At the GetIn Graduate Boot Camp, the first order of business is figuring out why you want to go to grad school. We have a fun exercise we call the “colour code exercise”, and from this simple activity, you find your “why.” For some people, it’s a career switch or progression, for others, it is about finding better opportunities. Whatever it is, this why is what influences all your choices and decisions in the journey. For today’s scholar, he took that colour code exercise and found his “why” to be prestige. For him, if he had to go to grad school, then it was a top school or nothing.
Bond Eke-Opara is the lawyer that many young scholars want to be. From a top law firm to a top graduate school in the US, he is absolutely what we would describe as “goals”. Before GetIn, he worked as an Associate at Udo Udoma & Belo-Osagie (UUBO), a top law firm in Lagos, Nigeria. For 5 years, he worked on Mergers and acquisitions as well as Private equity.
Bond graduated from Babcock University in 2016, where he studied law and graduated with a 4.48/5 GPA. He went on to Law School and finished with a Second class lower credential. He did not let this seemingly low grade deter him as he secured his first job for NYSC at UUBO and worked there until he was ready for grad school. “As a lawyer, working in a top law firm is necessary for your career progression. I knew I needed to prove that I was more than my grades, and so I went into my interview with UUBO to do just that, and I was able to secure the role”.
Facing the hustle and bustle in Lagos, all was going well for Bond as a young rising lawyer. For him, japa was never in sight.
“I had always wanted to stay in Nigeria because I never thought living abroad was beneficial to me since I had a good job and was living well. I was comfortable, and I was growing at a good rate in the firm.”
This changed when his friends started to get opportunities abroad. “It started with one of my friends who got into Harvard business school, then another into Harvard law school, then Cambridge”. He saw the opportunities and earning power of his friends and realized there could be more. “I started to compare what was going on for them, and I was doing, basically thinking to myself that I could also try out this application. I knew the advantages of a prestigious graduate law school for my career and knew that if it was not going to be a top school, then I did not want to go. I had been working for 5 years and had a lot of experience but also knew that I could benefit from theoretical knowledge to better understand certain processes in the field of law.”
Now that he decided he was going to go to grad school, there was a problem.“I did not know Jack about grad school. I had been hearing things here and there but did not know what to do or how to go about it. I spoke to my friend Faith who had help from someone who turned out to be Mariam from GetIn.” We know the power of friendships and connections, you should connect someone to GetIn today! Bond reached out to GetIn, and the boot camp was recommended for him. Bond did not selfishly go through this alone but also carried along his girlfriend at the time and friend, who were both actively involved in the process. “My girlfriend and I got married before I left Nigeria, and we’ve been working and planning our lives through all of this.”
Bond says the first thing he learnt from the process was the truth. “Mariam was truthful. I could see the sincerity. She was blunt in her analysis of various aspects of the process. I feel like many people can give off a facade about the process and the realities of going through grad school, but Mariam was open. She was sharing all kinds of hacks constantly. She showed us that she had hacked the grad school process. Every single thing that she said, I replicated. Even my friend, who I encouraged to go through the process, has now also gotten into Stanford and will be joining me this year. So for me, Mariam being truthful but also encouraging made me feel like there was a possibility”. Once again, friends who share opportunities definitely win together! He admits that he definitely struggled with mental blocks, but the things taught in the boot camp gave him the tools he needed. “All those little tips made a difference in the application.”
Now armed with the technical know-how, Bond found an accountability partner in the first week of the program. “Lamentations is what I would call myself and my accountability partner. We both did not have a lot of time, and sometimes we were working late into the night to be able to write our essays. We would complain and doubt the process, but having someone to talk to make sure we always submitted our applications, even at the dying minute. I did not even realize that I knew my accountability partner outside of GetIn until much later in the process, and that realization made things easier for us.”. This relationship with his accountability partner extended even to the general accountability group. “It was literally having a community you could complain to about all your problems. It was therapeutic”.
The choice and number of schools you apply to is ultimately based on your goals and profile. Our scholar applied to 6 top schools; Harvard University, New York University, Stanford University, University of Pennsylvania, Columbia University and Northwestern University, all in the US. “I got admitted to 5 of the 6 schools. Harvard did not take me, but Northwestern offered me 40k in funding. I got admitted into the rest but without funding. Looking back, I think it might be because I did not get a first class. I know others who got in and got funding with their first-class degree”. At this point, he began to narrow down his choices. He decided to use the strategy Mariam taught to ask for more funding. “UPenn was asking for a deposit of $750 to show my commitment to attending. They did not show me a sign of good faith for me to feel like I could drop that money. I felt like if they offered me some funding, I could consider committing. With the exchange rate, $750 is not small money. Columbia also said no to my request. I then began to look at the statistics to figure out which school was worth the investment I was about to make. I was doing my research to find out which school offered students the best opportunities. I was going to go with NYU and Stanford University then offered me admission, and I felt strongly that it was the best option”.
First class or not, like the popular actor James Bond, scholar Bond was on a mission. Prestige and opportunity were important to him, and so even though there was some funding at Northwestern, he rejected their offer and went for Stanford. “I don't know that any other place can give me what Stanford has. Your network determines your net worth, and that is what I needed out of grad school. If I had to take a loan to fund my education, I might as well do it for the top school. I went to my family and friends and told them about my plans. They came together to support me, and I raised enough for my living expenses. I got a gift from a mentor that paid a good chunk of my tuition, and I was able to take a loan from a private education company in the US. Everything ended up balancing out.” We often say at GetIn that as you pursue your dreams, you must be willing to bet on yourself, and Bond showed great courage in taking this step. You might wonder why he would leave a partially funded offer for no funding at all.
