My friend Pablo, from Mexico, won a scholarship from the National Council for Science and Technology (CONACyT) to study a master’s degree in Environmental Management at the University of Queensland in Melbourne, Australia.
In this article Pablo explains everything we need to know if we want to apply for this scholarship. We will learn in detail what the scholarship covers, tips for successful application, and Pablo’s overall experience living in Australia.
If you want to know more about traveling with a purpose, I recommend you take a look at Pablo’s blog and follow him on his social networks. You can also send him a message there and ask him any questions you have:
Now Pablo will tell us:
- Characteristics of the CONACyT scholarship
- Application process
- Tips for winning the scholarship
- General opinion
1. Characteristics of the scholarship
- Type of program: CONACyT scholarship for postgraduate studies abroad
- Location: CONACyT has agreements with different universities around the world, however, if the university you choose is not among those with an agreement, you can still apply justifying how it would benefit you to have postgraduate studies at that university. For example, it may be possible that the curriculum is relevant to you, or that for the research you want, that is the best institution. I applied for the scholarship at the University of Queensland (in Melbourne, Australia), because although CONACyT had no agreement with it at the time, it was the best university in Australia offering the Environmental Management program.
- CONACyT scholarship requirements:
- Nationality: Mexican
- Age: No age limit
- Language(s): English
- Duration: My master’s degree lasted 1.5 years but the CONACyT scholarship lasts up to two years.
- Application Fee:
- CONACyT Scholarship: there is no cost to apply for the scholarship.
- Master’s Degree: Applying to any university in Australia is very easy. There was no cost to apply to the University of Queensland, and you can do it through a recognized company, such as Latino Australia Education (LAE) or many others. They work for universities and receive a salary from them to promote all their programs in Australia. So, they can help you with the whole process at no cost. Just consider that you will have to pay to obtain some documents and their certified translation to English.
- Visa: Once a) you are accepted in the master’s program, b) you get the CONACyT scholarship, it is very easy to apply for your visa. Everything is online, but you have to go for a medical examination (veeeery complete) in an office approved by the Australian government. The visa costs approximately 575 AUD (7,700 MXN). You can see more information about the student visa in Australia HERE.
- Tuition: Varies, depending on the number of credits you must take and the type of graduate program. On average my master’s degree at the University of Queensland cost almost 600,000 MXN (per year) of which CONACyT covered only up to 300,000 MXN (per year) and I had to pay for the rest (but I was able to work at the University and cover that amount – I’ll tell you more about this later).
- Accommodation: In Australia you pay for accommodation per week, and depending on where you live and the amenities (if you have a pool, air conditioning, etc.) it can be ranged from 150 AUD to 500 AUD (2,000 to 6,700 MXN) per week. I went for an average option and paid 180 AUD (2,400 MXN) per week, which is 720 AUD (9,600 MXN) per month. And the CONACyT scholarship covers 1,100 USD (20,800 MXN) per month for living expenses.
- Food: Food in Australia is not cheap unless you have an Australian salary. A meal in the cafeteria cost approximately 10 AUD (135 MXN) and consisted of fish and chips or a hamburger with a soda. My strategy was to cook with my roomies at night and brought food to school the next day in topers.
- Transportation: In Brisbane you can travel with the student card at half price. Once you touch the machine with your card, you have one hour to travel, then you can take advantage and go to the supermarket, make your purchases in half an hour and return with the same cost. A 1- hour trip cost approximately 2 AUD (27 MXN) or 4 AUD (54 MXN) without the student card.
- Activities and more: Living in Australia is amazing! In addition to the normally nice weather (except for some storms from time to time), people are super friendly and like to do outdoor activities. I made a lot of friends and normally we went to national parks, the beach, surfed, partied, etc. I think I can say it was the best time of my life!
- Scholarship: The CONACyT scholarship covered the following. But this depends on the master’s degree you choose (you can see more information about the benefits of the CONACyT scholarship HERE).
- Tuition: the tuition fee covers up to 300,000 MXN per year, if your master’s degree costs more you must pay for it with your savings, and if it costs less, well, there’s no money back, this just represents savings for CONACyT.
