Do you always wonder if it’s ever possible to win a full Master’s scholarship abroad without a First Class degree?
In April 2017, I won a full scholarship for Master’s studies in Sweden.
I never finished with a first class.
I didn’t have any experience of working for all those big name international aid organisations like the UN, or WHO, etc.
But I won the scholarship on my first time of applying for it.
Not only that, in 2017, I founded a coaching community, Scholars.Africa, that has helped 23 other candidates from Nigeria, Ghana, Colombia, Kenya, Uganda to win this very same scholarship, till date.
Many of whom also graduated with second class degrees.
Now, why am I saying all this?
Because I’m about to share with you the steps I took in 2016/2017 to win this scholarship.
And I’ll love you to pay attention to every detail I share about my journey because the story demonstrates the kind of mindset you need to adopt if you want to win this same scholarship.
In December 2015, I started searching for Master’s studies opportunities outside my home country, Nigeria, and the popular destinations; United Kingdom, United States, Canada, Australia came to mind.
When I began my search, I wanted to go to a top university on a full scholarship, everything paid for, so I knew what I was looking for at the beginning.
What audacity I had then. I was just a Second Class Upper graduate.
When I dug into these countries’ educational funding systems, I started discovering that funding one’s education in most of these countries wasn’t a straightforward path.
You have to apply for admissions, then hope a professor in the university has some space for research assistants or the university has enough space for teaching assistants, and I wasn’t impressed.
I wanted a straightforward means, one application for a full scholarship.
So, my choices were narrowed down to the UK through the Commonwealth Scholarship and Chevening Scholarship.
These are full scholarships that pay for everything; transportation to the UK, tuition fees, living expenses. But, I lost interest in them.
Why? Even though I later put in an application for the Chevening Scholarship, I was put off by the mandatory condition of returning to one’s home country after postgraduate studies.
I mean, it was limiting. I wanted to leave my options open, I didn’t want to be compelled to leave those amazing countries. You get that feeling, right?
I wanted that decision to be in my hands and not be forced by another entity to do so.
So, I dug deeper into the web, scouring websites upon websites, checking the ranking of universities.
I stumbled upon the Netherlands Fellowship Programme but lost interest when I found out my undergraduate grade was not enough to make me eligible.
These ones forgot that not everyone finished with a First Class from university.
Well, I dug deeper, checked out other countries.
There was a time I was stuck on South Korea because they have highly ranked universities and a full straightforward scholarship application but I eventually lost interest because of the language and it was a bit far away from home.
Then I moved on to Singapore.
Singapore has a full postgraduate scholarship for a combined 5 year-Master’s and PhD degrees and it was a straightforward application.
If you get the scholarship, in five years’ time, you’ll not only have a Master’s degree, you’ll also be a PhD holder. Yeah, it’s really attractive.
But, you know what?
Yeah, you guessed right. I lost interest in it too.
I didn’t find an appropriate course/programme.
All these happened for the first half of 2016.
I mean, just like you, I was desperate for a solution, I was looking everywhere.
Somehow, alongside all these countries I was checking, I was also looking at Sweden because I learnt they had a full straightforward scholarship programme, known then as Swedish Institute Study Scholarship, which has no mandatory condition of returning to one’s home country, no First Class grade required, pays for full tuition fees, monthly allowances, health insurance and even travel grant from one’s home country.
Sweden? Of all places. Do they even speak English?
Well, I was also curious like you and stumbled on the official education information portal for Sweden, studyinsweden.se.
From the moment I visited that website, I got hooked.
From what I saw about this website, I deduced there was something definitely interesting about these people.
Then I started discovering that more than 70% of Swedes speak fluent English, Master’s programmes in Sweden are taught in English and their higher education system is ranked top 5 in the world.
I don’t even have to write any official English test (IELTS, TOEFL) because of the country I studied in, which some other countries were requesting from me.
I also found the Master’s programmes I was interested in.
When I learnt all these about Sweden, I decided to direct all my energies to apply for Master’s in Sweden and the Swedish Institute Study Scholarship, which is now known as the Swedish Institute Scholarship for Global Professionals.
These are some of the other benefits of studying in Sweden and winning the scholarship that I saw that got me sold on the idea of pitching my tent in this Scandinavian country:
- If you win the scholarship, your full tuition fees will be paid for by the Swedish government.
- Monthly allowance of SEK 9000, when I applied, which has now been increased to 10,000 SEK (that’s about US$1,049)
- 15,000 SEK (about US$1,573) for your transportation expenses from your home country to Sweden.
- 6-Months residence permit to look for job after studies, which has now been increased to 12 months residence permit. Once you get a job, you can convert this to a work permit.
- Visa-free travel to 27 European countries with your Swedish study permit.
- No age limit of the scholarship
- You can win this scholarship even with a Second Class Lower degree. I finished with Second Class, so this was an issue for me with other scholarship programmes that were asking for the legs of a snake or the skeleton of a cockroach from me.
When you sit down to calculate the value of all these benefits of the scholarship for a 2-year Master’s programme, it all sums up to about $50,000!
I checked the websites of the universities I was interested in and discovered I needed reference letters from academic and professional referees.
I sprang into action.
I travelled down to my university, University of Lagos, Nigeria and spoke with some of my former lecturers who were glad to sign on as my referees.
I was living in Abuja then. I had to schedule my visit to Lagos during my official leave period from work.
