Some award applications ask you to submit a proposed plan of study. You should take this as an opportunity to research your options; in order to be truly confident about you’re proposing, you need to be aware of what else there is out there.

There needs to be a very clear sense that this is not just a good but a great fit for you—that you could not get this experience anywhere else.

Here are some questions that you need to be able to answer before writing your proposed plan of study.

  • Why this program in particular? Why a Masters rather than a PhD (or vice versa)?
  • Why this college? Don’t fall back on the question of prestige. There are lots of prestigious universities. You need to have a better reason than the fact it’s famous. 
  • Why this country? There are some countries that will be better suited to your research interests than others. So why the UK, for instance, and not a graduate program in the U.S or Canada or Australia…
  • Is there a particular professor you’re interested in studying with. Why him or her? What idea are they working on that’s interesting to you and why is that interesting to you? Don’t fall back on the fact that they’re simply well known in the field. 
  • Why, at this particular moment in your life? 
  • What has prepared you for this experience?
  • How do you think this experience will help you in your future career? 
  • What ideas will this experience allow you to think about in more detail?
  • What areas of your life is this program going to allow you to pull together? What kind of synthesis of ideas and practice are you going to experience that you couldn’t get anywhere else?
  • What do you see as the principal benefit of this award beyond the financial support and prestige? 
  • What chain of events led you to be interested in this particular line of study? (i.e. influential classes, teachers, high-school, college, people in your life, other events that, on the surface, don’t look related, but you know are?)
  • What patterns of focus are there both inside and/or outside your university education? 

I’d recommend trying to answer all of these questions, then using your notes to draft your proposed plan of study. You don’t have to answer all of the questions in the actual statement, but you should know the answers in general.

Let’s say you’re interested in being a screenwriter, and you want to do a degree in screenwriting in London. The selection committee will immediately want to know why here, rather than another place that, on first impressions, seems more suitable—a school in LA, for instance. Is it because you have a particular affinity for British filmmaking? If so, you need to know the work of British directors, and have something to say about the sensibility you’re interested in absorbing. Or is it because a particular institute has alumni you’re interested in following in the footsteps of? Avoid generality in your answers. This is not written “off the top of your head,” but the result of careful and diligent research. You need to avoid general arguments as to why study abroad is valuable, as well as the go-to cultural references that everyone knows—for instance, tweed jackets, high tea, a city home to all the writers you love etc. These broad cultural terms are often out of date, anyway. You need to show you’re not just culturally nostalgic, but thinking precisely and strategically about your educational career.