- Living expenses: the amount for living expenses is 1,100 USD (20,800 MXN) per month, which is honestly very little because the minimum suggested by the Australian government, and the scholarships with which all my classmates went is 2,000 AUD (27,000 MXN). I was short of money, but with the student visa you can have a part-time or “casual” job, so I got money to travel and pay the missing part of my tuition. I worked at the same university where I was studying and earned 45 AUD (605 MXN) an hour!
- Health insurance: The scholarship also covers health insurance.
- It does not cover: on the other hand, the scholarship does not cover airplane, exams, visas, etc.
*Other scholarships: consider that many times the same universities and the Australian government also have scholarships for the best students so you could combine 2 or more scholarships. An example is the Endeavour scholarship and I tell you more about it HERE.
*Obligation: although an important requirement at the time of your application is that you show your desire and motivation to return to Mexico, the advantage of this scholarship is that you have no obligation to return and stay for X number of years unless you want to apply later for another scholarship with CONACyT.
2. Application Process
a. University of Queensland
The application process can be done online on the website of the University of Queensland (for example in this LINK you apply for the Master of Environmental Management) or through an agent. These were the steps I followed:
Attend a University Fair
Firstly I went to a university fair organized by Latino Australia in Mexico City.
Follow the application process with an agent
At the fair, I met an agent who gave me an appointment at his offices and guided me through the whole process until I got my acceptance letters to three universities and also defer them to the next semester.
Get all the documents
The agent helped me get all the necessary documentation, including official translations of my bachelor’s degree and my qualifications. Super recommended! Generally what you will be asked to upload apart from these translations are your English certificate (TOEFL or IELTS), and a motivation letter.
b. CONACyT Scholarship
The steps to apply for the scholarship are:
Send the following documents
Which by that time you’ll have ready after you apply to the master’s degree program. It is essential that you send your acceptance letter! See the official list HERE:
- Online Application Form
- Letter of Acceptance from the University
- Program information (duration, language, tuition costs)
- Three Letters of Recommendation in CONACYT Format.
- College transcript with a minimum grade point average of 8.
- TOEFL (PBT) with a minimum of 550 points, TOEFL IBT with a minimum of 79-80 points or IELTS with 6.5.
- Copy of the professional title.
- Letter of support from the sector interested in your academic project.
- If you have another financing, or are in the process of obtaining one, a copy of the document indicating: sponsoring organization, amount, period and characteristics.
- Official identification.
3. Tips for winning the CONACyT scholarship
The most important thing is the motivation letter. It is essential that you know how to justify why you want the scholarship, in academic and professional terms (don’t say to travel). You must be clear about what you want to do with the scholarship and the learnings you will get from your studies.
*Although it is not required to return to Mexico at the end of your studies, one of the evaluation criteria is your social commitment to give back to our society at the end of your studies.
If you can get a good letter of reasons to convince the CONACyT jury, the grades and recommendations come later. Obviously, you must also have had good grades during your bachelor’s degree, but if not, there are other ways you can compensate, such as with work experience etc.
However, it is very important that you can demonstrate that you have the intellectual capacity to study a postgraduate degree and make the most of the scholarship.
4. My experience
I was studying/working in Mexico, for Fundación UNAM, raising funds for undergraduate scholarships through a science communication program in the historic center. In my professional development plan I always wanted to have postgraduate studies, and Australia sounded very good for many reasons:
First, it’s the country where Steve Irwin, the Crocodile Hunter, lived. He was my inspiration since I was little.
Second, the University of Queensland is recognized worldwide for its Environmental Management curriculum.
And thirdly, living in Australia would allow me to get to go to places that would otherwise be far away, such as the Great Barrier Reef, the fjords of New Zealand, the paradise islands of Fiji or backpacker life in Southeast Asia.
b. Master’s Degree
So I got accepted on the Master’s degree but when I applied for the CONACyT scholarship the first time I was rejected, and I had to apply again. Fortunately, the second time I got the scholarship and I went to Australia!
I studied a master’s degree in Environmental Management because after studying Biology, I realized that science itself is very close, and if you want to generate a change in the world, it is important to translate it into actions. That’s what environmental management is for, to learn about laws, economics, politics, conflict resolution, international relations, etc. I focused on Protected Areas and international conventions on the environment, and now I’m working on that at the Ramsar Convention (Read here about My experience gaining a job at the RAMSAR Convention).
