After graduating in 2001 from the National University of Management and the Royal University of Phnom Penh (in teaching English as a foreign language), I went on a Fulbright scholarship to the US to pursue an MBA in Business Management and Finance from 2002 to 2004.
I am currently on an Endeavour Awards scholarship pursuing a post-graduate degree in public management at the University of Sydney, Australia.
Since I returned in 2004 from my first graduate study in the US, apart from my regular full-time job I have volunteered to visit many universities, in Phnom Penh and the provinces, to offer university students advice on how to prepare well for a higher-degree program overseas through a scholarship or other means.
I have also enjoyed sharing my social, academic and professional experiences in the States with the younger generation.
Studying overseas was a life-changing experience for me. I met professors who had written the textbooks I used in class, exchanged views with friends from all over the world and, most important, exchanged cultures with those friends.
From my experience, university students in Cambodia need to understand their goals more clearly, especially when they plan to go on to higher education. In other words, they need to have a clear, precise career objective and/or plan: who they want to be, what specific area of development in Cambodia they want to contribute to, or just what kind of job they want to do after graduation.
In doing so, they have to also take into account their talents and future job markets.
That means what they like to do, or are good at doing, and whether their qualifications will be in demand five or 10 years from now.
After their career plan has been laid out, they have to work hard during their undergraduate academic years to achieve that objective.
This is because strong academic performance – getting good grades in all courses and being admired by lecturers – is important. Good recommendations are essential for scholarship applications.
It is also wise to develop a good reading habit and time management from the beginning of every semester at school. Read more than just the textbooks required by each subject lecturer, and preferably read them in English.
It should be noted that high English proficiency is absolutely essential for graduate study overseas.
Most master’s degree programs would require a paper-based TOEFL test score of at least 570 (or 230 on computer-based TOEFL, 88 on Internet-based TOEFL or 7.0 on IELTS).
Then students need to know which subjects to study, or what kind of research to carry out, to improve the knowledge and skills required to do the job they dream of after they graduate.
Som work experience related to the proposed subject of study would be an asset, but it’s not the only factor scholarship committees use to judge an applicant.
Finally, writing a good study objective (research plan) for a scholarship application is important.
An attractive study objective would include all the above-mentioned points. The applicant also needs to link his or her career goal well with the existing knowledge, skills and even talents, and thus describe why he or she chooses the proposed field of study.
Moreover, he or she has to give a reason why going on that proposed master program (for example, public health or public administration) is essential, especially in terms of the improved knowledge and skills enabling him or her to do his or her job better or contribute more to his or her career or selected field.
Work and extensive volunteering experience, although not critical for some scholarships, are becoming more of an advantage for successful graduate-degree applicants.
In conclusion, a person has to work hard to achieve his or her goals. Be mindful of the saying, “There’s no gain without pain. ”