Lessons from My Journey Through The Company’s Scholarship Program
I was one of the few selected to receive The Company’s scholarship to pursue overseas master programs – finally, after my failure last time. After the rigorous, exhaustive and prolonged qualifying tests held by The Company, I thought the journey would all be downhill from there. My thought could not be more wrong.
The process of preparing for and applying to the universities themselves is no less daunting. This fact is even further amplified by my somewhat lack of experience – or at least acquaintance with people in the know about the matter – in overseas universities applications. Fear not, my fellow blog readers, I will try to guide you to avoid falling into my mistakes and how best to cope with the task of applying to overseas master programs.
This list will be more beneficial for receivers of The Company’s scholarship, because I write this blog post from that point of view. However, I think those of you not from The Company might benefit from some of the information here as well. I will list items in a chronological fashion starting from the day I received the letter of offer about the program on my desk. The list will be updated as soon as any change happens.
A. Letter of Offer for Enrollment Into The Master Degree Scholarship Program
- HR Management Division will issue a letter for this. Read the letter carefully, especially the terms and conditions. Decide whether the juice worth the squeeze. Several things you need to factor in your decision: the administrative requirements, the two attempts limitation to the program, your chance of passing through the tests, your age, the compulsory work period (a.k.a. ikatan dinas), your career so far, and your aims and goals in the future. Piece of cake.
- Find yourself a letter of recommendation from your direct supervisor. In my case, I was required to obtain a pre-formatted letter of recommendation from a direct supervisor who has been supervising me for at least a year or so.
B. Academic Potential Test (TPA) and Institutional TOEFL Test
- Prepare yourself well for the tests. I’ve got nothing to offer you other than these tips on the TPA.
- Watch out for awkwardly timed test schedules. The HR Management Division seems to have a strange take on how to schedule each of the test phases. It’s a good time to call that old friend of yours from HRM and Education & Training Divisions for their heads-up on upcoming tests. Oh, and make sure to cozy up to your division’s secretary to inform you of any letters from HRM or E&T Divisions.
- There is no exact requirements, even if it was so stated on the letter of offer. It will depend on the top brasses’ mood, I think. I have seen people with less than the stated requirement got called for the next phase of tests.
C. Psychological Aptitude Test
- Prepare yourself well for the test. The test will be conducted by HRM Division’s own, so expect the tests to always be the same year after year. If my memory serves me correctly, the test I faced consisted of a watered-down version of the TPA (verbal & quantitative questions), Pauli Test (the one with the big sheet of numbers they will ask you to add up), drawing tests (they will ask you to draw a tree and a human being), Wartegg Test (they will give you eight squares pre-occupied with lines, dots, and such, and ask you to draw anything you like with what you are given in the squares), a personal preference type test (“I tend to get angry easily v.s. I like to suck up to the boss” type of question), a management style type test (“If the boss imposes an unpopular new rule, I will tell my subordinates just that v.s. I like to support my fellow colleagues” type of question).
- Again, watch out for awkwardly timed test schedules. The test might come suddenly, after months of nothing.
- This phase will be all important. This is your last bastion of hope. Prepare yourself accordingly. I have experienced failure on this interview during my first attempt, so I know that even one single false answer will ruin your chance of success.
- When asked what will you choose as your field of study, always answer something along your current line of duty. I can not stress this more. Not doing this was what led me to fail the last time around.
- There will be at least three interviewers. At least one member of the Board of Directors and two high-level executives with red-striped corporate name tags.
- There’s no telling what the interviewers might ask. The time for the interview will range from just half an hour two a whopping two hours. Notable subjects of the interview will range from personal-type questions (academic background, family history), to professional track records (what do you do in the office, responsibilities, achievements), to your intended subject to pursue for the master’s degree, to current affairs (headline news, financial situation, nation’s economic conditions, The Company’s amount of assets), to anything.
- Again, watch out for awkwardly timed interview schedules. As you might have guessed, the interview schedule is tightly correlated to BoD members’ schedule. Maintain close contact with HRM Division’s person-in-charge.
