How to Apply to Schools Abroad and Get Full Funding

MARY ABIODUN
8 min readMar 17, 2023

Original graduate school stories of Emmanuel Akintunde and Samuel Arawu as compiled from an online session with them on StrikingCVs.

Emmanuel Akintunde was a PhD student/Graduate Research Assistant at University of Nebraska-Lincoln, USA. Samuel Arawu had his MSc. at University of British Columbia (UBC), Vancouver, Canada.

Financial Aids for Graduate Studies

There are different financial aid options to help prospective graduate students (MSc and PhD) in funding their graduate studies. Typically, students are partially or fully funded by one or a combination of the following sources:

  • Scholarships
  • Fellowships
  • Graduate Assistantships (Research and/or Teaching Assistantship)
  • Student Loans (might not be applicable to you)

But one of the most explored financial aids by most Nigerians especially in USA is the Graduate Assistantship.

A Graduate Assistantship is a salaried student employment opportunity for graduate students.

As a graduate assistant, you work for a set number of hours (most like 20 hours) per week and in return receive a tuition waiver and, often times, a monthly living stipend.

In simple words, you don’t literally pay tuition fees and you collect some monthly stipends. I’m sure that sounds great.

How to Get a Graduate Assistantship

I will streamline this for those planning to come to US using my experience. The process is likely obtainable in other countries especially Canada.

Graduate Assistantship is very competitive. Hence, you need to strategically position yourself in a way to get one. I will be talking on the following:

  • Standardized Tests (GRE, TOEFL/IELTS)
  • Documents (SOP, Transcripts, CV, Passport, Letter of Recommendation)
  • Getting an advisor (or who you can typically call a supervisor)

Standardized Tests (GRE, TOEFL/IELTS)

I think this should be the first step. The earlier, the better. Most schools in USA will require you to write GRE and TOEFL.

For some, only TOEFL will be required depending on the school, department and program.

GRE has three sections: Verbal, Quantitative and Essay Writing.

Personally, I think a 2–3 months preparation is good enough to ace the exams.

A link that contains all the preparation materials you would need.

TOEFL/IELTS is a test of your English proficiency. United States seems to recognize TOEFL more. Canada and UK recognize IELTS more.

Moreover, TOEFL is cheaper and I learnt it is easier. I will recommend TOEFL if your focus is USA. A 3-weeks (adequate) preparation should suffice.

I ran away from GRE after school because I was just unnecessarily scared and lazy. I decided to finally write when going to UK or Canada with full funding wasn’t forth coming.

USA seems to have more funding than any other country. In my own opinion, I will readily recommend US if you want to do PhD with funding.

Documents (SOP, Transcripts, CV, Int’l Passport, Letter of Recommendation)

While preparing for your tests, you can also start working on these documents. Get a passport (International passport).

Draft out a good CV (that is academically inclined), get your (student) transcript from school and start drafting out your Statement of Purpose (SOP).

SOP is an essay you write about yourself, academic background and exploits, reason(s) why you are going for graduate studies and your subsequent plans after getting the degree.

There are several templates online you can get to guide and help you draft yours. Get terrific LoR (Letter of Recommendation) from your lecturers.

Be sure to patronize lecturers that will write great stuffs about you. It boosts your chances.

Getting Advisors

In my opinion, this is where the major work is. This is where the great deal of work is and this is where some people give up.

A lot of people just apply to schools without talking to advisors. Most times, they don’t get admission except you have a very exceptional profile.

Some get admission but no funding. Of course, some are always lucky to get admission with funding.

To increase your chances, I always advise people to write professors with relevant research areas first, get their consent before applying to their school.

With that, you increase your chances of admission and funding and reduce the chances of wasting your money in application.

So, let me quickly point out the reason you need an advisor. The department won’t give you an admission for a graduate research program if a professor in the department has not agreed to “supervise” you.

Hence, you need an advisor to be admitted into the department.

So the question or issue at hand is how to get an advisor.

How Do You Get an Advisor/Supervisor

  1. Check out schools in the US. Use google to check ranking.
  2. Write out like 20 schools.
  3. Check their website for their requirements. If you meet the requirements, proceed.
  4. Check the faculty members with research areas that align with yours.
  5. Write them a very catching mail. In your mail, blow your trumpet. Don’t be humble about it. Tell them you will like to work with their team and ask for available funding opportunities you can avail yourself to. See a template at the end.
  6. If they don’t reply, send a follow up mail after a week.
  7. I advise you track your mails to know whether they have read it or not. Check out hubspot.com on how to track mails.
  8. The Reality: Some won’t respond, some will tell you no funds, no openings, and so on… Just keep pushing! Never stop mailing professors until you get one! That’s how to win this game!

A Template for Emailing Professors

Email Subject: Prospective Ph.D Student — University of Delaware — Structural Engineering.

Dear Prof. Otugeme,

I am currently applying to the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at University of Delaware for the PhD program in Structural Engineering (Spring 2025 Admission). I had 120 as my TOEFL iBT score (30R 30L 30S 30W) and 340 in my GRE (Q170 V170 AWA5.0).

