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How To Get Admitted Into An Ivy League School Without A First Class. Bodunde Shares His Story

Scholar: Bodunde Ajenifuja

Undergraduate Course and Grade: Law, Second Class Upper Division

Undergraduate University: University of Lagos.

Graduate Course and University: Commercial Law, Darwin College, University of Cambridge.

My journey to Cambridge was one fraught with so many uncertainties and indecision. One of such is the fact that Cambridge had always stated on their website that ideal applicants for the masters degree programme should have graduated with a first class degree in law or fall within the top 10% of law students from their jurisdiction. I didn’t graduate with a first class from University or even Law School, so I basically just had to put in my application and leave Cambridge to decide whether or not, in their opinion, I fell within top 10% of students or applicants from Nigeria.

The only deliberate thing I remember doing was properly highlighting in my application those features and attributes which I believe sets me apart as an individual. My achievements, prizes, experiences, ambitions, etc, all these are what I refer to as my selling points.

I also picked as referees, people who I know genuinely believed in me and wanted the best for me. Although I didn't see the content of their references, I believe they wrote without reservations and as convincingly as possible. When picking referees, I think it’s best to choose people you have a cordial relationship with and not just big names who might disappoint or send in template references. It might also be helpful to know that I applied few weeks after law school, i.e before law school results got released and before I started working or even got qualified as a lawyer. This means, my law school result or post-qualification work experience wasn’t considered by Cambridge for my LLM admission. Although, my CV contained a long list of internship experiences I gathered during my undergraduate course.

Another interesting point would be the fact that, during that period, my undergraduate faculty had offered me a scholarship to do a Masters degree at the Queen Mary University of London (QMUL). Meanwhile, Cambridge's admission didn't come with any funding, and the scholarship which I hoped for, got stopped for law students that year. It took a lot of convincing from mentors, and close friends for me to decide to forfeit a full-tuition scholarship at QMUL and self-fund my Masters degree at Cambridge. It seemed to me like an illogical thing to do at the time but I'm glad I made the decision. It is, however, important to point out that people who would find or have found themselves in a similar position should not hastily make the decision of picking one school over another. One's decision should depend on a critical assessment and balancing of so many important factors, most of which should be derived from the genuine reasons why such a person wants a postgraduate degree in the first place.

Another thing worth mentioning is the English test. QMUL agreed to waive the English test requirement based on my undergraduate degree but Cambridge would not, though they had done in the past. So, my offer was made conditional on submitting an English test result. Due to my initial hesitation to take the test, I almost missed the deadline for submission. I think the first thing to do as regards the English test is to let the school know your undergraduate course was taught and examined in English language and as such you wouldn’t need to take the test. I am aware most American Schools would readily waive the requirement, some U.K schools might also waive the requirement or ask for an easier substitute like evidence that you passed English language at your O’ level or evidence that your undergraduate course was taught in English. Some schools would insist on the test especially for the LLM course and if this is the case, it is advisable to take and pass the test as soon as practicable because some scholarships such as NLNG and Chevening might actually be missed as a result and also, to avoid unnecessary delay in Visa processing, etc.

Conclusively, one should not allow himself to be caged by stereotypes or glass ceilings. These top-class schools more than any other thing want to admit students who would add value to their cohort and fly the school's flag nice and high. So, if it has been your dream to attend a top-class institution, such dreams are still valid even if your grades do not seem as convincing. The most unfair thing to do to yourself would be to give up without even trying.

Read inspiring stories of other scholars here

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