- There might be more than one round of this phase. It was on my first attempt, but not on my second attempt.
E. Letter of Enrollment for The Scholarship Program
- The letter will come from the HRM Division. This is it, the point of no return. Don’t be down if you didn’t get accepted. I earned my success on my second attempt, after getting some insights on where I got myself wrong.
- It will state a deadline for you to relocate to the T&E Division. Ask your boss nicely to honor the deadline. My batch used to have 23 participants, but 1 of them didn’t get his boss’ approval to join us at T&E Division. No one have heard from him ever since. Prepare to transfer your job description to someone else, or at least the majority of it, lest it will haunt you back when long after you are already in the T&E Division.
F. Degree/Field of Study Selection
- Worry not, this will not be entirely up to you. The HRM Division will appoint your field of study in its letter to the T&E Division. Or, in my case, it will get squarely shoved to you. Some might say that there will still be room for negotiation on this, but I say abandon all hope on this. It’s a take it or leave it situation.
- This might be a good time to start browsing for universities. Do this just to have a look at your options. The Company will allow you to enroll into Top 50 universities in each country, regardless of the source of the Top 50 list.
G. Preparatory Classes
- The T&E Division will appoint a vendor for all affairs regarding the scholarship programme. It will include about a month and a half of preparation classes of TOEFL and GMAT.
- Use these classes to the max. Speak English all the time to brush up on your language skills and try to obtain as much info and materials from the vendor or other sources. Really prepare yourself for the mock-up tests. The classes will be your only hope in preparing for the real tests. The T&E Division will approve no further preparatory classes.
H. TOEFL IBT Preparation & Test
- The test-taker copy of TOEFL IBT score will be sent to your address. Mine arrived about a month after the results showed up on the TOEFL.org website.
- Confirmation letter of your additional score reports order will be sent to your address. Mine came 23 days after the order took place.
- If you want to use the free score report options, you should register it prior to the exam date.
I. GMAT/GRE Preparation & Test
- I have some tips you might want to see. This one is for GMAT and this one is for GRE.
- The test-taker copy of GMAT score will be sent to your address. Mine arrived about a month after my test.
- Your official GRE score (including the AWA score) will show up at the GRE website. Mine showed up after exactly 15 days after the test.
J. Passport Application
- I have some tips you might want to see here.
- Do not forget to ask for the original receipt of payment after receiving your passport. The officer will ask for the receipt to be exchanged with your new passport. Explain to him that you need the receipt for reimbursement to The Company.
K. School Selection
- Do not expect much from the vendor. They all say they will do everything to help you, but regarding school searching , do it yourself. You will be more conversant in the subject matter so that you will decide better for yourself.
- It’s better to have your GMAT/GRE and TOEFL scores prior to do some serious school searching. The schools have varying degree of score requirements, so this way you’ll have narrowed down the list of schools which is within your score range.
- Do not just trust their websites, ask them directly. Sometimes they give some leniency about the deadline dates, scores, and essays. Several of my colleagues even got help from the universities themselves regarding their applications this way. When inquiring, tell about your background, i.e. full scholarship, educational background, citizenship, country of residence, and professional experience. This will allow the schools to have better answers, suited to your background.
- Consider several factors during your search. I used my scores, rankings from reputable institutions, living costs, living conditions in the city (i.e. crime rate, ratio of immigrants), weather conditions, duration of study, and curriculum as factors.
- Plan a strategy of application regarding your favorite universities and application deadlines. You would want to apply to your most wanted universities first, rather than the others. The worst scenario is this: your lesser choices have offered you a seat earlier and the offers have expiration dates set, while you have not hear a word from your favorites. Nightmare. FYI, on average, the universities have a document turnaround period of at least a month (i.e. they will notify you about your application status a month after you have completed all the necessary documents).
