I remember the day I got my A Level results. The teacher handed it to me without saying a word. She went swiftly onto the next student, saying, “Wow, look how well you did! Only 1 B!”
I looked down on my own grades.
BBAD. It even spelt BAD. Was this a joke?
All my hopes of studying abroad were dashed.
Or were they?
As I spent the next two years in the army, I seized the voluntary opportunities that were available to me to lead. I organised a camp for the intellectually disabled, and organised another event bringing them together with their caregivers and volunteers.
I eventually won a Social Service Scholarship from the National Council of Social Services (NCSS) to read social work in the University of Nottingham, in England.
Here, I share the 5 tips that I think are important for winning a social work scholarship.
1. Show commitment, not grades.
As you might have read before, my grades were not excellent. But my interviewers were very impressed with the fact that I had spent so much time volunteering with MINDS (Movement for the Intellectually Disabled of Singapore). MINDS is an organisation that serves the needs of the intellectually disabled in Singapore. They were interested in how I had committed much time towards organising those events for the intellectually disabled. Much of our conversation was geared towards my thoughts behind those events and what I had learnt from doing them.
In the interview, it helps to show that you’ve had significant experience volunteering with social service agencies. One week before the interview is not going to help. If you are truly keen on being a social worker, take the time after your A-Levels/examinations to volunteer. Then, you will find out if you truly like what you are doing. If you can hardly bear helping people once a week, making it something you do every day is not a very good idea.
2. Prepare for the interview
From my experience, and from what I’ve learnt from useful guides such as ‘What Color is Your Parachute? (Richard Bolles), interviewers usually want to know 5 things:
- Why this job/scholarship?
- Why should I choose you?
- Why this organisation?
- How are you different from everyone else?
- Where do you want to be in 5 years’ time?
Preparing for these interviews are key. Don’t expect to walk in, wing it, and walk out with a scholarship. It often doesn’t work that way. write down the answers to those questions. Practice them with a friend or a family member.
3. Ask questions of the interview panel.
It’s not only about preparing for the questions they will ask you. It’s also about preparing for the questions you will ask them. It’s important to see the interview as a conversation, rather than a one-sided affair. Preparing questions shows that you have found out more about their organisation.
In thinking about the questions to ask, think about things that will be relevant to your career. For example, one of my favourite questions to ask interviewers is: Seeing that social work faces a high attrition rate, what does this organisation do to help its social workers to self-care?
The above example shows two things. Firstly, it shows that you are aware of the common problems social workers face. It also shows that you are also able to think about the possible pain points in future.
Whatever question you ask, ask questions. It shows knowledge, but more importantly, it shows interest.
4. Be interested in the current affairs of the social services
I remember browsing through a newspaper during my time waiting for the interview to start. As I was reading through the newspaper, I chanced upon an article about donations in the social service sector. When it was time for me to ask questions, I used that article as inspiration for a question to them. They took some time to answer, but I could tell that they were impressed by my ‘depth’ of understanding of the social service sector. It showed that I was well-read.
Take the time to read through the daily newspapers on articles about social services. It will help greatly.
5. Thank them after the interview.
Richard Bolles, mentions this in his book, ‘What Color is Your Parachute’. There are good reasons for doing this.
Firstly, it’s simple courtesy to thank your interviewers for taking their precious time to see you. Secondly, it reminds them about you. Lastly, it is something that most interviewees forget to do. That makes an even better impression if you do it.
Good luck! Let me know how it goes.