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Olufemi Shares Lessons Learnt On His Path To Graduate School In The United States

Updated: Apr 6, 2019

Scholar: Olufemi Akanni

Undergraduate Course and Grade: Bachelor of Laws (LLB), Second Class Upper.

Undergraduate University: Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, Osun State.

Graduate Degree and University: Master of Laws (LLM), University of Maryland, United States.

I had always known that just a bachelor’s degree was not going to do it for me. Just before I graduated from my undergraduate school, I started to research various graduate degrees that matched my interest. I wanted something along the lines of Business Law and Corporate Finance or something in Health Law with focus on Bioethics as it relates to surrogacy. When I had narrowed down my choices, it became evident to me that no Nigerian University could cater to the needs of my graduate studies, so I reached out to my mentor and brother, Ayobamidele Akande. At that time, he was already in a graduate school,in Boston, to obtain a Master of Laws degree. He was a tremendous resource to me in the entire process and continues to be. Recall that I had narrowed my choices of graduate studies to two areas of interest, it was now time to decide which I wanted to pursue first as I could not pursue both simultaneously due to having a very tight schedule and limited resources. I decided to start off with looking into Bioethics. I researched on which schools had scholars in this field and I came across a profile of a Professor in the University of Alberta, Canada. I wrote to him and told him what my interest is,he was encouraging and said that if I can get a spot, he would be happy to supervise my research. I was hoping I to do a thesis based LLM. I went ahead and applied to the University of Alberta, unfortunately I did not get a spot because the school at that time informed me that they did not have space/slot to accommodate what my thesis based LLM focused on. Bottom line is, I got a NO.

I decided to share this because I need people to understand that on the journey of pursuing a graduate degree, you may get a couple of 'nos’, but that’s not enough for you to give up on your dream and also, sometimes, getting a no maybe what you need to spur you to do more. Back to the drawing board, I decided to check out my second choice. I started to research schools that had a good Business Law or Corporate Finance program and the University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law appealed to me the most. I again consulted with Ayobamidele Akande asking for advice on how to make sure that I send in a strong application. He gave me the best advise throughout this process which I will share. He pointed out that my application was going to represent me before the admissions committee,for this reason,I had to make sure my application was able to introduce me well enough to give the admissions committee get a sense of know who I am even though they had not meet me physically. Also, because the committee will be receiving thousands of applications, I must ensure to sound interesting to catch their attention and keep it short and memorable so that they don’t get bored while reading and remember me after reviewing it.

One key thing to note about my school of choice is that I was not required to send a separate application to be considered for funding or scholarship, in other words, the school takes their decision based solely on the strength of your application. This meant my application was the one shot I had to be considered for funding or scholarship. I made sure that every time I wrote my application and put my documents together, I sent them to my mentor for his opinions, edit and corrections. I was open to learning from him because he had been on this path before. I also made sure that I was following timelines as I wanted to make sure that my application was sent and received by the school on or before the deadline. My Statement of purpose was a little over one page, but it was, in my opinion, very straight to the point as well as showed that I knew what I wanted in a graduate studies program and how that would take me closer to my career objectives. Let me also add that having worked in the corporate world also gave me some leverage, how much leverage it gave me, I honestly cannot tell you, but it did help.

At some point in the decision-making process, the admissions committee reached out to me requesting that I submit a TOEFL score. Now, this was going to set me back because I did not take the TOEFL exam and if I had to, that meant that I would not be able to meet the deadline I had set to start my master’s program. I then researched about the TOEFL examination and why schools require it. From my research, I found out that it is simply a test of English language for candidates who did not have their language of instruction for their undergraduate in English Language. I had mine in English Language and my transcript indicated that as well, so I reached out to the admissions committee and put forward the argument that since I had my undergraduate studies taught in English as the language of instruction, I request that I be exempted from providing a score for this examination. I was told they will get back to me.

A couple of weeks later, I received an email from the school offering me a place in their graduate program naming me “Deans Scholar” with a partial funding in the sum of $10,000. I was excited but also wanted more. I let my “Oliver Twist” instincts kick in and I asked for more funding from the school citing various reasons why I should be offered more funding. They replied me saying that while they agreed with me on the points raised, unfortunately, that was the most funding they offered that year as that was the only available resources they had. Of course, I accepted the offer and the rest is history.

Lessons: This process taught me that I am the only limitation to the things I can achieve. It also taught me that if I do not ask, the answer will always be no. I learned the importance of the role of mentors in our lives and careers as well as the importance of undertaking a research when embarking on a journey.

Do not jump off the cliff without having some idea of how things may go, otherwise you may have failed even before starting.

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