How I got a full Rotary International scholarship for my Master’s degree

Published on 6 March 2018

Mina Chiang

Alumni and external consultant

A scholarship is one of the most effective ways to support students from less affluent families to become catalysts of social change, particularly in the UK’s context where tuition fees are extremely high.

graduating by the sea

Last year I started a master’s in Development Studies at IDS with support from Rotary International. By sharing my own first-hand experience, this blog post aims to guide future IDS students on how to get scholarship funding.

It comprises three sections:

  1. Strategy and mentality for searching for scholarships
  2. How I got my Rotary scholarship
  3. Analysis of Rotary Global Grants

1.    Strategy and mentality for searching for scholarships

If we don’t have older friends or siblings who have previously done masters degrees, it can be hard to know where to start your search for suitable scholarship opportunities. There are different ways of learning about opportunities, for example, attending academic exhibitions, listening to speeches of graduates, or approaching education agencies. However, for many individuals the primary (an often only) route to information is the internet. This was my experience while living in Tanzania and I believe for many underprivileged students the internet is indeed your most loyal friend.

Searching for scholarships online is like peeling onions – there are many different layers and each must be explored systematically. Great patience is needed as you never know which layer might reveal a suitable opportunity. Putting keywords like ‘Master Scholarship’ into Google‘s search engine will not help – this kind of search term is too broad and vague. I suggest that you (a) identify features and keywords that are unique to you and your area of study, and (b) identify all possible grant institutions and check them out.

When identifying unique features and keywords you could categorise them:   

  • By discipline, e.g. social science, international development, poverty alleviation
  • By nationality/ethnic group, e.g. Taiwan, East Asia, Asian
  • By study location, e.g. Europe, UK
  • By gender, e.g. female, girl, woman, women

You can then use different combinations of these keywords to search for scholarships, for example ‘master scholarship international development woman’. Those search results may be very different from the results you get from simple keyword searches such as ‘Master Scholarship’.

Categories to explore when identifying possible grant institutes include:

  • International public sector, e.g. UN, World Bank, UNESCO.
  • International private sector, e.g. Gates Foundation, Development Banks, OFID.
  • UK national level, e.g. Commonwealth scholarship,
  • Home country national level, e.g. websites of ministries of foreign affair or education.
  • Home country private sector, e.g. websites of major companies/foundations in your country. Use your own language to search.
  • Special sectors, e.g. in Taiwan’s case, some temples also grant scholarship to students.

Be cautious of websites that attempt to provide complete lists of scholarships – invariably they do not capture every scholarship that is available. It’s a big world of potential funding out there and we must be sure to leave no stone unturned.

 2.    How I got my Rotary scholarship

It was only when I came to search for ‘Home country private sector’ opportunities that I discovered the Rotary Club in Taiwan used to grant scholarships to undergraduate students. Since many other scholarship opportunities had already expired or I was not eligible, I decided to proactively ask the Rotary Club whether they would grant scholarships to postgraduate students.

At that time I was living in Tanzania, so I asked my mother to help me by contacting some Rotary clubs in Taiwan. Three of the clubs told my mom that they didn’t offer scholarships for postgraduate students. Undeterred, I sent a letter to introduce myself to another club. A few days after, a gentleman from the club wrote to me, saying my letter had been forwarded to A; A forwarded it to B; B forwarded it to him and he was willing to help me.

That was a thrilling and amazing moment but still full of uncertainty. The scholarship that I was eligible for is called a Rotary Club Global Grant. These grants support projects or postgraduate studies under the Rotary Club’s six areas of focus:  promoting peace; fighting disease; providing clean water, sanitation and hygiene; saving mothers and children; supporting education; and growing local economies. In my opinion, all IDS master’s degrees are somehow related to at least one of the focus areas, which means if we are accepted by IDS, we are all eligible to apply for a Rotary Club Global Grant.

I was guided through the whole application process using social media only, since I was in Tanzania and my Rotary Club sponsor was in Taiwan. It took around three months from receiving that initial letter to gaining confirmation of the scholarship.

3.    Analysis of Rotary Club Global Grants

The Rotary Club Global Grant system works in an interesting way. There is no specific project period or application period; we can approach them at any time during the year. There is no specific scholarship amount; it should be above $30,000 and under $200,000 based on your needs. It does not even have the same office to deal with all applications; basically, applicants should apply through their local home clubs whose attitude may vary a lot. In my case, the money actually came from the pocket of the Rotary Club in Kaohsiung county (my hometown), but I still needed to have the consent of the host club (Brighton Rotary Club) and the international Rotary board.

The main challenge with the Rotary Club Global Grant is the application process is unclear. Therefore, you may encounter some confusion during the process, depending on how supportive your home club is.

The advantage is that, instead of competing with thousands of people for a handful of opportunities, we can ‘create’ our own opportunity by contacting the Rotary clubs proactively for funding. Besides, Rotary Global Grants have no restriction on English language abilities, country of study, and discipline (as long as the discipline fits within their six areas of focus).

So, how to start your scholarship application? First apply to IDS and wait until you have secured your offer of a place, and then identify some Rotary clubs in your home area. Send them a comprehensive email that will impress them from the outset. Your email should include: proper self-introduction, reasons for writing, information about the Global Grant (some clubs may not aware of the Grant) and the name of the postgraduate programme for which you have applied. If may also help your case to include a CV and personal statement as an attachment to your letter.

Don’t give up!

I am truly grateful to have received a Rotary Global Grant and sincerely hope future students can benefit from it – regardless of their families’ status. There is huge number of scholarships available and it is highly likely that there is one for you out there somewhere. We have nothing to lose in the process of applying over and over again – it may even help to hone our communication and presenting skills – and the potential reward is amazing. There’s no need to take offence at rejections. Be proactive, and never give up!

The views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author/s and do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of IDS.


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