How to Apply for (And Get) the Chevening Scholarship

The Chevening scholarship is one of the world’s most well-known and prestigious and covers students’ full costs of Master’s education at any university in the UK, as well as some of the living expenses. The competition is tense, with some 30 times more applicants than there are open spots. But getting a Chevening scholarship is still doable if you put in the effort, believes Asya Kazantseva, a popular Russian science journalist and writer. This year, she was awarded a scholarship to study in a Master’s program in molecular neurobiology at the University of Bristol. During a recent open lecture in St. Petersburg, Ms. Kazantseva shared a few tips and warned of the common pitfalls made by Chevening applicants.

The Chevening Scholarship is an international scholarship program established by the UK government in 1983. Its recipients can study in Master’s programs of any UK higher education institution for free, which is great since education there may cost some 20,000 GBP per year. Students also get a monthly stipend of around 1,100 GBP, which is enough to cover dorm expenses and everyday needs.

The program has a long history and is very well-known, so the competition is fierce. According to the latest stats, 65,000 applications were made in the 2017/18 academic year, and only 1,650 scholarships awarded; that’s almost 39 people per one spot. Each year, some 10 to 15 Russian students are awarded the scholarship. It’s difficult but definitely worth a try.

Russian Chevening recipients. Credit:
Russian Chevening recipients. Credit:

Main criteria

To apply for the scholarship, you must be a citizen of a Chevening-eligible country. By the time you apply, you must at least have the following:

  • A graduate degree

Chevening doesn’t particularly care what kind of higher education you have; what matters is that it fits the criteria set by British universities. They also want to know your life story. If you’ve been studying to be a designer and then turned around and applied for a programming degree, you’ll need to explain why you did that, what sort of innovative project at the intersection of design and IT you plan to implement, and why you should be working on it in the UK.

Your grades are of no interest to them, either. This is something that the universities will consider. Most universities require an upper second-class 2.1 degree, which more or less corresponds to an average grade of 4+/B+. You can still apply if your results are worse, but you’ll need to consider other, less prestigious universities.

Asya Kazantseva. Credit:
Asya Kazantseva. Credit:

Have a Master’s degree? Not an issue. Still, you’ll need to provide some convincing reasons as to why you need another one.

  • 2,800 hours of work experience

That’s 18 months of intense work or 2 years of less-intense work (such as working part-time). All work experience counts: full-time, part-time, project work, internships, and even volunteering. You don’t need to provide the corresponding paperwork, but it’s better not to lie – otherwise, you’ll just confuse yourself during the interview.

  • Proficiency in the English language

In order to become a Chevening recipient, you need an IELTS score of at least 6.5 overall and at least 5.5 in each section. However, you’ll need a higher proficiency level to enroll in some of the universities, so it’s better to hone your skills in advance.

  • Readiness to return to your home country

According to the Chevening terms and regulations, you must return to your country of citizenship and remain there for at least two years. Going back to the UK during that period will be considered a breach of your scholarship agreement.

  • Lack of other scholarships and grants

The UK government only gives each person one major scholarship throughout their life, so if you’ve ever been a winner of any British educational scholarship, you will not be eligible for Chevening.

Making your application

You won’t have to panic if you do some things in advance. Here is a timeline to follow:

  • Square one

First off, check your travel passport. If it is expiring soon, or if you don’t have one, you’ll need to get a new one in time.

  • August to November: application period

This next stage begins on August 5 (as of 2019). As soon as the application period begins, go to the Chevening website and sign up. There are quite a few things to do on your personal page:

First, make your pick of three Master’s programs you’d like to apply to. These cannot be changed at a later time, so choose wisely.

Secondly, you will be given directions for writing an essay that would prove yourself as scholarship-worthy. This is an extremely important stage, as this is where most of the applicants are eliminated from the competition. If your essay is well received, you will be invited for an interview.

Finally, you’ll need to list the experts who can provide letters of recommendation for you in the event that the jury finds your essay sufficiently interesting.

  • December to January

This would be a good time to take an IELTS test, be it a regular or a practice test. If you’re not familiar with its format, you may not get a good result even despite a great grasp of the language. Having an IELTS certificate is also useful for making an early application in February or March. An early application is sure to make a good impression during your interview.

  • January to February

If your essay was well received, this is when you’ll be asked to provide your recommendation letters. Recommendation letters are written in English, of course, so make sure to pick the right people for that job.

