I have written this note with the hope it helps anyone aspiring to apply for the Chevening Awards (FCDO) this year or at any other time. I also hope it will reduce the number of questions I have to answer now or later.
In 2018, I started applying for Chevening after a former colleague, Folashade Adebayo , won the scholarship. I was not shortlisted for an interview on my first attempt. I was pained when I got the “donotreply” message indicating that my application fell short of expectation.
In 2019, I put in more effort and the result still turned out negative even after I asked a Chevening alumnus to review my four essays. In 2020, my third attempt, I flunked again. That was when I decided I had had enough. It was over.
But in 2022, I saw the advert again. I wondered what was the big deal about this scholarship that with my career credential I would not be selected. I watched some Youtube videos and came across one done by three young beneficiaries of the UK programme; they were sharing their experiences. Something struck me about those Cheveners: they were cocksure they would be shortlisted for the scholarship the year they got it. I also noted that they were very young. That was when I decided, emi lokan (it is my turn).
I crafted my essays afresh and injected my experiences and journalism awards. I poured out my passion for my country and what impact investigative journalism can make, with samples of my conquests. I told Chevening they needed me as much as I needed them.
Just when I was about to submit, a friend teaching in Canada connected me to his brother, Aanu Afolabi, who runs a scholarship opportunity website; he said I should help Aanu publicise his medium. After helping him in doing a report, it just occurred to me to tell him about my Chevening essays. He went through them and made some recommendations, which I effected.
Then, I submitted and the waiting started. You must be patient after applying for Chevening.
In February 2023, Chevening started distributing love letters, a term we use for rejection mail. The secretariat takes one week to send that message. In other words, if you get anything in your mail that week, it’s bad news. Every time I opened my mail that week, I prayed hard not to see “donotreply,” their signature message heading.
Nothing came. My heartbeat increased, as my hope rose.
The second week, the secretariat started sending interview letters and I got mine. My application had been moved to the interview stage. Eureka! I screamed in excitement.
I spoke to a number of Cheveners who were generous with advice on preparation. But my former colleague, Folashade, told me she was sure I would shake the interview panel. I laughed.
“Go and happen to Chevening, they are waiting for you,” she told me.
On the day of the interview, I was the last to be called. It was a very simple session with three panellists – the lead interviewer, a white man, who joined via Zoom, and two others, a man and a woman, who were physically present. They merely repeated the questions in the essay. There were just two follow-up questions. The room vibrated with my passion. I could literally feel the intensity of my words and at a point, I wondered if I could maintain the tempo. The fair woman on the panel was just nodding, smiling and enjoying my stories. That encouraged me to say more. The man, however, was stolid. So, I concentrated more on the woman giving me good vibes. At certain points, I observed all of them writing and I wondered if it was something I said right or wrong. Lol.
When I was done, I drove home with conviction I had sealed the deal. The panellists were satisfied, or so I thought.
For days afterwards, I was immersed in the thought of my responses, what I could have added or said better, what the result would be, what I would do afterwards and how I would celebrate my selection.
But when the result came out, I was not selected. Yes, I was not.
After a Chevening interview, you are either conditionally selected, on reserve, or rejected. For the first, your place is almost guaranteed. If you have an unconditional offer in one of the three schools you filled in your application form, then you have the scholarship. For reserve, they believe you are good, but they can’t guarantee you a slot unless somebody from the top drops or Chevening gets more money. For rejected, they are saying try again next year.
I was on reserve. My morale went down that day as I broke the news to a few close friends, who consoled me. After I read that its rare for those on reserve to be upgraded (you don’t even know how many of you are on reserve list), I just faced my work and looked forward to better opportunities.
But a still small voice whispered to me that it’s not over. During the GCK (Global Crusade with Kumuyi) in July, I was praying when the thought of the scholarship came again. I asked God to come through for me. You can never rule out the God-factor in this process. Most scholars I spoke to said the same thing.
The next day, July 27, while I was observing my annual leave, I saw the message, “Conditional Selection.” I opened it with cautious excitement. Then I read the words, “Dear Samson, Congratulations on being conditionally selected as a Chevening Scholar in what was a very competitive round this year.”
Jesus did it again! I shouted. I was over the moon with joy! Just when I thought it was over!
I will be studying Investigative Journalism at City, University of London, where I hope to gain more knowledge in the field, sharpen my skills and of course, explore the UK and its cultural diversity. On my return to the country, I hope to deliver more impactful stories and investigation.
The story is just beginning….
Application for the Chevening Scholarship will open again next week, September 12. Go for it! I will try to help as many people as I can.
But please, don’t ask for my essays. Chevening discourages plagiarism, so I will not release my articles. Reading them may affect your creative thinking and originality. What you need to get the scholarship is to be yourself. Nobody has the winning format. Share your unique journey and your vision of the future.
Go on YouTube and watch videos; there are plenty of them to guide you. Visit the Chevening website, everything you need for a successful application is right there. Don’t copy anybody; just tell your story and how you need Chevening and its network for your future plan. You can ace it once, like some of my cohorts.
But if you fail, don’t give up. Don’t wallow in regret and self pity. Pick yourself up and start again. Don’t stop sending the application! Keep gathering more experience and developing expertise in your area of competence. When next you apply again, tell them the progress you have made. Nobody is lucky. Goodluck is actually when opportunity meets preparation. So, continue to prepare. It is not over until you win!
My organisation, Punch Newspapers, where I have worked for the last 10 years, played an important role in this story because it gave me a platform to shine. The Managing Director, Mr Joseph Adeyeye, is making the company a home for the best of the best. If you want to make a change with journalism in Nigeria, PUNCH should be your destination.
Then, my wife, Dr Esther Sopeju Folarin, supported me with prayers and was part of my mock interview.
I appreciate our journalism father and Executive Director, Media Career Development Network, Mr Lekan Otufodunrin and the Associate Professor of Communication at the McPherson University, Olubunmi Ajibade, aka Mr John Doe, both men gave me powerful reference letters and I am grateful for their support.
You are next in line, go for it.