“The thing is strategy. I feel like people can be strategic about the things they want to do. For me, I was thinking about my plans for after school. I know that if I go to a school like Stanford, I can expect a certain level of returns and opportunities post-graduation”. Bond admits that this method might not be for everyone. “The beautiful thing about the US is the system. There are opportunities that can help you strategically come up with an education loan plan. The terms of my loan include a condition where I can decide not to pay anything for the first 2 years. Afterwards, I will need to pay around $200 per month, so I definitely felt like it was possible. You just need a credit-worthy cosigner, and I had my aunty who helped me with that. If you plan to loan money, you must be strategic”.
A wise man once said, “Waiting is the hardest work of hope.” In this journey to grad school, hard work and hope is your companion. After working hard, Bond knew that he had to keep hope alive while waiting. “I was fasting and praying. I knew that 2022 was my year, and I was serious about it. I even joined at the beginning of the year fasting in my church. I finished my applications in December, I had a job that took all my time, so I did not have too much time to think about it. I started getting offers in March up until April. I thought if Harvard didn’t find my application worthy, then maybe Stanford would not work either. I was pleasantly surprised when I got an email for an interview from Stanford and got admission a few weeks later”.
The joy that springs forth when your expectations and hopes become reality cannot be explained.
“I don’t think words can express how I felt. There was a joy of validation. Stanford blew my mind. It was exciting. I remember going partying afterwards. It was so beautiful. I was at work when I got the news, and everyone was so happy for me!”
Armed with his top law school admission, Bond began the US F1 visa process but quickly learned that it was a different ball game altogether. “The visa process scarred me. The graduate school application got nothing on the visa process. You can get all the offers, and that embassy will scatter your plans. The first time I went to the embassy, I went without adequate preparation and got rejected. Nobody talks to you about these things. “But why?, I wondered. I was so confused, wondering what went wrong. My friends started helping me figure out how to restrategize. I decided to go back the second time with a revised I-20. I got conditional approval asking to revise my I-20 and wait for an invitation to do another interview. This was in June. I did not hear back from them until the first week in August and was asked to submit my document at DHL. I was rejected again. The US visa process comes with its own challenges, and this scholar was in the thick of it.
“At this point, I was worried because school was to resume the next week. I went back to the bank, paid another visa fee and restarted the process. I could only find a date for next year. I then remembered that I had not used my emergency date applications. I got the emergency appointment approved in 10 mins and saw a date for Monday of the following week. I went back to restrategize again. I knew I had to convince the visa officer that I had a solid funding plan and strategy. The first question she asked me was, “What has changed?” and I made sure I advocated for myself. The moment she said she approved my visa, I the relief, happiness and joy. I had never felt that combination. The officer, however, told me I must be in the US before Friday, so I started planning. I had 4 days to get back my passport, to get a ticket, to pack and get to the US. My aunty in the US helped me get the last seat on Delta Airlines from Lagos to the US for that day”.
Bond’s experience is definitely crazy. He got his visa on Monday, got his passport back on Wednesday, booked a ticket that same day and got to the US just in time before customs turned him away. “I didn’t do any shopping, I just carried my clothes and came. I came to the US with $600. All the money I had gathered to care for myself upon arrival was used to buy a $4000 ticket”. A $4000 ticket? Definitely ridiculous! But this scholar meant business! A man on a mission!
Set to graduate this June, Bond recalls the events of the last year with a smile on his face, he is getting all he hoped for and more for Stanford. “I am going to graduate in June and will take the bar exams in July. Beyond the application process, the GetIn boot camp confirmed to me that I can achieve anything I set my mind to. I have secured a job in the UK and will be moving to London after graduation by September.” With these outcomes, Bond isn’t stopping any time soon, “I am interested in top tier law firms that focus on mergers and acquisitions, equity, corporate law. I want to be at the helm of everything going on in the business industry, I want to know about the global firms making big deals. I am passionate about what I do, and knowing the ins and outs of things happening in the business world is my strategy. In the coming years, expect me to be a wealthy lawyer doing big things in a top law firm. In the near future, I want to solve housing problems in Nigeria and plan to build a real estate company that can adequately tackle the issues surrounding housing”.
We all love a good story of success, but we know that the waiting, the rejections and the hope deferred can be painful, our scholar knows this well. “One thing that helped me is I surrounded myself with friends who did it. I felt like if they can get in, then what is stopping me from also getting in? Witnessing their journeys propelled me to go for my dreams. Even friends who had worse grades than me still got in, so that gave me the validation that I could do it, I knew it was not all about grades. I just needed the right direction and wanted a consultation which is where GetIn came in. For anyone struggling and doubting this process, Bond wants you to come closer and read this… “Trust the process. Regardless of what the outcome is, it is a process. Nothing good ever comes easy. Is it going to be difficult, yes. But is it impossible, no. You will realize that it is a difficult path to go through, but no matter what, tell yourself that I am still going to go through it. Fix your mindset. Tell your mind that you will definitely go through it. Trust yourself and your abilities. You are well comparable to your colleagues outside Nigeria. You can get in. Research is the mother of them all. I wish I had known all these things 5 years ago. Lack of knowledge is what stops many people from getting opportunities. There is always a way, you won’t know things unless you do your own homework”.
If you have read up to this point, invite a friend to join the GetIn boot camp, it could be the link to changing their lives.