L. School Application
- The Company will pay for five applications. Use this strategically. For example, mostly only US schools incur application fees and require documents to be sent to them, so let The Company bear the cost for such application. Depending on your scores, I think it wouldn’t hurt to apply to additional schools on your own.
- The vendor might have “special channels” to certain schools. Ask them about this and use this to your advantage. For example, my vendor can arrange some essays to be reviewed by the admission office of a certain school.
- Be careful with documents preparation. UK schools are very strict with their requirements of academic references, make sure you secure them in advance with your prior educational institutions. Some other schools require financial statement/affidavit; some can only accept online submission of recommendations; some others require recommenders to have a corporate e-mail. Bottom line, read the applications instructions carefully. I made myself a summary of application procedures for each of the universities I apply.
- Watch the application deadline. Some schools require all documents to be completed at a certain date, while some others allow the documents to trickle in.
- Official TOEFL and GMAT scores take time to reach the schools. Please take this into account when applying to the schools. Two weeks after my additional score reports order, my applied school e-mailed me to tell me that it hasn’t received the score. My strategy was to e-mail GMAC/ETS asking about the issue and forwarding their reply to the school while asking the school if I should re-order the test scores. From my experience, the school just opted to wait for the scores to arrive.
- Try to input the data for online school applications on your own, then, just prior to application fee payment, give your password and username to the vendor. Believe me, this is the best way to go. The vendor most likely will change your correspondence address to theirs and have been known to err regarding the data input.
- When giving your paper documents to the vendor, ask for a written receipt. Just to make sure. Some of my friends’ documents have gone missing or misplaced by the vendor.
M. School Acceptance/Decision
The letter of acceptance/offer/decision will be sent to you. It will be sent through your e-mail address, on the online app website, or through snail mail. Either way, please look carefully at what it says. You should note whether or not you’re accepted unconditionally, or you have to take some courses/preparatory courses; whether you should pay some deposit and its preferred method of payment; etc.
- If the school only accepts checks, ask your vendor to prepare a bank draft. They will help you with this. Basically, they will ask a bank to write a bank draft with the name of the university as a recipient and send it to them. The bank will ask for a certain amount of fee for this. The bank draft itself will act the same way as a check, withdrawable at any bank. Please discuss beforehand with the T&E Division staff members or Grouphead about this, about who will bear the cost, T&E Division or the vendor.
- Notify the school of your method of payment and supply them with the package tracking number of the bank draft. It will enable them to track the delivery of the package.
- After the school received your payment, they will send more forms to be completed for the I-20. This only applies if your school is based in the U.S. I-20 is basically a formal document from the school which can be used to apply for a student (F-1) Visa at the U.S. Embassy. My school also asks for a letter of financial guarantee from my employer which explicitly states about the amount and duration of the scholarship.
- If you do not want to take an offer from a school which has accepted you, reply to them. Do not just ignore their offer. I think this is the polite and right way to do it. Reply their e-mails or log-in to their online application system to refuse their offer politely. This way, you won’t burn any bridges for future potential students from The Company.
N. Housing Search
- If your university provides it, opt to get temporary housing from them. US universities rarely offers full housing for their grad students, so temporary housing from them are the safest best and most hassle free.
- Craigslist is your friend in housing search. It has listings for the big cities.
Get to know housing lingo. This is a good site to start.
- Consider paying for the deposit or anything through SWIFT. I heard the cost to do a SWIFT money transfer is just USD 10 to Australia and USD 5 to the US. I paid my deposit through Paypal, which cost a lot more (USD 23 for a transfer of USD 580).
- Before doing any transaction, google your lessor/sublessor and insist on having a Skype video chat. You want to be sure about their reputation, etc.
- If it’s possible, contact any Indonesian who is currently studying at your university to get some pointers. You might want to do this to get pointers for pretty much everything else too. If it’s too hard to find their e-mail addresses, you can contact your faculty member/contact person to ask if there are any Indonesian students currently studying there.
- Consider a lot of factors when searching for your housing. Environment; ease-of-access to grocery shops, food vendors, bus stops, campus, campus shuttle; bus routes; crime rate; good and bad neighborhoods; neighbors/roommates; furnishings.
