This is one hack you would want to know about.

Mun Yoke  |  Singapore
Published 2014-10-14 14:00:10

Education can hugely impact a person’s life. For Malaysians who are not born with a silver spoon, tertiary education is a luxury. With limited seats in public universities and private institutions fees going through the roof, many Malaysian family go through painful lengths to refinance in order to give their children a better future with quality education. However, with the help of scholarships, this can be a game changer.

Getting a scholarship is not an easy task. There are several stages during a scholarship interview and it can be an arduous process to apply for it, especially if that is the only ticket out. For those who are 17 or 18 years old, it could be the first ever interview in life, yet there seems to be a lack of proper guidance out there. A lot of students might have failed the interview due to lack of presentation skills or specific preparation for the selection process, despite having fantastic academic results.

Image Credit: SCHOLARSTories website
Image Credit: SCHOLARSTories website

This is where SCHOLARSTories steps in. The SCHOLARSTories is a social initiative under McKinsey’s Youth Leadership Academy 2014. They have even emerged as winners for the competition among nine other social initiatives. SCHOLARSTories was founded to bridge the information gap between scholarship listing websites and the actual interview process.

Bridging The Gap

Based on SCHOLARSTories’ survey of 140 respondents which consist of SPM, Pre-U and university students, only 8% of respondents knew of a website which shared scholarship success stories and 91% of the respondents said it would be beneficial for them in the scholarship application process. Plus, 96% of the respondents plan to apply for a scholarship and the top two features that they are looking for are eligibility criteria and interview process.

Clearly, these students are looking for some form of awareness and education for them to be more prepared when entering the journey of obtaining a scholarship.

SCHOLARSTories discovered that although there are plenty of websites providing scholarship information, such as listing and guidelines for application, there aren’t any platforms where students can find experienced scholars to provide interview tips and personal advice. SCHOLARSTories is building a student support community connecting students to scholars to enable better access of scholarship information. The collective experience of SCHOLARSTories’ peers and seniors are enriching and should be shared as they provide real interview experiences and advice for scholarship.

The winning team of with their mentors. Image Credit: SCHOLARSTories
The winning team with their mentors of  McKinsey’s Youth Leadership Academy 2014 (Image Credit: SCHOLARSTories)

SCHOLARSTories launched their website on September 4, 2014 and they are equipped with two primary aims: to provide students with better preparation which leads to higher chances of acing scholarship applications, as well as to expose students to a variety of scholarship opportunities. This idea was initially started by five university students under Mckinsey’s Youth Leadership Academy; however, one of the co-founders has left to UK to pursue his studies, so it is currently run actively by a diverse team of four undergraduates.

In order to know more about this website, we got in touch with one of the co-founders Yong Lin, an aspiring entrepreneur, who is constantly pushing beyond his limits. Yong Lin was the President of JCI Youth UNMC and Marketing co-lead for the largest TEDx in Asia, TEDxKL. He also represented Malaysia in Global Startup Youth and UNMDGS Global Consultation. He is determined to make a difference in the society with his passion in business and marketing.

“As students ourselves, we realized early that there was an information gap to be bridged between scholars and potential scholars. The question was ‘If it’s not us, then who?’”, Yong Lin told Vulcan Post. “As we all have experienced applying for a scholarship first-hand and have seen the impact a scholarship could have on someone’s life, we knew something had to be done. We are fortunate to receive guidance and support from our mentors assigned by McKinsey as well as other experience professionals we approached. We met a lot of people and made a lot of new friends in this process!”

Be The Change You Wish To See In The World

Image Credit: SCHOLARSTories
Image Credit: SCHOLARSTories website

From the lack of technological skills, to convincing people that this idea will work and coming together as a team, Yong Lin told us that the two main solutions were communication between team members and seeking help.

“After agreeing upon the idea as it was a scaled down version of our initial grand plans, we started to plan. We were stuck at the planning phase for about six weeks because we had no clue how to get started. The thing is, it’s quite easy to plan and brainstorm, but execution is when the validity of our idea is tested. It’s scary and exciting at the same time. None of us have an IT background and we had no clue how to start on the website. We just had a plan and knew it had to be done. While we looked for people to help us with the IT aspect, we started collecting stories and designing the website. We put the word out and developed guidelines. A lot of work at this phase was constantly put to improving and working on our ideas based on feedback we received. For example, our guidelines have gone through several phases of changes,” he explained in detail.

SCHOLARSTories team photo with their project outline (Image Credit: SCHOLARSTories)
SCHOLARSTories team photo with their project outline (Image Credit: SCHOLARSTories)

“When our mentor from McKinsey introduced us to a computer programmer and IT expert, we were thrilled and there has been no turning back since. While we had a rough division of work among the founders, there was a lot of ad-hoc and sudden changes so we had to be flexible. I think towards the end of our 12-week stint with McKinsey, we knew how to balance each other’s strengths and weaknesses. Also, we cannot stress how grateful we are to the people who helped us when we initially reached out with nothing but a vision. We have learned that, after all it’s all about execution and ‘self’-initiative’. While resources are there to be grabbed, ‘self-initiative’ is the component to help you get hold of it!” he asserted.

Image Credit: SCHOLARSTories
Image Credit: SCHOLARSTories website

“We have just revamped our website based on the feedback we received. Our website is now more user-friendly with a master list and sorting function. It also has a new feel and of course, more stories! We will be uploading stories from various scholarship providers and we plan to start our own feature editorial each month, introduce a rating feature for scholarships and improve our content,” Yong Lin added.

SCHOLARSTories advices students who are on the scout to start early and have an end goal in mind. “There is a myriad of scholarships out there so you should have a rough idea of what you are looking for. Be open minded. Get your resume checked several times before sending it in because that is often their only knowledge of you till the interview. For us, the stories are not just typical scholarship experiences, but every piece is unique as it includes scholars’ advice, personalized messages and more!” he advised.

Alone We Can Do Little; Together We Can Do So Much

Currently, SCHOLARSTories is reaching out to universities and large tuition centers. Their plan is to become more comprehensive with both the social network powers and reaching out through the traditional way. Besides that, they are also partnering and associating with related education/scholarships/students websites to reach out to a wider audience. They hope that their journey is not alone in enabling more students to secure a scholarship.

Image Credit: SCHOLARSTories
Image Credit: SCHOLARSTories website

“We want to help students from all backgrounds to share experiences and learn from them. We know that experiences can be enriching! We are looking forward to build a community, where students does not only get scholarship experiences via reading stories, but will be able to get support like live feedback from scholars. It will be more convenient for students to get additional information by then, because everything can be found in just one place,” he said.

Throughout years of tertiary education, SCHOLARSTories realized that not only is education important but the opportunities that came with a great institution. The team behind SCHOLARSTories told Vulcan Post that reflecting back, it was the exposure they obtained throughout those years that brought them to who they are today.

As cliché as it may seem, education transform lives. We are now exposed to a world of opportunities otherwise not possible. With SCHOLARSTories’ passion about making education accessible for all, it opens many doors of opportunities.

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