You will also be invited to an interview in either March or April. You can choose the precise date yourself. Interviews take place at British embassies or consulates, and there will be at least one Chevening graduate among the interviewers.

  • June

After a successful interview, you will be asked to provide additional paperwork, including a medical certificate, after which you will become a Chevening recipient. A final confirmation will arrive sometime in late July or early August.

Applying to universities

The application process is surprisingly simple. You will need to provide the following:

1. Motivation letter

“I wrote two kinds of motivation letters. I sent a formal one to the University of Southampton and a funny one to the University of Bristol. In my case, both did their job. I really do think that you shouldn’t write versions of the same letter. Try different options – if one doesn’t work out, perhaps the other one will.”

2. Your CV

3. Two recommendation letters

“These are simple recommendation letters from, for example, your professors saying what a great student you are and what a pleasure it is to teach you. I was lucky enough to have had an Italian scientist who doesn’t speak Russian as my scientific advisor during my previous studies. That was already proof that I have experience in communicating with people outside of my language.”

4. Diplomas and academic transcripts along with notarized translations and a note in English from your university listing your average grades

5. An IELTS Academic certificate

Writing your essay

When you write your essay, follow the same principle as for the Writing section of IELTS: Give the monkey what the monkey wants. Chevening provides you with a detailed description of what they want you to say in the essay, so follow these rules closely.

Since Chevening positions itself as a program for global leaders, you must make sure to reflect your leadership abilities in the text. You’ll need to write four texts on four subjects:

1) Leadership and influence

In this essay, you must prove your potential as a leader and your ability to influence others. It’s important that you provide clear examples. If you’ve worked as a group leader or spoke before thousands, that’s great. If not, then list some examples of how you solved any particular issue. Don’t be humble: take real examples and present them in a way that best shows your abilities.

2) Networking

This one is about your ability to make professional connections. It’s important for Chevening to know you’re ready to make friends with and talk to your colleagues, to teach them and to learn from them. Here, you should list your experiences of taking part in conferences and other events, especially if you’ve helped organize them. You should also describe how you build professional connections, how you may benefit other “cheveners”, and how your connections will develop in the future.

3) Studying in the UK

In this essay, you’ll need to describe how you plan to study. It’s important that you show how careful and thoughtful was your process of choosing universities to apply to. Explain what made you choose these programs and describe the advantages of each university on your list.

4) Career plan

This is the answer to that age-old job interview question: “Where do you see yourself in five years?” It might be best to describe a realistic goal that you are likely to accomplish within the next two to four years, as well as an ambitious goal to be achieved in five to ten years. Another tip is to try to mention the UK in some way or another.


The interview

If you did well on your essays and, most importantly, provided a clear enough explanation of what you’re going to study and why, then you’ll likely be invited for an interview.

Don’t contradict your essays during the interview, but try to expand on them. If you have any weaknesses, they’ll find them and ask you about them, so be ready to answer uncomfortable questions.

You might be asked something along the lines of: What is leadership? Why the UK? What is your benefit to the community? What will you do with your free time?

Things to keep in mind

  • Program length

The scholarship only applies to one-year-long Master’s programs, which are a common practice in the UK. It’s an “honest year”, however: if you start in September, then you’ll graduate in September of next year.

Chevening Orientation 2018
Chevening Orientation 2018
  • Program type

British universities provide a variety of Master’s programs. Some will get you a Master of Science degree, others – Master of Arts, Master of Philosophy, or Master of Research. If you want a Chevening scholarship, you must choose from the first two kinds. Be careful and make sure that all three programs you’ve chosen fit the criteria.

  • Choose the right university

Consider your chances when picking top universities like Oxford or Cambridge. If you are confident of your professional qualities and English proficiency, then go ahead and give it a try. But it’s better to also list a top-20 university as your second option and a top-100 university as the third to serve as your “safety net”.

  • Don’t wait till the last moment

It’s possible to take your time applying: in 2019, the application period starts on August 5 and ends on November 5. And there is some merit to taking it slow. But be wary that you don’t have to rush everything on November 4. And don’t hit the “submit” button right away. Take a walk, get some rest, sleep on it, and take a fresh look.

Your potential peers

Generally, there are two types of Chevening recipients. The first group are professionals over the age of 30 with significant career records. The second are people aged 23 to 25 who have not yet achieved much, but have had a good start and proved that they can be a good investment. If you know how to market yourself, you can apply at 23. If not, perhaps it’s best to achieve some professional results first and apply once you’ve got something to show.

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