A Fully Funded MA in London: The Chevening Scholarship Experience

Jul 28, 2021
Rejoice Abutsa, who earned a Master’s degree at the University College London as a Chevening Scholar

The Chevening Scholarship offers a unique opportunity for future leaders, influencers, and decision-makers from all over the world to develop professionally and academically, network extensively, experience UK culture, and build lasting positive relationships with the UK. The programme provides full or part funding for full-time courses at postgraduate level, normally a one-year Master’s degree at any UK university. To be eligible for a Chevening Award you must be a citizen of a Chevening-eligible country, return to your country of citizenship for a minimum of two years after your award has ended, and apply to three different eligible UK university courses.

We talked to Rejoice Abutsa, who earned a Master’s degree in Creative and Collaborative Enterprise at the University College London as a Chevening Scholar, to learn more about the program and get some application tips.  

1.What inspired you to apply for the Chevening Scholarship?

A year after I earned my undergraduate degree I dedicated effort towards looking for a Master’s program that would complement my career goals. I had a job in Lagos, Nigeria, but I was determined to find opportunities that would lead to the type of career advancement I was seeking. After searching for courses that would fit my long-term career goals, I found that I was not really intrigued by the options I found in Nigeria. My background is majorly in the Creative Arts, and for work, it helped me land opportunities in Communication, Branding, Film Development and Marketing for creative tech companies. With each project I handled, I could see areas that required improvement. While I was learning on my job, there was a constant draw towards an MBA or an MA that would provide advanced knowledge on handling complex creative businesses and projects. It was at this point I found several options that ticked all my needs for a graduate degree, and they were all based abroad. It was perfect that I always dreamed of an international education, but I never thought that I could fund it – it would have taken years and years of work to be able to fund an international education in my case. 

I was aware of the opportunities scholarships provide, but never knew anyone that won a full free ride for graduate education. Fortunately, I have a mentor that firmly believes in my potential. She would constantly share scholarship opportunities and call me to ask that I begin to take the necessary steps to apply. I gave it another year; within this time, I became drawn to Chevening for its potential to give me access to a strong network, its reputable alumni and the potential it allows for me to pursue the degree of my choice. I was also aware that the British Embassy was strongly invested in developing creative programs in Nigeria through the British Council. I also knew their goal to promote prosperity in Nigeria strongly aligned with my interest to pursue my education and contribute to the creative industry. To this end, I thought it was the best option for me. However, once I reached out to a former scholar, I was discouraged from pursuing a creative course–especially one tilted towards business. I also received the same tone from friends who thought creative people cannot succeed by merging business acumen as a contributory skill to their creative knowledge. Despite all these, I insisted. Somehow, I connected with scholars studying the course of my interest, but they were from other countries, and it did scare me because for a moment, I thought that was not Chevening’s priority area in my country. (It is really important to identify and understand the priority area because it greatly improves an applicant’s chances.) 

During my intentional search, I came across an article by someone who won the Chevening scholarship, a Nigerian, whose field of interest was not the same as mine, but it came close. The article made me believe that it was possible to win a scholarship that merged my creative and business interests. I took it upon myself to learn about the scholarship and would find that it was well-suited for my accomplishments, my goals and career trajectory. 

It took a year of planning, intentional research and understanding the courses I wanted to apply to before I wrote an application. Within this time, I had developed my eligibility by improving my skills/experience, clarifying what I wanted to do and meeting the Chevening two years’ experience rule. I also had a strong support system: My mentor provided consistent feedback on my essays. I had to rewrite several times–it was motivating to have someone say, “well that essay you wrote needs A LOT OF WORK and these are the reasons why”. It was tough and exciting to critically reflect on one’s leadership experience, networking skills, future goals and study plans. It was my first time applying to a scholarship and winning one!

I got admitted to all the schools I applied to but chose to attend the University College London to study Creative and Collaborative Enterprise. The course felt like an MBA but not in the traditional sense. It taught how to develop products and lead/manage businesses using creative skills and techniques. It was quite practical and allowed several experiments and mistakes. It was important to see that and how valuable it could get in real business situations. I know now that I can use a highly productive and more inclusive approach to developing a film script and organising a more collaborative cast for film productions. I also know that I could lead product development using a customer-inclusive approach that saves revenue spend and produces valuable results. That was really what I was after. 

2. What are the benefits of the fellowship? 

The benefits of the Chevening scholarship are numerous, and it all depends on how scholars take advantage of it. For instance, I personally believe that getting full tuition payment and a living fee makes for convenient learning! Not having to worry about any financial burden means that learning and forming mutually beneficial networks becomes more adventurous. At the time of my scholarship (between 2019/2020), the stipend for scholars living in London was £1,363; I suspect that Chevening reviews this each year, and it is possible that this has been increased. 