O. U.S. Visa Application
- Check your I-20. The school will send you the I-20, which you can use to apply for the U.S. Visa. Check all the details so that no error exist on the document. Each you and your dependents will have a separate I-20 document.
- Apply & pay the SEVIS fee only for you (not for any of your dependents). It’ll cost you USD 200 (add another USD 35 if you want them to expedite mailing the receipt). The form entries should be based on the I-20 documents. You can fill the form and pay the fee here.
- Read this official guide on how to apply for a U.S. Visa carefully. Follow each of the instructions.
- Get both electronic and physical photographs. You will need the electronic file to be uploaded to the new VISA application system and have a physical copy to be brought to the embassy for your visa interview. More on the details and requirements of the photo here and here.
- Apply for Non-Immigrant Visa (NIV) for yourself and each of your dependents. The form entries should be based on the I-20 documents. There will be a lot of questions, and some of them are just silly. You can start here. Oh, BTW, the so-called SEVIS number is on the top right side of the first page of the I-20 documents.
Pay the Visa application fee (USD 131 140 each as of June 4th, 2010) with cash through conventional banks. The Jakarta U.S. Embassy only accepts cash payment through Permata Bank or Standard Chartered Bank. Alternatively, you can pay right at the Embassy on your visa interview day, although they will only accept payments in IDR. More on this here.
- After securing all the required documents, set an appointment schedule. You can do that here. Oh, children below the age of 14 are not required to come to the embassy for an interview.
- I have more details on the U.S. visa application process. You can read them here (for the F-1 visa) and here (for the F-2 visa).
- T&E Division allowed us to use “advance money” for the visa application purposes (including the U.S SEVIS fee and Australian medical check-up pre-requisite). The advance money was valid for a month, provided that we can present sufficient financial proof documents afterward.
P. Immunizations/Vaccinations/Health Checks
- Consult your university’s health services to confirm about the requirements. You should ask what types of vaccines are acceptable, whether or not you have to provide lab tests to back-up your vaccination history, and whether your dependents are also required to follow the same routine.
I truly recommend going to Medikaloka Health Care for the immunizations/vaccinations. They are very familiar with various vaccinations/immunizations because they cater to a lot of foreigners and, in fact, they are one of the appointed medical check-up service provider for Australian visa requirements. My university requires 3 types of vaccinations and Medikaloka has them all in stock, whereas my previous hospital doesn’t. They also provides vaccination/immunization card which certifies your vaccine administration and can easily be accepted by the university. They also have a laboratory on their premises which makes it a cinch to have tests corresponding to the vaccines being administered. Several of my friends swore by RS MMC‘s services. They say the service is also good and cost less than Medikaloka’s.
Q. Advance Money
We were allowed to disburse our advance money about a month and a half prior to departure. The T&E Division asked us to submit our proposed date of travel and date of the start of the study and took care of the approval process to the BOD. After the approval is obtained they gave us each a letter (addressed to the Head of KCK Branch) with the instruction to disburse the advance money. The sum consisted of three months allowance (U.S. single student allowance is used as a standard) and one extra month of allowance (this is the regular overseas travel allowance – SPJ – package). We could then bring the letter to KCK Branch to be presented to one of the Forex Customer Services Agents and he/she will produce a receipt which must be processed by one of the Forex Tellers. The option to withdraw the sum by cash or to your own account – preferably a USD account – is up to you. The amount on the receipt will be stated in IDR (converted with the day’s current exchange rate), although the transaction itself is done entirely in USD with the same exact amount as stated on the letter.
R. Air Tickets
- The rules about the tickets are not stated in letters. Different from last year’s batch, we were told that the payment will be done with a system of reimbursement. T&E Division Staff first told us that there is no ceiling regarding the price – only that it should only be an economy ticket price – but the proceed to to tell us to “not buy the more expensive tickets” and then changed his position again to “not buy SQ”.
