Budget well, do your research and don’t give up! Thinking creatively to fund your year on the Master of Public Policy

Securing funding for your master's can be stressful. MPP alumna Nina Bengtsson (2021) explains how she obtained funding from a range of different sources and shares tips on how to navigate this process.

Estimated reading time: 4 Minutes
Image shows a budget document with a diary for finance planning
Image by NORTHFOLK on Unsplash.

First things first: How exciting that you are considering applying for the Master of Public Policy (MPP). It is bound to be one of the best ideas you have had in a long time! 

Now, let’s talk about the elephant in the room. You might be thinking the tuition and living costs of a year at Oxford are out of your reach, even if you do secure an offer. if you are reading this blog post, however, you might already know that in 2021 more than 80 per cent of the School’s MPP students received at least partial funding. If you are anything like me, that hasn’t totally put your mind to ease. In this blog, I will try and share some insights into my way of finding funding for the programme.

When I first got my offer from Oxford in the spring of 2021, I had secured no form of funding. I had decided to apply to the MPP only in December and had thus missed the deadline on many of the well-known scholarship programmes such as Rhodes and Chevening

Instead, I made my way to Oxford by combining multiple larger and smaller scholarships and stipends, which eventually amounted to full coverage. The biggest single contribution came from the Blavatnik School itself, who generously awarded me the Public Service Scholarship, which covered 50 per cent of my tuition fees. However, that still left me with a lot to cover. 

Here is how I went about it.

Write up a budget

A year at Oxford will cost you more than tuition. I began my funding journey by drafting a budget, which included everything: housing, utilities, food, clothes, travel, visa, NHS fees, books, insurance, TOEFL tests, phone, Wi-Fi, you name it. This was crucial for me to get an initial overview, to avoid future surprises, to track my progress, and not least to use in funding applications.  

Oxford University offers a good but non-exhaustive overview of expenses on their website here. When you adjust it for yourself, be honest and realistic and remember to account for any expenses you might retain at home while abroad. Here is a template that can get you started.

Get an overview of all possible funding paths

Now that I knew how much I needed, I started mapping all possible funding paths. This included government grants, international organisations, foundations, current and former employers, large companies, my Oxford college, my network, savings, and loans – heck, even the royal family in my home country of Denmark. As you can imagine, the list was very extensive. Some shots were very long, and some grants offered as little as £500 pounds, but I reminded myself that it could all add up, little by little. 

Some websites offer an overview of international scholarships, which can get you started on your own longlist; however, I would urge you to think creatively. In my process, I cold-emailed people in NGOs and foundations who had worked on fundraising to schedule coffee chats with them and pick their brains. I do not remember a single person who was not happy to help. Make your own excel-sheet fitted with deadlines, links, notes, potential funding, and secured funding – or copy this template.

Write a killer application 

Convincing people and organisations to help pay for your year at Oxford is not unlike convincing the School to give you a spot at the MPP in the first place. To get started, I wrote a 1-page letter of motivation explaining my background, my aspirations and how the MPP could help me achieve them – and how I needed help to realise this plan. 

The goal was to get the reader invested in me and what I could give back one day; to consider me and my year on the MPP as an investment. For every outreach I made, I altered the essay to make it as relevant as possible to the recipient and their interests. In addition to the essay, I gave them my budget, my resume, recommendations from former employers, my grades, and my admissions letter to Oxford (all in one document). 

Now, I know that many will struggle with this part (even writing it feels uncomfortable, so I know how you feel!). My best tip is to write, re-write, send your essay to your friends and colleagues for editing comments – and re-write again. Outsiders tend to have an easier time bragging about us than we do ourselves. 

Be patient and persistent

Applying for funding took about five to six times as much time as applying for the MPP. For weeks on end, I averaged an application a day, and I was far from a 100 per cent hit rate. My rough estimation is that 50 per cent never got back to me, 25 per cent rejected my application and 25 per cent chose to support me with funding. Every rejection gnawed at me in the moment, and the process was not always fun. But I held onto the faith that if I kept swinging the bat, eventually I would hit a ball. I kept my excel sheet going and continued to apply for funding while at Oxford. 

There are many ways to get to the Blavatnik School of Government. My funding path might not have been the smoothest, but it got me there in the end – and such is the story of many other students at the school. I hope this blog has helped spark some ideas for alternative funding paths and made you feel just a little more confident in your funding hunt. 

The deadline for submitting your application to the MPP for 2024 entry is Friday 5 January 2024. Nina Möger Bengtsson is a Danish alumna of the MPP (2021).