Feedback for unsuccessful applicants

The CSC does not provide individual feedback on why an application was unsuccessful. However, there are generic reasons why many of the applications received do not pass through to the next stage. This page provides a short overview of the most important of these reasons.

Generic reasons

There are two fundamental reasons why applications for Commonwealth Scholarships or Fellowships tend to be unsuccessful:

  1. Excellence. All of the CSC’s scholarship and fellowship schemes are highly competitive. For the standard PhD and Master’s Scholarships, for example, on average only around 1.5% of the original applications submitted to the nominating agencies are successful. This means that many very able applicants will be disappointed. Only people who are outstanding across the board are likely to be successful.
  2. Failure to follow instructions. The selection committee assesses applications using three key criteria (academic merit, impact of the work on development, and study/research plan), and considers all of the information provided on the application form. Given the competitiveness of the schemes, failure to follow the application instructions will seriously disadvantage an applicant.

It is therefore essential that applicants read all of the instructions carefully before starting their application, and then complete all of the questions fully.

The CSC makes its decisions on who receives a Commonwealth Scholarship or Fellowship purely on the basis of the information provided in the applications. There are no quotas for people from different countries, ethnicities, or genders.

The following are some of the more common reasons why applicants may score poorly against each of the criteria:

Academic merit

  • Successful applicants are those with the highest academic grades. Many have a first-class honours undergraduate degree and a distinction for their Master’s degree. Applicants with upper second-class undergraduate degrees or a pass at Master’s level do indeed receive Commonwealth Scholarships and Fellowships, but all applicants must recognise that they are highly competitive in terms of academic quality.
  • If there are reasons why an applicant has not scored particularly well in part of their academic career, it is important that these are explained in the space available for further information.
  • For PhD Scholarships or Academic Fellowships, many applicants have a good list of publications and conference papers, sometimes in internationally-respected academic journals. It is important, therefore, for applicants to ensure that they reference these appropriately if they have them.
  • It is important for applicants to identify referees who will provide references that are detailed enough and contain sufficient information to be evaluated. A mere five-line reference is unlikely to provide the level of support necessary.
  • Absence of full details about the marks/grades gained for particular degrees, in the form of an official transcript, makes it difficult for the selection committee to properly consider an application. Applicants are strongly encouraged to ensure that full supporting documentation is provided at the time of application.

Impact of the proposed work on development

(for applicants from developing Commonwealth countries)

  • The selection committee places great emphasis on the case made by applicants for how their proposed work will have an impact on development when they return home. A mere 50-100 words written in this section is unlikely to be as convincing as a well-crafted argument that uses the full 500 words available.
  • Some applicants focus on how a Commonwealth Scholarship or Fellowship would help them to become rich and successful, rather than on how their work can specifically contribute to development in their home country. Such focus does not provide the information that the selection committee requires.
  • There are many ways in which ‘development’ can be defined, and the CSC does not seek to impose specific definitions on applicants. However, it is important that applicants demonstrate how their specific project contributes to development objectives that are relevant for their country and region. It is not sufficient to state that the proposed subject of study is by its nature developmental; applicants must make the case clearly that what they will go on to do after studying will have an impact on development.

Study/research plan

  • Applicants who write impenetrably or vaguely about what they intend to do will score poorly. It is important that this section is written clearly so that a non-specialist can understand what the aims of the research are and how they will be implemented.
  • Applicants for PhD Scholarships who do not provide information about the precise methodology and any sampling strategy to be used in the research do not score highly.
  • All applicants must explain in some detail why they have applied to the courses and institutions listed on their application forms. It is insufficient simply to say that the universities are excellent, or even that they are ranked nth on a global listing of universities.
  • Study or research plans must be written by the applicant, and not by the intended supervisor.
  • Simply cutting and pasting text about a department, course, or institution from a website or brochure is insufficient. Merely listing the options available for a Master’s course is likewise insufficient.

Additional information

Recipients of Commonwealth Scholarships and Fellowships are outstanding individuals. When differentiating between closely-matched applications, the selection committee uses all of the information provided by applicants on their application forms. Where applicants have provided no additional information about, for example, voluntary activities or other such contributions to development, this will not be to their advantage.

All sections of the form need to completed fully, individually, and originally, not importing text from national or university websites, or from other applications.

Applicants should ensure that they leave time to proofread their applications and that they are written in clear English.

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