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How to Stay Competitive for Postgraduate Scholarship

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By Femi Samuel

In today’s world, the cost of postgraduate education keeps increasing. Education is gradually becoming more and more a luxury, reserved only for the rich – and thus many students seek for scholarship.

This is particularly true in developing country contexts and Nigeria in particular. In this setting, more people cross over the poverty line due to economic downturn. For the same reason, governments are finding it increasingly difficult to provide quality education for the citizenry.

This is worsened by a high youthful population and unemployment, leading to more and more people who come out of undergraduate studies, seeking admission into limited number of public higher institutions at postgraduate level.

The alternative for majority therefore, is to turn to private institutions for succour. But private institutions are expensive and often out of the reach of the common man.

Besides, in some public higher institutions in Nigeria for example, it may take up to three years from the start of a masters programme to the actual award of the certificate. Similar programmes take one year in the UK and two, or less, in US and Canada.

Consequently, a young aspiring individual may wish to seek admission into a postgraduate programmes abroad. Unfortunately, those too, are not free and cheap.

The only choice left for such an individual may be to seek for scholarship and other funding opportunities to pay for his or her education.

How then can such a person stay competitive in a ‘market’ with so many students seeking for the same thing ?

This article is dedicated to practical principles a candidate can apply to improve his or her chances.

They can be divided into three based on my experience:

  1. Pre-application
  2. Intra-application
  3. Post-application

In the real sense of it, there is no clear-cut distinction among the principles I will be sharing in this article as all of them are as important across the three divisions mentioned.

However, for the purpose of clarity, I will be discussing using the three main-subheadings. To sustain people’s attention, I will also be taking the discussion in parts.

Really, issues of this importance cannot just be rushed over in one straight session in a single non-academic post. This is to enhance its understanding and maximize the benefits to the reader.

Pre-application principles

These are those principles that are desirable for individuals seeking funding for higher education to apply or possess before seeking for such funding.

Intra-application

These are those that the candidate should apply while applying for the the funding.

Post-application

These are those that the candidate should apply after submitting the application for funding.

This write-up assumes that the applications for admission and funding are separate. This is not the case in certain instances. Nonetheless, the principles herein are as valid in either case.

The choice of the word principles in describing what I will be sharing here on this platform is deliberate. According to Wiktionary, a principle is a “guiding belief or rule that is used to choose among solutions to a problem”.

By referring to it as ‘principles’ therefore, it is intended to serve as guiding beliefs that when applied can yield a great result.

As principles, it means they are true when applied in other spheres of similar endeavours.

Pre-application Principles

1. Seek for good grade

This is rather broad. What indeed is a “good grade”? My advice is that your grade must be good enough for those who will be investing in you to know that you have the capacity to finish the program without dropping out along the line.

Further to that, those who will be paying your bills are also interested in your ability to be able to process the information you will be getting in the course of the programme for future application. So, one of the ways they assess this is by looking at your past academic performances.

I often hear young students of nowadays say that it does not matter what grade one comes out with. I tell you, it does! While there are many things adcoms look out for beyond grade, it is likely you get lost in the pool if you perform poorly.

In some cases, it is expressly stated that the scholarship is for certain categories of elite students with acdemic distinction. In that case, students who do not measure up are immediately disqualified.

That said, where it is not clearly stated, then a minimum grade is generally assumed to be enough and once you meet up, you are good enough.

Seeking for good grades also entails that one familiarizes oneself with other academic requirements of the programme, and seeks to do well in them. For instance, if it is a programme that requires language test, the onus lies on the individual to pass it. This is also true for programmes requiring GRE – Graduate Records Examination.

In some cases, based on certain circumstances, a student may be eligible for waivers for some additional academic requirements. If in doubt, email the school. If you can however, I will advise you take the test.

This will show adcom you mean business and will keep you competitive for funding.

Please note that the grading system overseas is usually different from that of your country of origin and you may need to familiarize yourself with this even as an undergraduate student as part of your planning.

To be continued…

Femi Samuel is a Public Health practitioner with knowledge of the inner workings of overseas admission and funding committees. He writes in from femi.samuel@zoho.com