Prinade Consulting

Yayy! You’ve just completed your undergraduate degree, now you want to forge ahead, but you have no idea what to do.

Look no further; I will be sharing some of the tips that helped me secure my admission(s) into prestigious schools of my choice (I chose the Royal Veterinary College of University of London above others) and how I was able to get a full scholarship (Commonwealth) that was keenly contested for. It’s quite important for you to have good grades to get into most schools, but getting a Masters degree or PhD and a scholarship need strategic planning. Let’s dive straight into the tips (I’m sure that’s why you’re reading this, anyway).

First things first: you need to have a plan. I can attest to the fact that having a plan and writing your plan down makes your work and your applications easier to do and monitor. Before you start applying to schools or for scholarships, I’ll advise that you should be familiar with the application processes of the schools or the scholarship body you intend to apply to, prior to the application window. You can effectively do this by asking questions from people who are in that school or are/were on that scholarship (the easiest way to do this is via LinkedIn). What really helped me was that I searched on LinkedIn for people who had studied or were studying the course I was looking at applying for or had been/were on the scholarship I was targeting. I saw a lady who studied my dream course in my dream school, who was a Nigerian and was on a scholarship I was planning to apply for. I sent her a message on LinkedIn, connected with her, looked for her on Facebook, sent her a connection request and that was how we started chatting. I asked her all my questions because her status was relatable and very similar to what I wanted.

It’s very important to know when the application windows for schools and different scholarships open. Usually, those windows range from 2 to 6 months, so the ball is in your court on how well you will prepare and how early you’ll submit your applications. I mentioned earlier that it’s important for you to write down your plan. Yes, you may have a plan in your head, but there may be a lot of schools and scholarships you want to apply to, and not writing your plans down may be dangerous, as you may skip some important details. This is what the plan I created for myself looked like. You may adopt it as a template:

Coming up with this Google sheet (it doesn’t have to be Google sheet; you can use Excel or create a table on Word) was very valuable. My search was guided and I didn’t have to waste time. For instance, if you’re looking for a school that’s got funding for your course, it’s quite important for you to note if the schools you have searched for have funding or not (if you’re searching for schools in Europe, especially Germany, this information is quite important). If the school has no funding, you may want to keep it in your list or take it out. If you decide to keep it in your list, then you may want to start looking for scholarships that will fund your study.

The ‘Country’ column is also important. One of the reasons why this is important is networking. It’s possible you find someone online studying in a particular country on your list (may not necessarily be your school of choice), you may want to ask them if they know anything about your school. Don’t be surprised, most schools in some countries have the same application process. So speaking with someone already studying in that country is valuable.

I’ll dwell more on the Requirements because this is where most potential students make a mistake. It is very important you find out what the requirements for that course in that school are (if possible, before the application window opens). This will help you decide if you need to get an English proficiency test such as TOEFL or IELTS. Some schools are rigid and won’t ask for an alternative to TOEFL or IELTS. Some schools may say either TOEFL or IELTS. Some may say you don’t require any if your undergraduate study was in an English-speaking country. Some will ask you to provide Medium of Instruction in English Language from your school. You just need to find out what the requirements are. The information you get from the Requirements will help you to better strategize. Let us say you have been tracking the admissions page of your school before the next application window opens (which was exactly what I did for most of the schools I applied to), you already have an idea of what is required. If the application portal opens in November, for example, and will close in July of the following year, you have ample time to get your Degree Certificate from your undergraduate school, process your academic transcript, plan, prepare and write your English proficiency exam and put your best into your essays. You can create another Google Sheet to track your progress with meeting the requirements. Don’t be deceived that you must have had all those things before the application window opens; just make sure you have most of those things before you submit your application. By most of those things, I mean everything except in some instances such as your Degree Certificate is not ready. You should still go ahead with your application because most schools will send you an email after you’ve submitted your application, to ask for some documents that were missing. I had 2 admissions (University of Kent and Queen’s University, Belfast) before the school requested that I should send my Degree Certificate.

When you plan, your preparation is more guided. I paid for my TOEFL exam in early October and I chose December to write the exam. My TOEFL result came out about 9 days after. I had a good TOEFL score (104/120) because I prepared well and I was attending TOEFL Prep classes. I already had a TOEFL certificate before I commenced most of my applications and this gave me an edge over those that applied to different schools without submitting an English proficiency test score. Planning and preparation show that you are deliberate about what you want.

You also need to be deliberate about your Referees. What I did with my applications was to have multiple Academic CVs with the same content, but different Referees depending on the course and the rank of the referee or their qualification. I contacted the referees I had in mind through email or calls to ask if they’ll be willing to be my referee for xyz application. Most of them will say yes, but they’ll most likely ask you to come up with a draft. Make sure you select a referee that knows you, either on a personal, professional or academic basis (Commonwealth requires these 3 types of referees). When reaching out to a potential referee, you should send them your Academic CV.

Some schools require you to have Supervisors before you apply to the school for your course. You need to check the profiles of virtually all the lecturers or professors in that school or department to get what you want. After checking their profiles, you may want to connect with them on LinkedIn and also send them an email (their email addresses are most times on the school/departmental/faculty website). You need to reach out to as many as possible. The more they are, the higher your chances of finding at least 1 person who will be willing to have you as their research student. It is also important to attach your Academic CV to every email you send to the potential supervisors.

This is the most important part of your application, either for admission or for scholarships. You cannot afford to be lazy with your essays. You have to be deliberate. You need to have a plan. If you’re planning to plagiarize or use someone else’s work, good luck with that! No jokes, all schools use a plagiarism checker for essays, so you better be prepared to be original in your essays. The following tips should be of help:

  1. Create a document where you can write all your essays. I’ll suggest Google doc because it gives room for collaboration. It’s also important to have this document, especially if you are interested in multiple applications. Most of the questions are similar, so you can always go back to what you’ve written before and suit it to the new application
  2. Understand the question you are about to write on
  3. Make sure you have researched extensively on your course and the school/scholarship
  4. Have a draft including the key points for each paragraph
  5. Go straight to the point when answering the questions! Once you’ve done this, you may then start writing stories to back up your paragraphs. Going straight to the point means you’re bringing your topic sentence first in the paragraph
  6. Be very creative. Nobody wants to read a bland, boring essay. You should write to keep your readers glued to their seats from scratch to finish. My best approach to writing all my essays was to paint a picture of a relatable experience that will resonate with anyone who read them. You can write about something that happened in your childhood or in school that informed your decision to study that course or that school
  7. Never exceed the number of words or characters requested

For scholarships, the tips above are very important, but I’ll add more:

  1. Have a clear-cut long-term and short-term goal before you start writing your essays
  2. Don’t paint the picture of your country is so poor, hence you desperately need the scholarship
  3. Ensure you understand how the scholarship works before you apply so you won’t get committed to something you may not like later on
  4. Let all your essays reflect that you really understand what your course entails and how it can benefit the society, your country and maybe the scholarship network
  5. Give yourself enough time to write, edit and proof-read all your essays.
  6. Ask other people to check your essays for you. I’ll recommend sending your essays to someone in the field of the course you’re applying to, someone whose English grammar is sound and someone who is a critical thinker (trust me, you may not find all 3 attributes in 1 person; that’s why it’s important to send to about 2–3 people)

To learn more about how the Commonwealth scholarship works, please read Damilola’s post.

You can check out some sample essays herehere and here; and a sample for Commonwealth application here.

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