The Scholarship Journey: Surmounting Artificial Barriers
Updated: Dec 4, 2021
On this FAQ slot, we tackle some of the self-imposed barriers which impede the drive to achieving scholarship dreams.
Aeronautics Engineer, Kinsa Sandrine (right) and Forghab Prince, Masters Scholars at the Open Dreams Center Yaounde, running an online mentorship session.
1) “I have not started any scholarship application because I have not taken any standardized test – Once I am done taking the test, I will start my scholarship applications”. This is a common mistake many people make, and sometimes take test which expire without having been used at any point. Before you set out to take any standardized test (SAT, TOEFL, GRE, IELTS etc), you must have a well-defined purpose for taking it, so you know exactly what score to aim at. This means you must have looked into scholarships and their eligibility conditions, which may carry a cut-off test score. Hence you have a targeted score and also know exactly what test is required. It’s worth noting that many schools and scholarship program have dropped the test requirement due to Covid-19. Hence it is possible to have admission and a scholarship without a standardized test score. Moreover, some institutions drop the English Language test requirement when you can prove to them that your studies have all along been in the English Language. Some scholarship programs offer you unconditional admission and give you a chance to take the test and score above some minimum. At this point, your goal is very clear. Hence, do not wait till you have a test score before you begin. There is never a perfect time to begin than now.
2) “I need to have my GCE Advanced Level Results before I start applying to college”: While this may be the case for those who opt for a gap year after the GCE Advanced Level, it is however preferable to begin applications in the summer after lower sixth. At this time, each student already has a clear picture of the subjects he or she is excelling in and also has a dream profession. Some schools actually award scholarships to students based on their SAT/TOEFL scores contingent upon their submission of the GCE Advanced Level Slip.
3) “Unless I see the word ‘scholarship’ right at the top of any program, I cannot make a choice to apply to the university”: Too often, we are busy scanning for the word “scholarship” that we lose sight of some hidden opportunities especially at the level of graduate studies. There are several institutions which offer generous funding at the level of the department. There are also university professors who have won research grants and are looking for students to work with. It may take diligent research at the financial aid section of each university website or the department to get related information. Sometimes to start off, google “Graduate Programs with generous funding” or “fully-funded graduate scholarships in engineering” or “Fully-funded PhD Programs” (https://www.usnews.com/education/best-graduate-schools/paying/slideshows/fully-funded-phd-programs), etc. You may find more tips here - https://www.profellow.com/tips/how-to-find-fully-funded-graduate-programs-in-any-discipline/ . It is also helpful connecting with students who have gotten fully-funded offers to some universities and targeting those universities as well.
Open Dreams Pre-Scholars from Bamenda, Bafoussam and Douala converge at the Yaounde Center to speed up their work
4) Work experience: There are some scholarships which clearly require at least two years of work experience. If you have already spent a year after graduation, or did much work while doing your undergraduate program, it is preferable to give a shot at such programs and let the institution decide whether to grant you admission or reject the application file; whatever the outcome, there is almost a good lesson to learn from the experience. Typically, people who have at least one year of work experience (which could also be volunteering at a local health facility, law-firm, humanitarian organization etc while conducting research) excel at Open Dreams. There are however, many programs which require no work experience.
5) Research Experience: This is a critical requirement when applying for graduate programs. You have a higher competitive advantage if you can prove how much you have put your previously acquired knowledge to use while establishing clearly where your Masters/PhD research interest lies, based on your experiences.
6) Visiting or regularly accessing the Open Dreams Centers: It may be interesting to note that a handful of people wait till they would have had a chance to visit an Open Dreams Center to ask questions directly or meet anyone they can talk to before they can begin work on their applications. While this is important, it is not mandatory, as almost everything can be done virtually. About 8% of accomplished Open Dreams Scholars especially at the graduate level, have never visited any of the Open Dreams Centers. Some of them are not even based in Cameroon and had not visited Cameroon while working on their scholarship application. All it takes is a good mastery of ICT and also taking the right action on the scholarship opportunities shared across Open Dreams Network and others. Participating in Zoom orientation meetings, getting engage with community activities, linking up with Open Dreams Scholars within your neighborhood (Buea Hub, UBa Hub, Douala hub etc), researching and working on scholarship applications while seeking help online are more important things to do than craving to be at the Open Dreams Center or a town where an center is located. It is true there are more advantages operating at an Open Dreams Center but do not feel disenfranchised and discouraged just because there is no Open Dreams Center near you. When there is a will, there is a way. When you fill up the mentorship form and are admitted into the mentorship platform, do your best to attend zoom sessions, make good use of the opportunities shared in the group; do a lot of research and take assignments and deadlines as seriously as you would do in a real setting.
