The McCall MacBain Scholarship was established in 2019 with a landmark $200-million donation, the then-largest gift in Canadian history. The program is designed to bring together a diverse group of master’s and professional degree students who have demonstrated leadership potential and a drive to have a positive impact in the lives of others. Thirty students from 10 countries will arrive at McGill University this fall to make up the program’s third cohort. The McCall MacBain Scholarship is a unique opportunity to develop lifelong connections, grow as a leader, and study in a vibrant city, but it can be daunting to put your name forward. As current recipients, we want to shed light on our experiences applying for the scholarship and within the program.
The online application opens in June and is due at the end of September for applicants in Canada. Since the application process is very reflective, it is ideal to start thinking about your answers early. As Sidney notes, “I wrote the questions down in a notebook and carried them around with me. I took notes day to day as I tried to figure out how to best tell my story, thinking about all the different parts of my life and how they fit into those questions.”
The short essays ask about your journey to becoming a leader in your community. Topics include your intended graduate programs and how your communities influenced your postsecondary path, as well as reflections on a leadership experience, a volunteer contribution, and a “course correction”. These short essays are different from many prompts in scholarship applications because they are very introspective and leave room for you to tell your own story. In one of Sidney’s short essays, she talked about, “switching what I was going to study for my degree many times over the course of my undergraduate degree, and how making those leaps of faith and difficult decisions to follow what I am passionate about led to me learning a lot about myself and what I needed in my life to feel happy, and a huge part of that was finding the way to best utilize my skill sets to care for my community.”
The application also involves two reference letters. We sought out reference writers who knew us well and could speak to who we are from our interests and activities to our character traits and values. As Michelle explains, “I wanted to identify people who I really respected, who embodied the principles behind the scholarship. These were also people who had given me the opportunity to be a leader in the past. It was wonderful when I actually did get the scholarship and I got to thank my references for investing in me.”
You need one academic reference and one community reference. For our academic references we asked professors who knew us personally. In Michelle’s case she wanted to ask professors who taught her “in classes that drew out my values. I wanted to make sure that they wouldn’t just be people who would say that I was competent, but would also be able to speak to the challenges I’ve dealt with in different parts of my life and who I am as a person.” In Sidney’s case, she asked a professor she hadn’t ever taken a class with, but worked as a research assistant for and who mentored her throughout her degree. For a community reference, Sidney asked someone who she had worked alongside for years doing community work that she was passionate about, where they understood her mission, her values, and deep down who she is as a person.
The interview process is a defining component of the selection process for McCall MacBain Scholars, with the top 20 to 25 per cent of Canadian applicants invited to interview. The interviews take place in two rounds, first in the fall in your home region for a half-day, then in-person in Montreal for the final round over the course of three days in March. Each round of McCall MacBain interviews brings the candidates together to mingle and get to know each other throughout the day. Students are notified of their results a few days after each interview round.
The experience is also unique because of the level of attention the interviewers pay to each candidate’s application, using them as the basis for asking thoughtful, reflective questions. For both regionals and finals, the interviews take the format of two interview sessions with two different interviewers, and then one full panel interview with all four of them. The interviewers generally ask questions related to your short essay responses, your past experiences, your hopes and aspirations, and who you are as a person. As Michelle notes, “it’s impossible to predict exactly what the interviewers will ask, but I found it helpful to prepare by reflecting on how my past experiences have shaped me, where I hope to be in the future, and what aspects of myself might not have been captured in the online application. The interviews are unique, thought-provoking opportunities to consider who you are and who you want to become.”
Within a few days of the final interviews, we received calls letting us know that we would be part of the 2022 cohort of Scholars. Ultimately, the McCall MacBain Scholarship opens up opportunities that make graduate school even more enriching. For both of us, the community we have formed through the scholarship has been a deeply supportive environment amid the challenges of graduate school.