Secondly, it provides the opportunity for scholars to connect with colleagues from over 150 countries. What that does is that it provides new opportunities for looking at our world, what we do and how we can learn from worlds that may have seem closed off to us. I had several opportunities to collaborate with scholars in my field from different continents and countries. I got the opportunity to work with scholars from Angola, Kenya, Zambia, India, Vietnam, Thailand and Columbia and made several friends from many more countries. The perks are the rich network that it affords you to build, learn and grow with. Your world views begin to improve and this could potentially help you to have a more global ambition. I travelled places with people from different cultures–and it really opened my mind to new ways of thinking. I still keep in touch with these friends, and it is interesting to keep learning from each other, despite being in different countries. 

Thirdly, I think people are more interested to talk to you because of your reputation as a scholar. I did hold several meetings and got into conversations with the government both in Nigeria and the UK because through Chevening, these contacts were made easily.

Rejoice at a meeting

3. What tips would you give others applying to the Chevening Fellowship? 

  • Research: You have nothing to lose by reading through the website and understanding the scholarship. There are also hundreds of videos and essays written by scholars talking about their experiences. Research means you understand the FAQ’s, you are speaking to scholars in your field and you are speaking to scholars in the courses you want to study. It also means you understand the type of city you want to live in during your studies. It also improves your chances to see what the alumni are doing and how it can enrich your own prospects. I have seen people get the scholarship to earn all sorts of degrees because they were SMART in identifying how they could connect the scholarship’s goals to theirs. 
  • Be Intentional: I think you need to be intentional about what you want to do. It improves your confidence in going through what is usually a long process for many people. As it is with several scholarships/fellowships, Chevening has priority areas in all the countries where they admit scholars. By being intentional about your career goals and what you intend to study, you will be able to fit your interests or goals to those outlined by the scholarship. 
  • Do Not Underestimate Your Experiences: I find that several people are intimidated by Chevening’s essay questions on leadership and networking. It is really because we overthink leadership. We often think that leadership requires holding big titles or well recognisable positions before we are able to make progress, but I think it happens in the little effort we make in projects or things we are most passionate about. For instance, my leadership essay was about a personal research project that I undertook–it led to impressionable changes in small ways, and that was leadership. Some aspiring scholars also assume that networking means that you ought to have met the president of your country or with Oprah Winfrey. However, I think it is all about how you apply yourself to your community or the groups that you identify with. It could be about the impact you make by making yourself available to your community or the next generation of people in your field. It is so essential to demonstrate your influence in the events, programs, or associations you are involved in. Use the opportunity of being asked those questions to reflect on what leadership/building relationship means to you and respond with how you have reflected that meaning within your pursuits. 
  • Be Concise: It is important for you to learn how to use words. Quickly exemplify and situate problems that show how your skills were useful and the results. The essay questions are an opportunity to demonstrate, and it is important to paint vivid pictures in 500 words. Chevening requires 4 essays: One on your leadership experience/skills, the second on your ability to influence/network, the third on your career plans and the fourth on your choice of schools. While these essays aim to understand what and how you achieve success in different areas of your life, it is important for you to critically think about how they align and how each one will give your application readers a deeper sense of your ambition. Due to the word limit, it may be complicated for some to deliver what they have achieved in such few words, but the key is to critically think of what was most meaningful to you and the people/community or projects you were trying to transform. I often see people that make the mistake of giving several examples that do not align with the skills they have highlighted–one example can get you into the scholarship. 
  • Start Early: One year is not too early to intentionally walk towards the direction of your dreams. This means that you take opportunities that lead you there, you create a board that outlines your skills and temperament as you realise them, and you write down the moments of achievements that can get lost when you are so overwhelmed by the scholarship process. It is important to start thinking and strategizing early. 

Rejoice Abutsa is a Chevening Alumni, a Creative Strategist and Founder of Peeroes. She earned a Master’s degree in Creative and Collaborative Enterprise at the University College London and has strong research interest in creative and cultural industries such as Nigeria’s Nollywood, how media technologies are adapted for use by African creatives, and in the study of transnational cinema. 

Rejoice is the writer and producer of gender-based projects such as Victim (2016) and CaptiV Dream (2020). As a writer, she has written several film-trend articles for leading websites in Nigeria and has co-convened creative events to improve the strategies of distributing African films in international markets or to global audiences. She has a BA from the University of Jos.

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