Studying in America is many students’ dream, but not every family could contribute 35-55 thousands USD per year in tuition fees for public universities or 65-75 thousands USD for private ones. Therefore, the demand for scholarship is increasing rapidly. To help students gain some insights to getting a scholarship in the United States, we interview Mr. Cường Bùi Minh Nguyễn, a SAT and college essay teacher at ETEST Test Prep Center. Mr. Cường has helped many students get their desired scholarships.

What can you say about the opportunities of American scholarships for Vietnamese students?

Currently, scholarships in the States are more diverse and abundant than those in the UK, Australia, New Zealand, and Canada. However, since there are more and more international students going to America each year, while the sources for full-ride scholarship funding are finite, scholarships are only reserved for a limited number of top students every year. Partial scholarships (70-80%) are much more likely for most students.

There is ample information on the internet regarding scholarships. Students and parents are encouraged to take the initiative and find a suitable source of scholarship. Once they have set eyes on a school, with suitable majors and abilities, students can look at the scholarship opportunities publicly published on the university’s website. Furthermore, prospective students can establish contacts with past students who have successfully got scholarships. However, successful scholarship hunting is a long process, and one first needs to attain a good command of English, life experience, and a memorable essay.

When should students’ scholarship application process begin?

It should already begin starting from when students are in grade 9 or 10. This is so that students can get their TOEFL/IELTS in grade 10 and their SAT/ACT scores later; they also need to gain some experience as well.

A lot of students don’t know if they should take the IELTS or TOEFL. How do you advice them?

Currently, both IELTS and TOEFL are accepted by most universities in the United States. Students who feel more comfortable with taking exams on paper and interviewing in-person should take the IELTS, while those who are fine with taking the exams completely on the computers may do better on the TOEFL.

Besides language preparation, what else should students prepare to apply for scholarship ?

Students need to locate their strengths in order to find suitable scholarships. There is an advantage little known by students, and it’s called “Vietnamese citizenship.” In reality, it is much easier for Vietnamese students to get an American scholarship than for Singaporean students. The majority of American scholarships are to be allocated to students from developing countries. Therefore, students would be at a disadvantage if they do not mention their nationality when apply for scholarships.

The academically intensive curriculum in Vietnam is also an advantage, giving many students a boost in the scientific and mathematical fields. American media mentions STEM (Science – Technology – Engineering – Mathematics) as the advanced teaching approach. STEM is understood as a method that equips learners with the necessary knowledge and skills in the fields of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics. Before, education in America emphasizes on the development of values and leadership rather than on the production of scientists. Now, however, the United States considers STEM as being extremely crucial in maintaining its highly skilled and innovative workforce. Therefore, those who are good at mathematics and science will have an advantage when applying for scholarships at US Universities.

Can you please explain more about the application aspect of “life experience” as you mentioned before?

One downside of Vietnamese education is that students do not have the time to do other things besides studying. Unfortunately, most American universities require that students participate in extracurricular activities, such as sports, music, or arts,…so they can see student’s leadership ability. In addition, students need to be able to be self-aware, being able to reflect on what is happening surrounding them so that they can draw a lesson for themselves.

The College Essay is the most difficult part of the application for many students. How can a student make an impression on the admission officer with their essay?

A memorable essay is indeed very difficult to write, but at the same time can be the determinant factor in one’s scholarship application. A scholarship application needs to have three things that go with it: (1) the student must be intelligent, (2) the student must have a clear goal and the ability to overcome challenges to get to that goal, (3) the student can be persuasive and their writings can touch people’s souls. While the first factor is mainly shown through transcripts, the two other factors are both shown through the essay.

So how does the college essay demonstrate the aforementioned factors?

Usually, students need to show how they have overcome particular challenges in order to attain their goals. A student of mine named Thu Minh has got a scholarship worth 2,25 billion VND from the Florida Institute of Technology (FIT) for an impressive essay about her facing racism and finishing the preparatory program early to alleviate her family’s financial burden,

But a lot of students do not have the same particular circumstance as Thu Minh. For those who have a relatively stable experience so far in life, how do they show the school their ability to overcome challenges?

Each student has to set their own goal and how they plan to achieve such goal. For example, Hồng Trình, a student of mine, decided to build a telescope during his three month vacation. He could not completed it to his satisfaction in the end, but the lessons and experiences he learned from the process helped him craft the college essay that got him a 3,5 billion dong scholarship for Clark University and Columbia University.

However, an essay that recounts a memorable event will also need persuasiveness and the ability to emotionally impact the reader. If the essay only provides information, then the reader will have to spend much time trying to interpret and compare the information presented…On the other hand, if the essay is truly memorable, the information will go directly into the limbic system in the brain, responsible for human’s emotions, determination, and even impulsiveness. This impression will cause the readers to take to an essay without a specific reason. The important thing is that students need to find a mentor who is knowledgeable about the methods of writing that would lead to such reactions.

As I have mentioned, the scholarship application process is a long one, and it requires coordination among students, families, and the school, as well as an experienced mentor who are committed to guiding students through the steps toward their desired scholarship. This would make the process more efficient and less time-consuming.

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