So, what are you waiting for? Get to it NOW!

Here are some useful links on the thousands of scholarships available in Malaysia and internationally (this is not a sponsored post, merely a personal suggestion) that can help you kickstart your scholarship application:


While I did say that I am not guaranteeing anybody a scholarship, I did receive an email a few days later from someone who attended my talk saying she had successfully secured herself a scholarship by following what I shared – focusing on LIFE. She mentioned particularly that it was the Fearlessness trait that resounded with her most. Congratulations, Janice, and all the best in your future endeavours!

--- The people in my life that money can't buy.
— The people in my life that money can’t buy.

And last but not least, a special thanks to Mensa Penang, and my mentors and friends, Nic & Krista for providing me this opportunity to do my part before I left for my studies.

About the author


Fueled by coffee and thrives on kindness. Generally pleasant.


  • This write-up, my friend, is what makes you a Chevening scholar and more. I got goosebumps at your talk because every word is you, glittering and true. You’re the sort of person who always looks out for others and cares deeply in all that you do. You’re real, you’re authentic and you’re generous to boot. And I hope, out of the many, many wide-eyed students in the audience, you’ll impact quite a few and have them emulate your LIFE formula. Many grateful thanks for sharing your gems and inspiring everyone.

  • Thank you Vern for the very informative update on the scholarship process and what the interview is all about and what exactly they are looking for in the 40 minutes. I am really touched by your write-up and it’s educative nature. I can’t wait to get the chance to go through this interview and also become scholar who will make a difference after my course. I wish you all the best in your studies and continue give us update

  • Thankyou so much for posting these tips. I’m from Guatemala and I’m currently applying for a chevening scholarship and read about your experience during the interview is very useful and make me feel more secure about what is coming next in the process

  • Wow! Sincere thanks for this counsel! For quite some time now I have been trying to find a scholarship, unfortunately all I have been receiving are regrets! This, I can not hide, has given me a lot of stress. I have been wondering as to what was it that I have not been doing correctly.
    This post has given me great insights! I have read through it several times but still want to go through it!

  • Thanks great scholar. Your piece is really insightful. I enjoyed reading it. I am from Nigeria and I am also applying for the Chevening Scholarship. I hope I succeed this year as I could not make it last year. Cheers and good luck in your studies.

  • Wow! Thank you very much for this great post. It is quite inspirational. From your post, I personally confirm that you are truly Chevening! A leader indeed! Thank you once again for your great care in sharing about your experiences with all.

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