Saint Andrew’s Society of the State of New York scholarship: Florence Sharp

Joshua Crofts
Monday 13 December 2021

In this post, Florence Sharp, the most recent recipient of the Saint Andrew’s Society of the State of New York scholarship, talks about what motivated her to apply, what the process was like, her experience of the scholarship so far, and her tips for those thinking of applying.

What led you to apply for the Saint Andrew’s Society of the State of New York scholarship?

I wanted to do a Masters degree in the US and this scholarship gave me the funding I needed to do that at an institution of my choosing near New York. I have also really enjoyed being able to represent my Scottish heritage abroad in the USA.

What did you learn from the application process, from initial form submission to the interviews you had to attend? 

On the initial application form, I think that it is very important to state how an education in the US specifically will help you achieve your own personal and career goals: mention what is unique about the programmes that you are applying for that cannot be found in the UK. It also helps to reflect on what you hope to do after your Masters, and how the skills and knowledge you have gained can be transferred back to the UK. On the application form, as well as in the interview, it is also important to give examples of how you have contributed to life in Scotland, such as through societies or internships that you been involved with, and to demonstrate how you can be a great representative of Scotland in the USA.

In the interview, don’t be intimidated by having several people in the room at once. Try and make eye contact with each and really reflect on what is being said to you before you answer. The best thing is to be friendly, engaging, and open to different points of view, as these qualities are pivotal in being an ambassador of the scholarship. Also, have a few questions you can ask the interviewers at the end, maybe about their own life experiences, or experience in the USA, or connections to Scotland.

What were you hoping to achieve from your postgraduate year at Harvard University?

I am studying for a Masters in Islamic Studies at the Divinity School, which I chose for its diverse and pluralistic religious community. I hope to gain knowledge and experience in many different religious traditions to be able to create informative and educational radio documentaries on religion in the UK, to combat religious intolerance and to build more community cohesion.

I am also hoping to refine my argument and critical writing skills, and to be able to get better at including a broad range of voices in my work.

What are the similarities and differences with your undergraduate experience at St Andrews, both in terms of academic and student experience?  Is it what you hoped for and expected?  Has anything taken you by surprise, or have you gained anything from the experience that you didn’t expect?

The structure of the academic year is similar to St Andrews: there are two semesters, and you take on average four courses in each. Some modes of assessment are similar: there are combinations of essays, presentations, and exams throughout the year. However, there is a much greater emphasis on participation here, on which you are graded, as well as weekly written responses, which are 200-300 word reflections on the readings of the week and what you have learnt from them.

Classes vary a lot in their assessment modes and general class structure, which range from three hour lectures and one hour seminars three times a week to a one hour lecture and one hour section (a small discussion group). Other than that, I haven’t found there to be a big difference in the level of work required. I have found that a great thing about studying in the USA is the flexibility in degree programmes, where you can choose many courses outside of your specialty. Only six out of the 16 of my courses have to be in Islamic Studies, while the rest can be in other areas at the Divinity School, at any other of Harvard’s schools such as the Law School or the Kennedy School, or even at other local universities such as Boston University and MIT.

I will say that I expected Harvard as a student community to be very similar to St Andrews, but there is more of a divide between undergraduates and graduates here, with mostly separate societies for each, more of which are undergraduate. Opportunities abound, but you have to be more willing to seek them out.

Have you managed to meet up with any other Saint Andrew’s Society of the State of New York scholarship recipients, or to attend events or gatherings organised by the Society?

Yes, I went in late November to the annual Society banquet in New York, which scholars are invited to attend as guests of honour. It was an incredible experience, where I got to meet the other scholars, and others in the Society.

What would you say to other current students who might be thinking about applying?

You definitely have nothing to lose. I have had such a wonderful experience so far – studying in the USA has completely changed how I view my field of study, and has also been a great time of personal growth for me. Even if you haven’t lived in Scotland your whole life, or even at all until university, please don’t let that put you off, as this has been the case with me and other scholars. Just make sure to emphasise other ways in which having Scottish heritage has enriched your life.

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