I’m presently rounding up my Master’s degree Program (Structural Engineering) at the University of Lagos, Nigeria. I expect to have concluded my Master’s degree before the Spring 2025 admissions. I finished my undergraduate degree with a CGPA of 5.00/5.00 (approximately equivalent to 4.0/4.0) from the department of Civil and Environmental Engineering.

While thoroughly exploring your school’s graduate programs in Structural Engineering, I discovered your profile which indicates your specific interests in laboratory and field-testing of structures and Structural Health Monitoring. I am eager to expand my knowledge in this research area.

I read the summary of some of your articles and I find the various investigations interesting and highly significant. I will like to join your topnotch research team in carrying out other investigations and similar works. I also request your indefatigable mentorship and supervisory support for my PhD application.

Kindly find attached a copy of my transcript and curriculum vitae for your review. I also like to inquire about funding opportunities I can avail myself to under your supervision.

Thank you so much for your time and consideration. I look forward to your positive response.

With Regards,

Emmanuel O. Akintunde
Civil & Environmental Engineering (Structural Engineering)
University of Lagos, Nigeria

Follow-up mail Template

Dear Prof. Mary Abiodun,

I write to follow up my previous mail regarding my request to have you as my supervisor for my prospective PhD program. I do hope you have some time to discuss or reply. I can be contacted on Skype (Skype Id: StrikingCVs) if you would like to set up an interview.

Kindly let me know if it would be helpful for me to provide any other additional information as you move on in your decision.

I understand your busy schedules and thus can’t thank you enough for your time and consideration.

With Regards,
Emmanuel O. Akintunde
Civil & Environmental Engineering (Structural Engineering)
University of Lagos, Nigeria

More Questions and Answers on Graduate School Application

Q: Can you get Graduate Assistantship for a Masters program after you been given admission and I-20

A: Yes, you can. It may be difficult but it’s very possible. I have a friend here who got his assistantship when he arrived.

Steps to take:

  1. You can ask the department if there’s any professor who has an assistantship to offer.
  2. I advise you go extra steps to mail the professors in your department. Sell yourself to them and inform them that you have an admission already.
  3. Talk with people in your department. Someone can have the info you need. Information is
    power.

Q: What if your GRE wasn’t so impressive?
A: There are different options:

  1. Look for schools that will still appreciate your GRE score.
  2. Write it again. Its determination. Personally, I know two people who wrote it more than once.

Q: Can a medical personnel (Pharmacologist) access this same opportunity?

A: I don’t think otherwise. You should be able to access the same opportunity. Pharmacology is great. There are funded schools. Check EMORY.

Q: Please share some tips for embassy interviews.
A: Here is a good link.

Samuel Arawu’s experience on his exploit for his PhD at Imperial College, London.

One major thing I’ve learnt from my scholarship hustle is that, if you don’t get a scholarship, it doesn’t mean you aren’t qualified. It might mean you’re the right candidate for them. So, regardless of your GPA you hustle.

Here’s the deal.

I saw the application 3 days to deadline, and I did something drastic.

Most people applied but they missed the details of getting a supervisor. Attention to details is key.

A friend had 4.76/5.0 B.Pharm NAU, MSc biochemistry in Kenya 5/5, she still didn’t get it. Simply because she applied without a supervisor.

By God’s grace, I’ve learnt a very exciting skill of writing SOPs and contacting supervisors, I can share my Imperial College SOP.

But these things come with plenty sacrifice.

One of the ways to contact supervisors is on ResearchGate.

Can you notice that you can see virtually everyone affiliated to different schools in your area on research gate?

MSc with assistantship is possible with a good GRE and a wonderful first degree with some hands-on internship experience.

Like if you volunteer to help out in a research for 2 weeks, you’re permitted to be on the paper. That’s why there are what is called research groups.

Back to the basics. What I do is: I’m on research gate. Every time a paper related to the areas I indicated pops up, I’ll be notified.

I’d read the abstract, then I’d send a mail to the author requesting for a skype informational chat so we can discuss the paper.

During the discuss, I’d ask few questions and how I got them. I’d Google issues on the topic matter and from the abstract, I’d know whether or not it’s been solved.

That’s how I got the Professors at Imperial College, London and Carleton University, Ottawa.

I have declined Carleton already because I want either a top school or PR + job (PR is Permanent Residence).

So if you’re not on research gate, you can swiftly do the above as God directs you.

Talking about standardized tests, my friend just got a PhD in the USA without GRE & TOEFL.

I don’t like writing tests and I’ve not written any. I want to write IELTS general just for PR reasons.

For those in biological sciences, I can recommend schools without GRE & TOEFL in the USA. But you must suffice the lapse with say, a good GPA and publications.

Hopefully with these, you can get other things done… I look forward to hearing more testimonies.

Remember: If scholarship isn’t for poor people or intelligent people, it’s for smart people. There are no rigid rules, just put your heart to it and boom! you’ll get one.

— Arawu Samuel

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MARY ABIODUN

Techie. Writer. Mentor. Teacher. Editor. Entrepreneur. Growth Marketing