- I prefer to buy directly from the airlines. And by “directly” I meant coming to their physical offices. Although buying from travel agents or even through online sales are easier and cheaper, there is always the risk of not getting all the information you need. For example, through their website, I had set my eyes on KLM’s route which had all the stops and route that I wanted. However, the total amount was over my credit card limit, so I turned to two travel bureaus. One of them did not have the route I wanted, and the other one went through and book the route for me, but failed to tell me that the intra-Europe leg of my travel would need a Schengen visa. I only learned of this visa requirement after I went into KLM’s city office to buy the tickets. Lucky for me.
- If you’re traveling with your child/toddler, try to find a westward flight and one that departs in the night. It’ll be easier for your child’s biological rhythm. My son slept his usual way during the flight which saved us from a lot of trouble. This will also save yourself from a lot of time coping from the jetlag, actually.
S. Meeting with BOD Members
- Plan and schedule in advance. T&E Division, after a certain time after all candidates have accepted their offers from their universities, will send a report to the BOD. Usually on the report, BOD will ask the candidates to meet with them before going abroad. My batch met only the CEO and COO, as those two are the most concerned members of BOD with regard to this scholarship program. Ask for T&E Division’s secretary help to arrange the most suitable date to meet with those two with their own secretaries. This will take a lot of time, so plan your schedules well beforehand. The emphasis grows even more because nearing the date of each individual flights, usually many of us will decide to take their 6-yearly leave of absence (“cuti besar“), so arrange this with all members of your batch.
- Be punctual and be there, all of you. Don’t leave anyone behind and make sure you’re there on time. We don’t want to leave a bad impression just right before we’re going to leave, right? The event will probably last much less than the time it took to wait for the two BOD members, but it’s required. There will be some pep talk about how we are indebted to the other 60,000 employees blah blah blah. There’ll be photo session afterwards, so don’t forget to bring at least one camera to the event. Oh, the GM of T&E Division will usually be there with you all along the event.
T. Farewell Event with All Members of T&E Division
- This is not a must, but I think it’s a nice way to say goodbye and thanks for their help. This was especially true for my batch. There were 22 of us and we’ve caused a lot of work for the T&E people, so we decided to throw a luncheon and share the cost.
- Ask T&E Division’s Secretary about the catering and arrangements. She’ll know the details, including the preferred caterings and their phone numbers.
U. Farewell Meetings with Your Recommenders and Colleagues from Your Previous Post
- This, too, is optional. I don’t know about you, but during my university applications, I bothered several of my high-ranking officers (GMs and Deputy GMs) to help me with my recommendations. So, I thought it wouldn’t hurt to meet them one last time prior to my departure and ask for their prayers for our success abroad. This, too, also applies to our colleagues from our previous posts.
V. Actual Departure & Flight
- Arrive early at the airport. Let’s put in three hours in advance just for good measure. You’ll need to clear all the baggages and the immigration points, right? A friend of mine had to spent some time re-arranging his luggages due to size restrictions, so you might want to be sure about this.
- Don’t forget to bring your taxpayer identification card. You’ll need this to clear the fiscal office to avoid paying the IDR 2.5 million pax fiscal fee. You’ll need photocopies of your Kartu Keluarga, passport, KTP and NPWP card. More tips can be found here and here.
- Bring extra clothes. You’ll thank me when your flight gets delayed for longer than a few hours somewhere.
- If you’re traveling with your baby/toddler, here are some pointers.
- It’s okay to carry thermos into the cabin. I’m just not sure about putting hot water in it. It’s okay though, I think you should just put the hot water in it and just throw it away if the security officers told you to do so. You’ll have plenty of hot water on the plane so, don’t worry.
- Bring some of your child’s toys on board. In case he/she’s bored with the long flight, you’ll have them handy. Oh, the European/Asian airlines will definitely give some toys/coloring books for your child. There will also be the entertainment system that will help to act as diversions for your child.
