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How I was successfully awarded a New Colombo Plan Scholarship

Written by Bachelor of Laws / Bachelor of Commerce student and 2022 New Colombo Plan scholar, Sonia Clements.

Are you considering spending a semester on exchange? Do you have a desire to explore a country in the Indo-Pacific? Are you willing to take yourself out of your comfort zone?

If you answered 'yes' to any these questions, you should consider applying for a New Colombo Plan scholarship.

The New Colombo Plan (NCP) scholarship is an initiative of the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade that aims to strengthen ties between Australia and the Indo-Pacific. This scholarship funds Australian undergraduate students to study abroad and undertake internships, mentorships, and language training in an eligible country of choice.

I was recently awarded the New Colombo Plan Scholarship to study at Yonsei University in Seoul, South Korea. Here is my advice to future applicants to help you put your best foot forward!

1. Plan your subjects

When I started at Bond in semester 191 (which may sound like the Middle Ages to current Bondies), I always knew that I wanted to go on exchange. Unfortunately, COVID-19 delayed that dream semester by semester, but this year I’ve finally seen the light at the end of the tunnel as I plan to travel to Seoul in August. 

On exchange, most students choose to study general or faculty electives as it is easier to find compatible subjects. From my second year onwards, I carefully planned my subjects to ensure that I had electives remaining towards the end of my degree. Bond’s three-semester-per-year model means that your degree goes by very quickly, so thinking ahead is incredibly important! Leaving electives until my exchange semester was the only way I was even able to apply, so I would definitely recommend this to all future applicants. 

If you’re unsure about how to structure your subjects, or even how many electives you have in your program, be sure to reach out to the Student Business Centre for guidance.  

2. Do your research

New Colombo Plan scholars must nominate a preferred country and university where they would like to study. It’s important that you do some research before you apply to ensure your choice aligns with your NCP Scholarship aspirations. 

If you’re not sure which country you would like to nominate, a good place to start is by viewing Bond’s exchange partners in Asia. The selected universities are all eligible options for New Colombo Plan scholars, which makes the entire process easier, given Bond’s existing connections.  

Make sure you spend some time comparing different universities where you might like to study. I recommend deep diving into the subjects that are available for exchange students, the academic calendar, and the local area to determine whether or not you can envision yourself calling the campus your new home. All of these factors will help you determine your preferred primary location. 

If you would rather study at a university that isn’t a Bond University exchange partner, you can still explore this option as a ‘visiting’ or ‘study abroad’ student rather than an exchange student. However, this process is not facilitated by the Exchange Office, so you would be required to defer your Bond degree for a semester. 

2022 New Colombo Plan Summit

3. Prepare for the application process

The scholarship application process opens in the second semester of every year. The first step is to apply internally, to be eligible to be recommended as an NCP candidate by Bond. The University then nominates a pool of students to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. If you are successful at this stage, you will then have to complete another written application. From there, applicants are shortlisted for an interview with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, and eventually, selections are made for the scholarship. 

During this process, you will also be required to ask two referees for a personal and academic reference to submit with your application. Make sure you approach them early and give them plenty of time before the deadline.  

Although this may sound overwhelming, the process is stretched over four to five months, so it won’t consume you all at once. Throughout the application period, you will receive plenty of emails from the Exchange Office with details on how your application is progressing, so be sure to keep an eye out for these. 

My main advice here is to write your application, rewrite it, and rewrite it again. Starting your application early allows for extra time to think and make changes. You can even ask your friends and family to read it!  

4. Reach out to the Career Development Centre

Another great way to best address the assessment criteria and write a standout application is to reach out to the Career Development Centre. The Career Development Centre will read over your application and give you feedback for improvement. They can also facilitate a practice interview and ask example questions relating to the scholarship selection criteria. Brainstorming and rehearsing potential answers is how I was able to improve my confidence ahead of my interview and ultimately increase my chances of success. 

5. Relate your answers to the selection criteria

Ensure that you are consistently relating back to the selection criteria in your responses, keeping the New Colombo Plan guidelines in mind. Be specific and ambitious with your answers to showcase how and why you are the strongest candidate for the sponsorship. When I wrote my application, I linked my personal and career interests to the country I nominated, the subjects I wished to study, and the internship I intended to undertake. Demonstrate to the selectors that you are worth the investment and highlight the ways in which you will strengthen Australia’s ties to the region, both while you are a scholar and in the future. 

6. Advocate for yourself

Last, but certainly not least, strongly advocate for why you’d make a great scholar. Let your passion and personality shine through when answering the application questions. Try to allow the assessors to see how your experiences have shaped who you are and why they make you the best candidate.  

Scholarship assessors usually look for well-rounded students who they believe will thrive in an unfamiliar environment. There will be specific academic, university, and community related questions, so make sure to keep all three in mind as you work on your application. Draw on your contributions to campus, leadership experience, and service to community, all while keeping your responses genuine. Speak about activities that demonstrate who you are, not who you think they might be looking for! Using personal experiences and relating them back to what you hope to achieve if selected as a New Colombo Plan scholar will demonstrate your enthusiasm and show why you truly deserve this experience. 

Although the application process is long, you will have support from Bond University staff and previous New Colombo Plan scholars throughout the journey. Even if you’re only considering applying, this is your sign to go for it! The experience of writing an application and interviewing is worth it in and of itself. You never know what might happen… I certainly didn’t! 

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