Jean de Dieu Cirhigiri is a DAAD scholar currently pursuing his Masters in Public Policy from Germany. His scholarship award is not only helping him fund his academic programme, but also adding value to his professional career. In a conversation with The Academia, he shared insight on his experience to highlight important aspects of writing the statement of purpose for DAAD scholarship that is considered one of the most important aspects of applying for a German scholarship.
With an Economics background, Jean graduated from Universite Catholique de Bukavu in Democratic Republic of Congo and worked in the field of Finance Management. After applying for DAAD scholarship in 2016, he realized that a lot of students, including himself, make mistakes that lead to the rejection of their application. Here’s what he shared.
What are some of the common mistakes you see applicants committing?
The first mistake that many applicants make is that they do not understand that every document required for DAAD scholarship holds a value for which there are no substitutes. All of these documents are required in a due time, neither early nor late. From recommendations to research articles, everything has its own set of importance that should be followed without asking for alternatives. I was asked to submit a research paper, but that I didn’t figure that out early. I only realized a week prior to the deadline because I hadn’t understood the requirements. I was just busy looking for alternatives.
How do you associate your academics with your profession for writing an SOP?
You need to showcase your academic and professional background that links to the subject you want to go for. Since I applied for a public policy programme, I linked my academic and professional experiences with the courses being taught in my German university. This process actually helped me understand public policy better. Students should explain how they created their profession in accordance with their academics.
What kind of professional experience is being looked for by the scholarship grants committee?
They basically want to see how you showcase your work and build on it from nothing. You should focus on an issue that is common in your country. I was jobless for almost a year and that taught me to create opportunities for myself and for people around me, as I come from a country where unemployment is a major issue. I started working for youth entrepreneurship projects and started working to create jobs for people around me who were skilled. They also want to see your leadership skills. You must explain time at the job and how you contributed to the organisation.
Do you think there are certain professions that hold more weight than other professions?
To be honest, I would say yes. People working in organizations that have a bigger impact on society or masses are definitely considered better. As DAAD is also working to mobilize students with good professional and academic background and that should be related to each other. If I am studying public policy, I would definitely have chances of getting a scholarship if I had worked in any public office or civil society. It’s the same with all other disciplines for their respective areas. DAAD mostly prefers to see more areas of development. That’s why DAAD works to build people so they could return and contribute in their society for a bigger and better impact.
Do areas of academic research count for getting a DAAD scholarship?
Research has a big impact on DAAD selection. If you have experience in research, your statement of purpose for DAAD will definitely stand out, someone with pretty core ideas that are linked with development coincides with DAAD’s motive a lot.
What kind of professional experience might not help students to get a DAAD scholarship?
DAAD might not give much importance if you are working simply to earn money in an organization that focuses on making money rather than impacting and improving people’s well-being. So many private sector jobs associated with limited business market might not be very appealing to the jury. Private jobs may struggle with getting approval.
How would you differentiate your resume from your SOP?
Your SOP must take your resume in account but your SOP should explain academic and professional background beyond the scope of your resume. It should explain how good you are with reference to your professional and academic achievements or outcome. It should explain it in three parts: how good you were, how good you are, and how good will you be in your academic and professional career if you get the DAAD scholarship. It’s mostly about rationally explaining this idea and how you build your case around it.
CV is a critical part of your application and your statement of purpose for DAAD scholarship should underline clearly what you went through to develop critical thinking to make something big. Many people make a common mistake for explaining what they want to do in the future and do not highlight their achievements and history. Students often make very good resumes but fail to build a connection of their academic and professional background in their SOPs. They don’t leave a good impression on the jury in their SOPs that marks them down. Always link what you are doing and express how DAAD programme will help you to give back the contribution and that is what they are looking for. You should be sure of telling what you want to do. Students should put themselves in jury’s shoes and analyze the SOP. Ask would want to fund students who don’t have bigger goals to achieve.
Being a DAAD scholar do you think DAAD has different criteria for people from different regions?
I am not an authority on DAAD’s management, but as a scholarship holder studying with 48 students coming from 25 different countries, I think there is one problem of understanding different academic systems. Like someone studying in Congo getting 70% marks is a distinguished student. But competing with a student coming from a GPA system who has 3.5 GPA or above may make the Congolese student seem average. In such a comparison, students with 70% marks may not be considered able enough.
Do you think students coming from third world countries face a tougher criteria by DAAD?
I can speak for my country where the bureaucratic process discriminates students a lot. Nothing is easy but some countries do face more problems, it is an internal process. I met some people in Berlin and I asked them how their process was, they have simpler process. Somebody told me they only required a recommendation from one of their professors, but in my case, I had to acquire a pile of documentation to support my case. For others, a research proposal would be the only criteria they look for. The appointment system at the local embassy takes a long time in my country and of course that’s not the same with students from first world countries.
Do you think such a complex bureaucratic process prepares students well from the third world countries or it just doesn’t help students at all?
Sometimes students lose heart and refuse to apply again and it’s mostly because of the bureaucratic process. I have many friends who applied once, failed, and got demotivated to such an extent that didn’t apply again. Students who achieve this scholarship represent persistence, it’s a long process that everybody cannot afford to go through. But the ones who go through the hardship definitely get the reward. I understand it is tough, but the students who really want to make a difference would eventually find their way to success.