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Awe-inspiring: The waiter who will be an IAS officer
No deserving student shall be bereft of education due to lack of finances. That is the aim of A2Zscholarships.com, a website set up by two enterprising young engineering students at Veermata Jeejabai Technological Institute (VJTI) in Mumbai.
The website aims to provide deserving students with information on hundreds of scholarships and grants in India and provide access to institutions offering grants through its centralised application process.
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The brainchild of Mukund Chandak, who graduated this year in civil engineering and himself a recipient of the Ratan Tata scholarship, the website took nearly five years to finally come to fruition as he went about gathering information, contacting trusts and institutions and setting up the site architecture with his friend Rameez Pojee, a third year IT student. The website, that was launched on January 31 this year, has already received a tremendous response with over 12,000 registered users.
Shifra Menezes caught up with Mukund to find out more about the website, the motivation behind the launch and future plans.
How did A2ZScholarships come about?
I've been working on this idea for the last five years actually, even though it was only launched in start 2008. Initially it began with searching for scholarships for myself. In the process I found that there was no one place where students could find all the information they needed to go about applying for a scholarship. Deserving students were just not aware of what all was available to them.
So I began by making a list of all the available scholarships and then visited their offices. I visited 210 offices in all, to find out more about the grants and discuss the idea with them. Once I collected all this information, Rameez and I started working on integrating this information into a system. That's how I began working on it part-time.
Tell us how you went about setting up the website.
Just gathering the information took two years. Once we had all the information we needed, we set about designing the site infrastructure. That took about 8-9 months. When we launched on January 31, the site only provided information about various scholarships.It did not provide any interactive mechanism.
The website was received very well. We got a tremendous amount of emails, some encouraging, some inquiries, some suggestions -- people were logging on and found the information useful. Responses came from across the country.
One of the main issues was that a candidate had to apply to each scholarship individually. This was time consuming and a troublesome process. That is why we then began working on a centralised application process. For this again we had to approach each institution and we finally launched the facility on July 1, 2008 with six institutions on board. About 12-15 others have also showed interest in signing up.
How does the application process on the website work?
We have the various application forms from all these scholarship institutions. We combine the requirements of all the forms and make it one consolidated form with all the relevant fields covered -- education, percentage scores, family income, field of study etc. This is then put online. Interested students can fill up the form and the details will be stored. The institution can then search through the list of candidates based on the criteria that is most important or relevant to them -- age, sex, percentage etc. Candidates that are not eligible are not presented in the search results. So trusts can search for eligible candidates based on their particular requirements.
So far we have six trusts with us. Now when a student applies online through our site, we get the details verified, we request for hard copies of the relevant documents apart from soft copies. We have set up a verification cell in Nashik. This team of 5-6 people checks the details that students have provided such as the percentage etc. Once verification is complete, the application is forwarded to the relevant trust.
After it reaches the trust, we get regular updates on how far the application has reached and its status. If the applicant is selected for the scholarship, he or she is notified through the website itself. This ensures that the student is a return visitor. Also, when a student is awarded a grant of say Rs 10,000, the other trusts in the system are also notified.
How do you plan on taking it to the masses?
In an effort to spread the word about the website, we have initiated a method whereby every student that refers a new student to the site and results in a registration, gets a monetary incentive. This ensures that publicity through word of mouth is kept going and it keeps the traffic growing. At every college we have created a partner system where five students join us as partners. These partners publicise the website and get a commission. The system is working well right now.
For every new registered user that is referred to us by a partner, we give Rs 30. Anyone can become a partner. The students who sign up as users however are not concerned with the payment of commissions; he or she is only concerned with registering and using the website's facilities. Students can register for Rs 250 either by DD or cheque payment.
So far the experience has been fantastic. Responses have come in from all over the country, not just Mumbai. We have had 12,000 registrations since February. Now if we are able to convert these 12,000 into partners, we should be able to bring in 60,000 registrations at least.
What kind of investment did you make to set up the site?
Well, the investment has all been made by me, although, I'm really not sure how much it all adds up to considering my initial travel expenses. However, since I am a student, it does add up to quite a large sum.
How do you plan to recover those expenses?
Initially this service was free. But as costs increased, we felt the need to use the system to bring in some funds. Now to grow further, we are thinking of beginning advertising on the site. As traffic to the site grows, and it is growing quite rapidly, we would need a plan in place to be able to sustain the increased bandwidth and manpower requirements.
You've just graduated, what are your plans going forward?
Placements are completed and I have received offers from three Mumbai-based companies. I will be joining one of these companies in August. The website will however continue to function independently of my professional career.
Are you aware of students who have managed to get scholarships?
Yes we are. While the students do write in informing us about their scholarships, we are also kept in the loop by the trusts and institutions.
Any other ideas in the pipeline
Well, there are a few ideas I've been thinking about, but it's all very early now. Right now the main focus is on making this website a success.
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