June 12, 2015

Writing compelling motivation letters for your scholarship/degree applications

AYICC-Kenya volunteers look into the future-courageously 
I am writing this because I know there is a dire need for most of our volunteers to pursue a postgraduate (sometimes even the first degree), get a scholarship or whatever grant it might be. So this is for you. If you would like me to write on something else specific to academic progress, do leave a comment below. And of course additions, and corrections are welcome too!
When you are told to write a motivation letter, the selection committee is basically asking you to pitch your dream and make it real so that they can give you the money/opportunity to actualize it. In the first one paragraph, they should (must) know who you are, what your professional goal is, and they must locate your capabilities. 

E.g. I am xx years old Kenyan, with a bachelor’s/Msc degree in xx from xx university and applying for this scholarship/degree programme because of my professional interests/experiences in public policy and community development. I am actively involved as a volunteer with several youth organizations working on climate change, environmental education, and community development.  By pursuing further studies what will enable me diversify my skills in public policy and …bla bla bla

The selection committee also want to see how well you can articulate your capabilities (however small they might be!) especially how significant they could become if they were to fund/admit you. For example, if your work has been to help organize the visits to Watoto Wema children’s home, how would you studying a postgraduate degree make this something bigger e.g. managing a bigger community project. Here is an example 
E.g. As a volunteer to Watoto Wema children’s home, I mobilize young people from different youth networks and with their voluntary contributions of time and money, we carry out edutainment activities for the children three times a year. We are also involved in other projects at the home such as environmental education, establishing a kitchen garden, policy dialogues, and capacity building among others. These activities have been instrumental in shaping my professional career goals to become an expert in.....
Don’t allow the selection committee to read desperation (need/last resort) in your motivation letter (unless the grant/scholarship is attached to specific financial needs e.g. an orphan, single parent, marginalized community etc.). It is true that we need the scholarship because we cannot afford to pay ourselves, but it is also true that we professionally above everything else we also bring great skills and experience that if supported financially have a great potential to excel. This is what the selection committee should read. If the motivation is to ask for a job or a postgraduate academic scholarship, this is a real business deal that you are brokering. You need to show them that they will be losers if they don’t give you an opportunity by awarding you the scholarship. You need to show them that you do master the profession, and can identify where you have a gap that needs further improvement. I will use the Watoto Wema example again; of the two statements below, if I was in the selection committee, I will be obliged to fund statement B.
(A) My family is very poor, but I try my best to support other poor children at Watoto Wema children’s home during my free time who are also facing the same challenges of poverty, education, health and environmental pollution. I hope that a scholarship will help me address these challenges
(B) As a young undergraduate, I spend my free time volunteering at Watoto Wema, a home for orphaned children, where I daily interact with and help develop solutions to developmental challenges such as poverty, environmental pollution, health and education. These have prompted me to want to rise beyond my current state, the reason for applying for this scholarship/degree programme
You need to be concise in your motivation letter. But you also need to show the selection committee where you are coming from and where you are going with the grant/scholarship you are asking for. Help them paint a picture of you in the future. Will you be leading the country? Will you be aspiring for specialized skills? Remember, it’s all about realizing your dream.

E.g. If granted the scholarship, I intend to carry out research on the impacts of climate change on vulnerable communities, which has been my interest/work areas in the past years while working with AYICC-Kenya. In the next ten years, I want to become a public policy expert working for an international organization carrying out research and advising on climate change and development policies. This scholarship offers me the first step to realizing my potential and my dreams.

Finally, get someone else to read your motivation letter and give you a sensible critic. Every comment counts, even when you don’t like it. It will help if you take each of them positively. So do get one or two people to read your application. And, do it early enough! Last minute requests might just be faced with no answer and you might be discouraged.


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96 comments :

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