- If you can, secure your child’s own seat. It’ll be more comfortable for him/her and for you the parents. This way, you’ll have the privacy and you can use the extra seat as a makeshift bed for your child.
W. Arriving at Your U.S. Point of Entry
- If you’re an Indonesian male, it’s almost certain that the immigration officers will require a more detailed questioning. They won’t harass or hassle you, but they will just ask more questions at a separate room in their office (as opposed to the casual chit chat at the immigration counter). In my case, they asked for my parents name, my credit card numbers, and my university contact person at the Office of International Education. They also gave me an immigration booklet about NSEERS and made sure that I understand that I must report to U.S. immigration office at my point of exit when I leave the country. The whole process took about 30 minutes.
- Because of the first point above, more likely than not that your baggages will be cleared through the customs and the FDA (food/animal/agriculture quarantine) checkpoints automatically. It happened to us back then. The officer just asked me, “Do you have any meat/agriculture products in your baggage?” “No.” and off we go. You might want to risk this if you’re planning to bring Indonesian meat floss (abon) or traditional baby oils and such.
X. Looking for the Long-term Apartment
- As a rule of thumb, follow all the points I laid out in point N. Housing Search. Most of them will also apply here.
- Craigslist is your friend. Visit the local listing for your hometown. I was lucky I lived in Pittsburgh, which has its own sub-domain on Craigslist (http://pittsburgh.craigslist.org), which is not always case the case if you live in smaller city. If that’s the case you might want to check for local listings for the nearest city to yours. Another plus about Craigslist is that you can also find individual building/apartment owners (as opposed to private/company-owned buildings) listings too. Some people prefer to rent from these types of people because they usually are more friendly and offer cheaper rents.
- Free apartment listing magazines might be your other friends. These magazines/tabloids usually can be found near the entrance to your neighborhood grocery stores. From my experience, the places advertised on those magazines usually run at a higher place than on Craigslist, though. So, buyer – or renter – beware.
- Do a walk-in inspection before renting a place. Make sure you like the location and the building facilities.
- Read the lease agreement and make sure to iron out any questionable clauses. If you’re not sure, ask. You don’t want no surprises there. It’s not like you can bargain your way into the terms, but if you don’t like it, just walk away and find another place. Don’t say yes to the agent until you’re absolutely sure. In some states, an oral agreement is a binding agreement. Making a security deposit, in most cases, also means that you can’t back out of it, so you’re bound for the whole of the lease term.
- If there’s a university shuttle bus service, you might want to check its routes before doing a search for a place to live. Shuttle buses have better/more predictable schedules and in most cases they are free for students. Beats waiting for the bus, especially during the winter. For CMU, this is the official site for its shuttle & escort service.
- Get an apartment with central heating, if you can, and avoid those with electric heaters like the plague. I learned this the hard way. Central heating are the best as it will distribute the heat evenly throughout the place. Gas heaters come next. Electric heaters sucks. It only heats a small distance from the heater and it will definitely eat through your wallet during the winter time. Your best bet is going with the central heating/conditioning and finding an apartment with all utilities included.
- Get to know your neighbors. This way, you can ask for their help when the need arises. You’ll never know when you need to borrow screwdrivers, USB cables, or if you need their help receiving postal packages when you’re not home.
- Before you move in fog your apartment. Buy one of these – which basically a smoke bomb – and let those babies out in your apartment. This way, you’ll be surer about bugs, roaches, et al.
Y. Orientation Day
- Make a note of the important faculty members and staff. You may also want to get acquainted with them for the rainy days.
- Make a lot of friends. You’ll never know when you’ll need those lecture notes for the days you missed class.
Z. First Day of Class
- Don’t be late. You don’t want to five the wrong impression on your very first day, right?
- Make a lot of friends. Still valid here.
- Get to know the professors. Professors here are totally different with the ones in Indonesia, you know. They will really try to help you with your difficulties about their classes if you’ll just reach out to them.
Well, that’s all about it. I’m now entering my new semester as I’m finishing this, you know. I bid you good luck with your studies.