A Funded Master’s Degree in China: The Schwarzman Scholars Experience

May 06, 2020
Newton Davis with fellow Michiganders and scholars in the Tsinghua University in Beijing, China

Schwarzman Scholars is a highly selective, one-year master’s program at Tsinghua University in Beijing, China. Whether in politics, business, or science, the success of future leaders around the world will depend upon an understanding of China’s role in global trends. To that end, students will live and study together on the campus of Schwarzman College, a newly-built, state-of-the-art facility, where all classes will be taught in English. Students pursue a Master’s degree in Global Affairs. Schwarzman Scholars receive tuition and a stipend, room and board, round trip travel, and an in-country study tour.

We talked to Newton Davis, a 2018-2019 Schwarzman Scholar, to learn more about the program and get some application tips.  

1. What inspired you to apply for the Schwarzman Scholars Fellowship?

In the years before my application, I applied to directing and economic development programs with little success. I was in the midst of an existential crisis about graduate school. I knew further education was necessary but had no clear vision of what kind of experience I wanted. Given my roles in consulting and venture capital, an MBA seemed like a natural next step. Yet, I wasn’t completely sold.

For me, figuring out how to finance an MBA from a top U.S. program was exhausting. Hundreds of thousands of dollars of debt is terrifying. Continued education of all types is seen positively—almost expected—in most corporate and governmental organizations, especially when members are from marginalized communities. Despite the signaling, I couldn’t help but think that I was somehow sacrificing my future by committing to years of debt-induced stress or giving up my passions only to be shackled to a hated, but high-paying job. With all this in mind, I still began research on MBA programs, but I also expanded my list to include fellowships. 

I’d heard about the Schwarzman Scholarship when it was announced in The New York Times in 2013. I was initially skeptical of the program, wondering if it would live up to its claims. My classmate does a good job of explaining the challenges programs like Schwarzman Scholars can face in this essay. Despite my lingering doubts, I applied to the program. I have an entrepreneurial spirit, and this program was new and well-resourced; it seemed to be an incredibly unique opportunity. 

In the fall of 2017, I applied and was accepted to the 3rd cohort of Schwarzman Scholars.

2. What are the benefits of the fellowship?  

Schwarzman Scholars is a fully funded, one-year Master’s in Global Affairs from Tsinghua University. The program includes one round trip ticket from one’s home location to Beijing, room and almost full-board, health insurance, a modest stipend, and more. It is a residential program, which means that Scholars live in Schwarzman College during the year.

The academic system is largely modeled on the U.S. system of higher education. The program is focused on equipping those who have demonstrated potential in a variety of fields—arts, business, academia, or science—with opportunities to explore leadership topics and evaluate personal skills within a context of “becoming fluent in China.” Upon completion of blended coursework, the participants receive a Master’s degree from Tsinghua University.

My cohort included over 135 Scholars from nearly 35 different countries and many intersectional backgrounds. Between Scholars, faculty, and staff, there was no shortage of visitors to the college. The college also regularly hosts business professionals, politicians, researchers, government officials, non-profit leaders, and heads of think tanks and strategy firms. In my year, we heard speakers like former U.S. Secretaries of State John Kerry and Madeleine Albright, former Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, and many more.

Newton Davis participating in Beijing Financial District Tour organized by his program mentor.

3. What was your personal experience like in the program?

Schwarzman College is an architectural marvel. The building is equipped with classrooms, meeting rooms, faculty administrative offices, a gym, an auditorium, a library, a cafeteria, a bar, and single rooms with private bathrooms—everything you would need (and more) to live comfortably. I think almost all my fellow Scholars appreciate the college building in some way.

Each Scholar experiences the program differently. I personally loved the “Schwarz-stress” and enjoyed the opportunity to learn about China. Coupled with the two months prior spent learning Mandarin, my Schwarzman experience accelerated my understanding of the country. The access in the program is world-class. I had the chance to join in on a small conference call with the CEO of Jigsaw (A Google Company). I hosted an interview between the president of the Blackstone Group and the CIO of CalPERS for my class. I also had a school-sponsored one-week deep dive to Hangzhou. There was other travel; during my year, I visited Vietnam, Hong Kong, Thailand, Australia, New Zealand, Mongolia, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and The Philippines. I also checked out Shanghai, Chengdu, Chengde, Tianjin, Guangzhou, and Gaoming. So, for me, the program was great. It helped me put China in context with its surroundings and the world.

I also made great friends in the program. There’s something about the shared experience from application to graduation that connects people. As the program timeline is somewhat abbreviated, we faced unique pressures and were forced to question and grow together. That made for a good environment to establish deep connections. I was lucky to have a group of Scholars with whom I bonded. Our time spent navigating the building, China, and ourselves was uniquely ours. That alone will bind us together for many years to come.

Newton and fellow scholars at the Drum Tower during their first week.

4. What tips would you give others applying to the Schwarzman Scholars Fellowship?  

Schwarzman Scholars is looking for young adults (under 28 years old) with demonstrated leadership potential. The program is about connecting potential youth leaders across geographies. As such, it’s looking for people who are and who see themselves as leaders from all over the world.

Applicants should spend time thoughtfully considering their leadership narrative. It’s important to portray your passions and expertise in an authentic way. The College seeks to attract Scholars from all over the world to increase the diversity of the Schwarzman network. Program leadership and alumni are committed to seeing more inclusivity in future cohorts. Thus, those who clearly develop a strong narrative–regardless of origin, gender, sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, ability, etc.– have better chances of successful admission into the program.

Lastly, I’d also suggest that you keep your recommenders informed about your application process. They should know you well and be able to speak to some element of your narrative.

Newton Davis is a proud Michigander who graduated from Williams College where he studied History and foreign languages. He started his career as a consultant to cable and telecommunication companies at Accenture. He then began working with global venture capital investors and universities in 500 Startups’ investor education department. He spent the 2018-2019 school year pursuing a Master’s in Global Affairs at Tsinghua University. Newton now resides in Berlin, Germany where he works at the intersection of future mobility and venture capital. A Truman, Mellon Mays, QuestBridge, and Schwarzman scholar, he has studied, worked, and visited 40+ countries. You can keep up with him at his personal website or twitter.

Interested in applying? Bookmark Schwarzman Scholars to your ProFellow account.

© Victoria Johnson 2020, all rights reserved.