Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Should you apply for this scholarship?

A lot of students, whose GPAs range from 2.0 to 3.5 (on a 4.0 scale), often ask me if they would be eligible for any scholarships at all, let alone the most popular ones like Fulbright and Rhodes, because they are afraid that they have very low GPAs. In order to fully answer this question, there are some factors that must be taken into consideration and I will try to outline them in this post.
A scholarship application is the sum of all its parts, and the GPA is but one constituent of the equation. What makes a successful application is the applicant's devotion to the pursuit of excellence.

First and foremost, a bad GPA, whatever you think that may be, is not the be all and end all of this world. GPAs across universities are inconsistent and therefore not an absolute way of gauging the students from one university vs another. Even in NUST itself, the GPAs from various constituent colleges cannot be directly compared with one another. So, a 2.5 from PNEC and a 2.5 from EME are not the same things (the 2.5 from PNEC is better, although the 2.5 from EME will get the better job). Therefore when you project this phenomenon on the scale of an international scholarship, GPA in itself losses its haloed importance as a metric of academic achievement. Therefore standardized tests, like GRE/GMAT, help smooth out the playing field. So, even if you have a crappy GPA, you should put all the effort that you didn't put in college studies, into your GRE/GMAT prep. For Fulbright, the GRE is compulsory (even if you are applying for MBA), but for Rhodes there is no outlined requirement for standardized tests, but it won't hurt your case to have a good GRE score. The Rhodes judges may make an assessment of your "scholastic attainment" based on multiple parameters like your GPA, published research papers, distinctions in academic things like your final year project, contributions to renowned journals, original research, engineering projects and excellent internships.

You must have a life outside your job and your classroom, this cannot be overstated. Explore your interests, hone your talents, cultivate your passions. Become a part time photographer, capture all the beauty around you, better yet capture all the hope that exists in places where beauty does not exist. Pick a paint brush and let your imagination fly on a canvas. Write a line of poetry, a paragraph, a novel. Go to that swimming pool and learn a new stroke of swimming. Find a sport you are good at and then excel at it. Whatever you do, you must always be in the pursuit of excellence. And each of these activities will bring more friends into your life, which in itself will lead to a broadening of your world view.

The scholarship committees of both Fulbright and Rhodes are looking for people who display the spark and charisma to be leaders in their fields of interest, who can become agents of positive change in the world and who can rise above the selfish desire for raw success in order to make contributions for the benefit of humanity at large; these individuals exist among you and me. Especially in a country like Pakistan, where the amount of widespread problems is soaring exponentially, the capability of bringing positive change is orders of magnitude greater than most other nations. Therefore, an active interest in the betterment of your fellow nationals, and a portfolio demonstrating this interest is essential. You may run a student body that promotes social improvement, you may educate children from families with modest means, you may run campaigns against corruption, create awareness about environment and mitigating pollution, voice your opinion about social inequality, spread a message of peace against the rampant religious discrimination, run a campaign to stymie the exploitation of the poor, propose solutions for the lack of a proper health care system, set up a small business to lessen the ever rising underemployment, all this and more, but you do need to take your head out of the classroom once in a while and look at the world around you and see how you can contribute to it. You should have a clear idea that you have a role to play and if you don't play it, then we are all lost. You may ask, "How do I make time for all of this, I have tests and assignments and social commitments?", well, you make time for it, the same way you make time for watching hours of TV, and for acting like drawing room politicians and for playing the new computer game and for facebook. No one is going to give you a scholarship because you wasted 4 years on facebook. And if you are successful in carrying out a genuine endeavour of positive social change, then your bad grades will become a smaller part of the equation.

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