Before applications opened in October, I already had reference letters from my academic referees in hand.
October, 17, 2016, applications for Master’s programmes for Autumn 2017 opened and I believe I must have been the first person to pay my application fee of 900SEK (about ₦35,000/GhC532) because I paid it that day, even though the deadline for paying it was still 5 months away in February 1, 2017.
Ha. I no wan hear story ni o. I’ve learnt this is how you overcome your village people, by acting fast.
Apart from the SEK 900 application fee requirement, these are the other requirements:
- Your Bachelor’s Degree certificate. You can upload this yourself. No need for any notarization. Just scan your degree certificate in colour and upload it. OND or HND alone or plus PGD are not sufficient.
- Your transcript, which must be sent directly by your university (if you studied in Nigeria). Candidates that studied in Ghana can upload their transcript themselves.
- International passport.
- University-specific requirement which can include: Motivation letter, CV, reference letter. Note that not all universities ask for motivation letters, CV or reference letters
About 2 weeks before applications opened, I already arranged with my university in Nigeria to send my transcripts to Sweden because I figured it could take some time for my university to process the transcripts and send to Sweden.
A month after applications opened, my transcripts arrived Sweden.
Well, I got admitted to Linkoping University for the Industrial Engineering and Management Master’s programme.
It was on Friday, March 24, 2017, when I saw “Conditionally Admitted” written against my Linkoping University choice.
“Conditionally Admitted” means you have been admitted with the condition of paying tuition fees.
If you don’t pay the first installment of the tuition fees at a given later date, the admission could be revoked, which was why I was banking on the results of my application for the Swedish Institute Study Scholarship.
When I applied, the scholarship was still in 2 stages, it has now been changed to just 1 stage.
In the first stage, we were not required to submit any documents for the scholarship application, it was just about filling out details of our profile in the online application portal.
This first stage was from December 1, 2016 to December 31, 2017.
The requirements for the scholarship include:
- Work experience of at least 3000 hours. Which is equivalent to working for 1 and a half years of working for 8 hours per day. Your 6-months internship and 1-year national service (NYSC) should be able to cover for this.
- Leadership experience which has no minimum hour requirement. Note that leadership experience according to the Swedish Institute involves experience to lead other colleagues/organisations, mandate to influence the development strategy for the organisation you work at, allocate tasks to colleagues and familiarity with decision-making processes.
- If you’ve had any leadership experience from university, that qualifies too. I used my leadership experience from my university fellowship to apply for this scholarship.
- Motivation letter. You have to use the template provided by the scholarship.
- Reference letter. You have to use the template provided by the scholarship.
- CV. You have to use the template provided by the scholarship.
- Proof of Work/Leadership Experience forms, whose templates are also provided for you to use. They don’t need any leadership certificate from you.
In late January 2017, the list of successful applicants from the first stage was published and as you guessed, your boy’s application number was on the list.
I was quite glad but it was a measured gladness because that was not the final list of the scholarship winners but of those that qualified to apply in the second stage.
There was still one stage to go.
See, I prepared really hard to win the scholarship. I downloaded and analysed lists of recipients of the scholarship from years past. I followed every detail.
In the second stage, we were required to submit detailed applications for the scholarship and submitting four documents (Motivation Letter, Reference Letter, Proof of Work/Leadership Experience and CVs).
The Swedish Institute provided templates for these documents and required that we fill in these templates for our applications, otherwise, the applications would not be acceptable.
Long before applications for the scholarship opened, I already had copies of these documents for past years.
Even though the questions asked in the templates differed each year, they were usually of similar formats.
So, the advantage of having these copies was that, I was already prepared with samples of my responses to the questions asked.
I just re-arranged them to fit questions asked for the templates for my application. The second stage application was from February 2, 2017 to February 10, 2017.
After getting admitted on March 24, 2017, I waited “unpatiently” (there’s no word like that, just coined it) for the day the Swedish Institute stated that they would release the list of successful applicants for the scholarship, Monday, April 10, 2017.
But, on the Friday before that, April 7, 2017….
When I saw this email, I was at work and didn’t have the satisfaction that comes from shouting excitedly after receiving this kind of email, because I didn’t want to be sanctioned on a day of joy.
I immediately dashed to the restroom to release that shouting energy, even though quietly.
The feeling I had that day, of getting rewarded with a highly valuable prize for putting so much effort into a project is one I always want to feel.
In June 2019, I graduated as a Master’s degree holder in Industrial Engineering and Management, and even though it was also a deeply fulfilling moment for me, it cannot be compared with the feeling I had when I won the scholarship.
The next Master’s application in Sweden starts in October 2020.
And because the application is done mostly online, I believe it will not be affected by COVID-19.
The scholarship application usually follows after in February of every year.
If you learnt a lot from this article, then you’ll definitely find this Step-by-Step Guideline and StudyPack useful in guiding you in your application.
- It includes video tutorials of how to fill the required documents for the scholarship: motivation letter, CV, reference letter and work/leadership experience forms.
- It includes video tutorials of how to submit the required documents on the admission and university website
- It also includes a video tutorial on how to select the least competitive Master’s programmes. This will be good for you if you’re applying with a Second Class degree just like I did.
- It also includes a workbook on how to craft a motivation letter that will give you an edge over the thousands of candidates that apply for this scholarship every year from all over the world.