A good extracurricular activities record can get you a fully-funded scholarship to study abroad. In an era of cutthroat competition you can be sure your non-academic prowess – be it dancing or something else – will give you that extra edge.
According to Amita Malkani, spokesperson, Inlaks Foundation: “All-round development is an important factor when it comes to bagging a scholarship. We look for that unusual, special talent... .”
Renuka Raja Rao, an author and foreign education specialist, also believes that extracurricular achievements are as important as academics when it comes to American scholarships, especially at the undergraduate level.
“American institutions prefer well-rounded students with many different facets.” Being good in sports and athletics, theatre, debating, voluntary and community work help, she says.
In order to apply for the Inlaks scholarship, one must be below 30 years of age and must have found prior admission to the institution and the course chosen. Having done that, one can try his/ her luck for the scholarship, which will entitle you to 100 per cent waiver of the fees. After the application is shortlisted, the jury would interview the candidate and makes the decision on a case to case basis.
Here’s what some young talents, set to go abroad on scholarships, have to say:
Bound for: London School of Economics (LSE)
Programme: MA (social development)
Beyond academics: Bharatanatyam and related internships
Sharanya Chandra has been juggling studies and Bharatanatyam ever since she joined school. She has never believed in choosing one over the other and was in a dilemma when she won the coveted Inlaks scholarship.
Would it be LSE or Sussex University? After much thought she chose to study for a Masters in development
studies – all because of her involvement with Bharatanatyam. “I have been practising Bharatnatyam for the last 17 years which was an indication of my dedication for the art – this made my case for the scholarship strong,” she says.
Missing classes regularly in Lady Sri Ram (LSR) College and putting in extra hours there for dance didn’t affect her scores – a high 73 per cent in economics (hons) helped her make her way to LSE.
Later, she consciously took a gap year to decide what she wanted to do in life – and managed to do a PG diploma in conflict management at LSR. Exploring various internship options in India and abroad, she, by the end of the year, had three international internships under her belt. The first one was at the United Nations and Social Commission for Asia and Pacific in Thailand for one month where she worked in the department of special needs.
Another opportunity was offered in the same sector by Sussex University, which was working on a research project on Delhi’s slums. “This experience was an eye-opener. The conditions there were quite startling for me,” she admits.
Later, Chandra helped organise a Nepalese symposium in Delhi as an intern. Her application to LSE to study development studies was accepted too. Having a cultural background and international exposure was what got her the Inlaks scholarship.
Chandra’s advice: “If you take a gap year before applying for a scholarship, think wisely and utilise that time to the maximum. Your SOP should not look like a CV. It should be written to give an impression that whatever you have studied was carefully planned.”so be interesting and riveting.”
Bound for: Goldsmith College, London
Programme: MA (screen documentary)
Beyond academics: Rich experience in media and production house
A career in journalism didn’t excite Nizaruddin much and so she took a detour to documentary filmmaking.
“I believe proper training is imperative to groom wannabe film makers. Though I had studied filmmaking earlier at AJK Mass communication Research Centre at Jamia Millia Islamia, I wanted to do a programme focusing only on documentary movies. Which is why I applied for a Masters in screen documentary in Goldsmith College, London,” says Nizaruddin.
It was her experience that helped… “I worked in a famous news channel in Delhi for around a year. Later I did freelance work in production houses as a scriptwriter. I had earned substantial exposure in filmmaking before I applied for the Inlaks scholarship. Initially it was a hard decision to jettison a blooming career in journalism for documentaries, but now I am happy with the fact that I am getting the opportunity to upgrade my skills,” she adds.
Nizaruddin sees a promising future in the documentary film making as several international news channels like Al Jazeera and BBC have time slots to screen these. Even one Indian news channel is contemplating showing meaningful documentaries.
She has, so far, made two documentaries which she has sent to the University of London with her application. “In the rest of the movies I was either an assistant director or a scriptwriter. Once I am back I wish to make movies on gender-related issues which can also draw huge crowds. After all, documentaries can also be interesting and riveting.”
Bound for: University of the Arts, London
Programme: PG diploma in paper and book conservation
Beyond academics: Passion for restoring works of art and books
“I won the scholarship as my subject was quite unique.I am an art conservator. According to me, people are not familiar with this particular field of work as art conservation is not like law, engineering, medicine, business management, etc.
“I was motivated to work hard for winning the Inlaks scholarship as I had researched and found out that only one person before me had got the scholarship for conservation – and that too in painting,” says Paridhi Sharma
Sharma saw this as an opportunity to familiarise the interview panel with her course, the institutions in India offering the course, the work it involves, its future prospects and the significance of art conservation in India – where it’s still at its infancy. “I managed to grab the scholarship purely because of the kind of subject I chose. It was a challenging experience for me as I had to prove the worth of my subject and work. I had to simplify the definition of terms and explanations of the techniques used in my field and make it easy for the panel to comprehend it,” she concludes.
Why it doesn't work sometimes
Extracurricular activities definitely give one an edge, while supplementing academic achievements as you
compete with thousands of competent contenders for a handful of funding opportunities. “At the same time, one must remember that one should meet certain criteria, which includes a certain level of academic score, without which one doesn’t even qualify. We have computer based system to shortlist a few eligible candidates who are considered. After that, extracurricular activities count. But it does make a difference," says Archana Chaudhary, spokesperson, French Embassy.
Not only in France, but in American colleges too, academic accomplishments don't completely make up for the lack of academic credentials. To win the Fulbright-Nehru scholarship, one must have a very high level of academic/professional achievement record, as per the general prerequisites mentioned on the USIEF (United States India Educational Foundation) website. “International students seldom get funding from American colleges and universities based on non-academic accomplishments alone.
Those who are national/international athletes and sportspersons, are awarded sports scholarships,” says Rao.
Who funds your studies abroad?
1) US scholarship
2) Inlaks scholarship
3) French scholarships
4) German scholarships
5) British scholarships
Though deadlines for most of the scholarships are over, but one must apply a year in advance and must visit the respective websites to stay updated about the latest announcements