They were 100% Australian teachers and they were the best in the country. Some of them were involved in the development of the Great Barrier Reef management plan and others were renowned academics. All of them were well prepared, demanding, but very relaxed in their way of being. To date, I still speak with some of them and sometimes we collaborate in international projects.
They were from all over the world. In Brisbane, there is a large Latino community, although very few Mexicans. There were also quite a few Asians and a couple of Africans, but most of them were Australian, very relaxed, “no worries, mate” style.
The University of Queensland has several research centers throughout Queensland and the country. One of them is located on the Great Barrier Reef, on an island called Heron Island. I was there for a week diving and snorkeling every day (while doing science, of course), enjoying the best sunrises and sunsets, surrounded by corals, fish, turtles, manta rays, etc.
There is also another trip in which you tour the state of Queensland and see how environmental management takes place, from indigenous communities and national parks to open-pit mines and recycling centers. It’s very interesting to watch all this for a week as you travel with your peers/friends and learn.
In addition, there are several associations that organize trips to places like Fraser Island, Cairns, and Sydney. They are very cheap and you go with people from all over the world (being a master’s degree student, I thought I would feel old with the bachelor’s degree students, but traveling I didn’t feel it!). On the other hand, sometimes I rented cars for a weekend or a week and went out with my friends to the desert or beaches.
There wasn’t a week when I didn’t have parties to choose from, even during the week. My house was the house where all my friends got together for the pre-drinks, and from there we moved to bars, parties, clubs, etc. The vibe of the people was always cheerful and relaxed, it allowed us to have a good time embracing partying as a lifestyle, without having to choose between your daily activities or mess. Having balance is the best thing about Australia.
I studied my Master’s degree in Brisbane, Australia. This city is incredible because although it is not at the sea like Melbourne or Sydney, it has a semi-tropical climate, and the best beaches are less than an hour away by train/bus/car, as well as the Great Barrier Reef.
It also has jungle, rivers, and, above all, is not as crowded as the other two larger cities. The people are the most relaxed in the country, so much so that sometimes Melbourne people make fun of them for wearing shorts, jackets, and ties. But in Queensland, “no worries mate”.
I lived in a mega-mansion that the owners adapted to have many students. In total, we were 10 people living there, but it never felt like that because we all had our space, and there was a kitchen, bathroom, balcony, games room, and a terrace for everyone.
This is very common in St Lucia, the place where I lived, and where the main campus of the University of Queensland is located. I still get along well with my ex-roomies and I have visited some of them in India, Germany, and Switzerland.
What I liked the most was the awesome tradition of making BBQs every weekend in a park. We always got organized, brought sausages, bread, and beers, and spent time in parks overlooking the city, the river or some structure such as bridges or museums, with the occasional visit of a kangaroo or a koala.
Australia is a very safe country, maybe because it’s an island? There are policemen everywhere, we didn’t normally close the door of the house ever, I didn’t have to worry about my belongings… Something similar to what I’m living now in Switzerland.
5. General Opinion
- The University of Queensland (UQ) is the best university to study Environmental Management, with the best facilities and most recognized teachers.
- People have a lifestyle that i felt identified with so it was very easy to make friends and integrate into their culture.
- Nature is incredible, not only in Queensland and Australia but all around, as in New Zealand, the Pacific Islands, and Southeast Asia.
- I was very stressed because I didn’t know how to pay for what CONACyT didn’t cover. At first, I lived very tight, almost without going out in order to save money, but once I got a job everything improved.
- The rains and storms are very destructive (although they are incredible to see, they tear roofs, break windows, throw trees, destroy cars …).
- To know that I had to check that in the toilet bowl there was no hidden snake.
Going to study in Australia is not for everyone. It’s a very distant place, without simple connections to other countries, it’s also very expensive, but once you throw yourself, everything starts to flow.
You adapt, live, make friends, find ways to get ahead, and finally, you can have one of the best experiences in your life. But you must be aware that the good doesn’t come easy but therefore when it comes it’s more enjoyable.
In the Study Abroad section, you can find more experiences of success cases winning scholarships to study abroad! If you had a similar experience and want to inspire others to apply please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org
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