This is the period of the year when scholarships bodies open up their applications to students who have just received their A-level/poly results. Before you jump on the bandwagon, spend some time thinking through the following questions. We recommend that you pen down your answers to the following questions (listed in order of priority) on a piece of paper so that you reap the most benefit from this exercise.
1. Why do I want a scholarship?
Addressing this very fundamental question helps to narrow down your search to a specific type of scholarship. Do you want a scholarship because you need funding for overseas education? If that is the case, you may want to consider bond-free university scholarships. Even for local tertiary education, schools like NUS, NTU, SUTD and SMU provide plenty of bond-free scholarships with varying monetary value for you to choose from. On the other hand, if you have aspirations to work in a particular dream organisation (e.g. you want to be a public servant), you should be looking at specific government or corporate scholarships. Brightsparks is a great one-stop portal for you to mull over your buffet list of scholarships and send in your applications.
2. What field of study am I looking at? What kind of industries do I want to explore in future?
Before you go scouting for scholarships, you must first consider what are your passions? Different scholarship bodies provide grants for different disciplines of study. Even though your scholarship application may close before your university deadline, you need to decide on your course(s) before you choose your scholarships. To make a well-informed decision, refer to 5 things you must ask yourself when choosing your university course of study.
3. Who are the available providers?
After you have determined your course of study, go back to Brightsparks to shortlist the possible organisations that are of interest to you. For example, if you are want to study civil engineering, possible scholarships could be JTC, URA, BCA and HDB.
But hold your horses…don’t apply to all of them YET!
4. Why am I interested in that organisation?
From the (hopefully) short list of scholarships that you have, ask yourself why do you envision yourself working for that organisation 4-5 years down the road. Conduct research on each organisation by simply browsing through their corporate website and reading reviews online. Some of your answers could be, you have a passion to serve the public; you feel aligned with the organisation’s corporate culture; you see plenty of room for personal development within the organisation.
5. What are the terms and conditions?
There is no free lunch in this world. All entitlements come with responsibility. Frequently, this duty manifests in the form of a bond period of 4 years for local studies, or 6 years for overseas education. Ask yourself; am I so certain of my interest that I would willingly commit 6 years of my youth to this organisation? Some graduates like to spend their first few years of graduation exploring different kinds of jobs to find their true calling.
What happens if I break my bond? Not only do you have to compensate for the monetary loss, but you may also get a bad name for it. Your job interviewers can possibly grill you on it ten years down the road. Consider the case of Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*Star) scientist, Eng Kai Er, who started an arts grant, partly to protest against her six-year bond tying her to a job she was no longer interested in.
Here’s another point for consideration: you don’t have the option of changing courses in university should you decide that your passion is not in your current field!
6. What developmental opportunities do I get?
Of course, if you are steely certain about your career, we would say, go for it! Scholarships are wonderful opportunities for you to gain a head start ahead of your “competitors”. Find out whether your scholarship offers you the opportunity to do internships during your term breaks. These internships will give you a good grounding on what it is like to work in the organisation. To top it off, many scholars enjoy fast-track career progression upon graduation. So, do your research; talk to your seniors, and find out who are the scholars you can approach. Scholarship tea sessions
7. Can I wait?
Do you have to apply now? Will there be future opportunities for you to apply to the same scholarship? Many scholarships offer undergraduate and mid-term scholarships. Mid-term scholarships are usually for those in their first two years of undergraduate studies; for those who have a clearer sense of their career inclinations. You may not want to be too hasty when it comes to making your (possibly) life-long decision. Assess your financial situation too, so that you have a clearer sense of whether you really need that scholarship.
8. What is the monetary term of the award?
Does your award only cover tuition fees, or does it also encompass living allowances and travelling expenses? This becomes especially important if you are looking to fund your overseas study. Nonetheless, we cannot stress enough that the higher the value of your scholarship, the larger your obligations.
9. Does your scholarship allow you to apply for other grants?
Some students leverage the flexibility of university scholarships to take up more than two scholarships. Other scholarships could be more limiting, i.e. they may prohibit you from participating in other activities, such as running a business.
10. Am I just following the crowd?
Last but not least, question yourself, do you really want the scholarship or are you just blinded by its prestige? Make sure that you are not succumbing to peer pressure. Additionally, don’t bank on scholarships because you want to have a job or financial security. Plenty of jobs await you after you graduate! In fact, it is riskier to restrict your career choices now because better opportunities would come along your way as you explore your major.
All in all, exercise prudence as you apply for your scholarships. At the end of the day, it boils down to one sentence: Just follow your heart. Once you decided on the scholarship you want, check out the ultimate scholarship guide.