Arnold Chiy & Charles Femshang from the UK coaching at the Open Dreams Center Yaounde
7) “I have not been assigned a mentor. That is why I have not started any scholarship application”: Getting a mentor is not a key requirement to kick start any scholarship application. While mentors play a great role in keeping you working, you must not wait to have one before you begin your journey. You are part of Open Dreams because you stand out and standing out means there are a lot of things you can do on your own with little guidance. Open Dreams is more about a concept of hard working people who need exposure to opportunities, the right mentorship and connections to better their success strategy. Hence, while mentors are assigned for the undergraduate programs and very specialized programs like Medicine, we are fast shifting to hybrid or cloud mentorship; this means while you might be fortunate to be assigned a mentor, do not wait till you are assigned one before you take the first step. Rather, work more on your applications, write your essays, personal statements, research statements and have them ready for review. At that point, depending on which university you are applying to, if there is an Open Dreams Scholar who has walked that route that would be the best person to provide mentorship. Hence, if you are applying to three institutions which all have Open Dreams Scholars, it is likely that you will work with three different set of mentors. These scholars are not tied to you alone as your mentors. Their mentorship attribution at any instant would be based on who is applying to not just their university but to what program as well. Hence the mentorship process is spread out like in the clouds depending on what obtains within the given context and time. It’s up to you to explore.
Mentor Julius Ntang, from Unity Foundation Cameroon, discussing community activism
8) “This scholarship requires a GPA of 3.0. I have rather just 2.8. Should I bother myself applying?” Definitely you should apply. The 3.0 is based on a European or North American Evaluation Standard. If your results were evaluated using bodies like WES, SpanTran, SAQA, you will likely skip from 2.8 to a higher GPA on their own scale. Except the gap between the required GPA and yours is so wide, never fail to give it a shot. Some dreamers have actually succeeded, especially when regional balance, access and inclusion and other aspects are brought into play. Some institutions also believe that if you had sightly more resources than you did, you could have likely achieved a higher GPA. Some students do also use the high-cost evaluation services to make it through.
9) “There is an application fee which is a barrier. I may well just not apply”. It can be pretty costly applying to some institutions, as some charge an application fee about $100 USD. However, when there are funding offers, there is a chance that that fee is waived for applicants from Sub-Saharan African and other low-income regions. Sometimes, take a step to write to the admission officer and seek an application fee waiver. If you get one, fine – it you do not succeed, there is nothing that you have lost. Check out the next door of opportunity to knock.
TIC Summit President, Bill N. Agha overseeing the work of rising tech-star, 13 year old George Virshiyi in a one-on-one mentorship at the Yaounde Open Dreams Center
10) “The application process is too lengthy. I need a school to which I can just directly submit my documents and get a letter of admission”: Definitely, there are many of such less-demanding schools which deliver really fast– just so many. However, a number of them may charge very high fee, with limited financial aid offers. In some cases, the aid however may look significant but when compared with the fee to complete after the aid, there are miles to go. Other institutions may lack accreditation. It’s also not so easy getting an F-1 visa approved when a student is heading to the USA to such a school, well known for issuing admission letters without due diligence. One advantage of getting fully-funded programs is that you enjoy higher chances of not being denied visa based on your financial situation.
11) Time and Getting Offers Deferred: It may take quite a lot of work and time to get a PhD Offer letter. Also, some external funding organizations require an offer letter before making a decision on whether to fund your studies or not. The Commonwealth Scholarship Commission and the Joint Japan-World Bank Scholarship Program fall in this category. Usually, it is wise to apply early to universities when the money bags are still full (the early bird catches the fattest worm). If you miss out on getting full funding but can defer to the following year, you can use the offers of admission to apply to the external funding bodies or funding opportunities within the institution the following year, early enough.
The real work of figuring out yourself begins after the grades. To borrow some words from Bill N. Agha, "Open Dreams is that academic gym (enabling environment) where you come pick up the right set of tools to enhance the growth of your academic muscles"
- Written by James Akaba,
Open Dreams Team
African Leading Educators Network