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There are a lot of information about this topic on the net, and many of them are more comprehensive than this post. If you’re still interested in reading, go ahead and thanks.
I am now a student in National Taiwan University of Science and Technology (NTUST), a technical university in Taiwan. I’ve been living here for almost 3 years, and this is the end of my second year of doctoral degree program. Prior to coming to Taiwan, I applied to three different universities: NTUST, School of Civil and Environmental Engineering (CEE) of NTU Singapore, and the University of Queensland, Australia. I received the letter of acceptance from NTUST on early May (2008). I passed the technical test conducted by CEE, and later considered for a research-based doctorate program. How I can end up here is a long story. We’ll talk about that later.
Getting scholarships abroad is tricky, if I don’t want to use the word ‘hard’. It is a combinations of ability, effort, and luck. By luck I mean ‘the right moment’. I will try to write this in a structural way, and if you feel it is useless, or not informative enough, please do ask me.
1. Knowing Your Potential
It is a mandatory. Scholarships are given to selected candidates, so at first we have to know our best traits, skills, wills. What our abilities are, what we have done, how good our performances are. Universities offering scholarship will receive many applications, and they will select the applicants based on what we can offer. By knowing we also have to make sure what we write on the application is true, solid. Fulfilling our desires to study abroad by no mean of I don’t care of what happen next, getting in first. Getting in might be not so hard, but surviving there, it is a completely different problem. So first, analyze yourself. Ask yourself several times about your capabilities. And what makes you distinguished than other applicants.
2. Gathering Information
After convincing yourselves about your aptitudes, the next step is gathering information about scholarship opportunities. If we do this first, we might end up confused, disappointed, pessimistic, and probably apply to the “wrong” university. It’s like when you want to have PhD degree from a well-known university (MIT for example), and on a whim you just focus on that without really looking into yourself, or asking whether you are able to survive there or not. That’s wrong. Do this step after you have assurance on your “ammunition”.
Google provides many information on scholarship opportunities, and you can always refer to the university’s official website. Other than that, we might obtain the information from friends, teachers, mailing-lists, anywhere. Having friends who have already studied (or is studying) abroad is also beneficial, since sometimes professors look for students independently.
Some majors have different names in different countries. This can be tricky, because what we think is A sometimes only covers a small part of A and focuses on B. Read the description of the major carefully, if necessary read the full credits/courses. It is important to avoid Chemistry people get into Chemical Engineering, for example (yeah, maybe people think it is the same, but it is not).
3. Understanding The Requirements
After you finally decide some options, read the requirements thoroughly. Again, it is best to browse in the university’s official web, because some information in second-party web sometimes are too short and unreliable. The requirement is usually divided into two: technical requirements and language requirements. The first one refers to academic records: GPA, courses attended, research proposal, conferences, publications, proof of certifications (GRE, GMAT, or independent technical test held by university). Language requirements are proof of language proficiency as needed by universities, since we’re talking about coming into foreign countries. It can be TOEFL, IELTS, TOP, DILF, etc.
Make sure you do understand the requirements, how many recommendation letters the university needs (and from whom); do they require (just) regional conference participation instead of international one; and what GRE score you need to meet (look for details for each section); what kind of language proficiency they want (institutional or international). The last one is a bit tricky, you might find the web only mention for example TOEFL score of 550 without any additional explanation.
What’s the difference of institutional and international anyway? Okay. Institutional means being issued by an institution, it can be any English schools/courses anywhere (for example LIA in Indonesia, or ILP). Some universities might accept that, but mostly they don’t. The International TOEFL is issued by ETS (Educational Testing Service), and it costs you more than USD 100. This is the TOEFL recognized in all over the world. It’s like your language passport.
Another example is: IELTS score of 6.5, with minimum score in Writing section of 6.0. IELTS (and TOEFL) calculates our English proficiency score averaged from all sections tested. It means you still can get an IELTS score of 6.5, but the score of each section differs too much (e.g. Reading 8.5, Writing 5.5). If the requirement mentions a minimum score, then your IELTS score is not adequate. So again, read all the requirements thoroughly so you are not mistaken.
4. Preparing The Requirements
Then you can start to prepare everything you need to apply for the scholarship. Documents, and taking the required tests. GRE test is considered hard, and we need to prepare well before taking the International GRE so we don’t have to retake the test if we fail. Same way applies to the language proficiency test. You might need to write a research proposal too. In some cases, professors might open an opportunities in their research team, but you still need to pass the university requirements though you’ve been accepted in the team.
5. Completing The Application
After all the requirements are ready (and complete), you can send them to the university. Make sure you meet the deadline. Ask for confirmation email from the university.
Okay, that’s all from me. Good luck, and do your best!