Scholar: Oludolapo Makinde
Undergraduate Course and Grade: LLB. (Law), Second-Class Upper Division
Undergraduate University: University of Lagos
Graduate Course and University: The University of British Columbia, Research-based LLM (Law)
During my undergraduate degree, I made up my mind to pursue graduate studies. I had everything planned out—complete my undergraduate program, get called to the Nigerian bar, gain about 2 years work experience and be off to the UK for my masters. But as with many things in life, it didn’t work out that way. I only got to take up a masters’ degree 4 years after I was called to bar. Now, with the benefit of hindsight, I would like to share 7 graduate school application nuggets that I have learnt:
Nugget #1: Keep an Open Mind (If you’ve been trying something a certain way and it hasn’t yielded the result you desire, try another method).
I spent a year and a half applying to schools in the UK, and although I got a number of admissions, I had no luck with scholarships—at least, nothing significant. Somehow, in 2017, a friend suggested that I consider applying to Canadian schools and although I was initially skeptical about Canada being a good fit (and I wasn’t particularly thrilled about the fact that I would have to follow-up with Professors to send online recommendations to individual schools), I looked into it. Naturally, I googled ‘top 5 schools in Canada’ and I was pleasantly surprised when I discovered that the tuition for a research-based LLM at the University of British Columbia (UBC), a top-tier Canadian school, was just $8,600 (Canadian Dollars) for the entire year. And according to their website, they offered a yearly tuition award of about $3,200 to international students. When I did the math, it meant that I would be paying about $5,400 for tuition (which roughly came down to NGN1.5m). I realized that based on my savings, and with support from my family, I could afford to pay the tuition and also cater for my living expenses (which I roughly estimated came down to NGN2.8m for a year).
Amidst all these calculations, I applied to UBC and God be praised, I was offered admission with $8,200 tuition scholarship by UBC and the Allard School of Law. This meant that I only had to pay $400 tuition wise. Asides this, since I started my program at UBC, I have received additional scholarships (which I did not apply for) to the tune of $6,000. More so, Canada provides ample work opportunities for students holding a valid study permit. The lesson here is to keep an eye out for partially-funded opportunities, low-tuition programs/universities that you can take advantage of.
Nugget #2: Tailor your Research Proposal
Keep in mind that your research proposal is perhaps the most important document that you are required to submit for a research-based LLM.
Take time out to tailor your research proposal to fall within one of your potential supervisor’s area of interest. It’s also good to cite their publications in your research proposal.
Be certain that the Professors you list as potential supervisors are actually involved in research on your chosen topic. For example, the fact that a Professor teaches corporate law does not necessarily mean he/she would be interested in corporate governance related research. You’ll have to look at their specific publications (particularly the latest ones) to get a sense of their current research interests.
Nugget #3: Ask for Help
Solicit the help of as many people as you can to help you review your research proposal - your peers, seniors, etc. Also talk with students who are currently enrolled in the school and program you are applying to. They would have a better sense of which Professors are actively looking for research students to supervise.
Don’t hesitate to reach out to the graduate program unit if you have any trouble with your application. Even in cases where your referee is unable to submit his/her reference within time, the graduate department may be able to grant you an extension to do so.
Nugget #4: Spread Your Net
Apply to at least 3 schools and don’t just focus on the top 3 schools, apply to mid-level schools as well. Many mid-level schools in Canada provide full funding for research programs.
Nugget #5: Stand Out!
Many graduate research programs in Canada receive several applications yearly and can only offer between 5-7 slots so make sure your application stands out. In as much as your research proposal is key, supporting documents like your CV, Statement of Intent and references play a crucial role, and they can be the deciding factor as to whether you or someone else gets admitted.
Nugget #6: References
You don’t necessarily need the Dean of your Faculty to write you a reference. If he/she can readily write you a reference, go for it. If not, get in touch with lecturers who know you to a good extent—who are easily approachable and are committed to helping you achieve your goal of getting into graduate school. Two of my Professors at UNILAG were with me all through the process of applying to different schools and were always happy to help, and this helped make the application process less stressful. My third reference was usually a professional reference.
Nugget #7: Don’t Underestimate the Power of Prayer
This may sound cliché, but prayer works wonders! God can open your eyes or direct your attention to things that you never considered! Start your graduate school search by asking Him to lead you and direct you, and He surely will.
All the best!
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