Advice on Applying for International Academic Scholarships – Lessons from my Schwarzman Scholarship Process

Graduate school
Nov 2, 2022
4 mins read


Schwarzman Scholars
Schwarzman Scholars


💼 Schwarzman Scholar
⏳ Aug 2021 — Jun 2022
📍 Beijing,
🗣 English
Student Visa
Schwarzman Scholars
Schwarzman Scholars
📍 Beijing,
🗣 English
💰 100% Financial Need Met
🤓 200 Students
Tsinghua University
Tsinghua University
📍 Beijing,
🤓 37,000 Students
🌏 14% International
Standing on the Great Wall of China
Standing on the Great Wall of China

From my undergraduate experience at New York University Abu Dhabi (“NYUAD”) to my recently concluded time in Beijing as a Schwarzman Scholar, “studying abroad” is one of the most gratifying and intellectually rewarding decisions I have made thus far in my life. There’s something about being there, wherever that is, that provides a perspective like no other book, podcast, video, or lecture could. As a student of politics and the law, my international experiences have meant having the opportunity to form my viewpoints about varying concepts and topics with a broader range of philosophies. More so, it’s allowed me to share my pre-existing notions and stories with my peers and see where we are not so different (often to my surprise) and where we are staring at different parts of the proverbial elephant. I want to share some advice from my experience applying to the Schwarzman Scholar’s program in hopes of encouraging you to put an application in yourself, for Schwarzman or any other international program that may interest you! As competitive as the programs that curate such experiences are, I wholeheartedly recommend giving them your best shot. It is worth it.

What is the Schwarzman Scholarship

The Schwarzman Scholarship is a 10-month master’s program at Tsinghua University in Beijing designed to prepare the next generation of global leaders for the challenges of the future. Across the board, participants engage with and study China’s “miracle growth,” China’s place and impact in the world, topical global affairs, and deep dives into various elements of Chinese society: food, music, film, social phenomena, and so on. Beyond this curated aspect of the curriculum, participants can further tailor their experience with their class selection, capstone topic, extra-curricular activities in Tsinghua, their outings to Beijing and domestic travels around China! For more details, please check out our website.

Why did I apply

I had two main reasons. First, I am the type of person who generally wants to know what I don’t know and then learn about it. Many of my life’s decisions have been governed by this inclination. It was the reason I chose to attend New York University Abu Dhabi for my undergraduate degree. Second, more tactically, my NYUAD experience (and conversations with recruiters and mentors alike) alerted me to the value of an international background. At this point, my experiences covered Nigeria, the UAE, the UK, and the US. Given how consequential it is and projected to be, I thought it prudent to get some experience in China.

How I approached the (or any) application process


It’s important to realize that all the things that make a fantastic application brew far before you type your first word in an application essay. Ensure that you are intentional about striving for excellence in whatever you are doing or are interested in. And remember, ‘successes aren’t the only valuable thing worth mentioning in processes like these; there’s a lot of value and learning in failure. Either way, make sure you’ve been applying yourself to something tangibly and to a noteworthy extent. That’s where much of the material you will leverage in the applications originates.


I hope it goes without saying, but you’ve got to do your research! Look towards the program’s website to learn a bit about its history, mission, visions, and what it looks for in a candidate. If the program holds webinars, attend! Also, leverage LinkedIn to have a look at (and reach out to) past recipients of the award. Use whatever you can to understand whether this program is the right decision for you and, if so, how to best strategically position or “pitch” yourself through the application.

Application Essays

I often find this is where most people get tripped up in applying to any fellowship. My catch-all advice here is to 1) deeply reflect and 2) always think about cohesive imagery when crafting your essays and entire application.

On the deep reflection, every application (essay), regardless of prompt or scope, should always start with an extensive reflection. Think far and wide and write down anything you come up with; this is no-holds-barred brainstorming. Here are a few questions I revisit anytime I kick off a new application: “why am I applying for this opportunity?’, “what have I done in the past two years that might align with this program’s mission/vision/ideal concept of a candidate?’, “what interests/motivates me?’, “when did I grow the most in the last two years?”

On cohesive imagery, after you’ve brainstormed far and wide and selected a topic, you need to construct a narrative through your essays and other aspects of your application that will leave the readers with a clear and vivid image of who you are. It often helps to get someone who isn’t too familiar with you to read your application materials and ask them to summarize who you are with three words/phrases. Gauge how close their descriptors align with what you’re trying to convey. If people are far off, you might need to put more work into getting your story and vision across.

Extra Support

If you can access a career development center or application coach through your current institution, please make sure you leverage them. If you do not, please reach out to past recipients of the scholarships you are interested in. Reach out to a good number, and you are bound to find at least one person who resonates with your story and background and will be willing to go the extra mile for you in reviewing your application materials. If you’re considering applying to the Schwarzman Scholarship, please reach out to me. I’d be honored to assist you or connect you to someone who might be in a better position to do so! In my experience, most people are happy and eager to help, with time/capacity being the only constraint.

Final Words

Just apply! You might have heard this before, but its ubiquity demonstrates its veracity: you miss 100% of the shots you do not take. I can admit I found the profiles of the Schwarzman Scholars who came before me to be intimidating, and I almost considered not applying because I felt I didn’t meet the bar, but here I am- and you could be here too! There’s a whole world out there, and programs like the Schwarzman Scholarship provide the much-needed support for us to explore it and take a step closer to global unity and understanding.           

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