A Tale of Dedication and Resilience: Tomide's Journey to Securing a Graduate Assistantship in the US

Scholars Spotlight is a weekly series by GetInedu that explores the stories of successful grad school applicants and their journeys to securing scholarship offers for graduate school. We discuss their reasons for applying, the peculiar challenges they faced, their application strategy, and their lives post-application success.

According to a popular adage, “Even if you fail, try, try and try again”. This is the story of today’s Scholars Spotlight, 25-year-old Tomide. He shares his story of resilience, and determination from Afe Babalola University, Nigeria, to the University of New Haven, United States of America.

Tomide fits the bill of a dedicated student. He applied to Afe Babalola University for a single purpose; to study engineering and to study it very well. He completed his undergraduate degree in 2017 as the Best Graduating Student in his department and with multiple accolades to his name. Unknown to him, the years following his graduation would test his resilience and ability to keep fighting for his dreams.

His interest in pursuing a postgraduate degree started in his final year, and so he took the first stab at graduate school applications in 2018.“I applied to many schools in the UK and got only a 25% scholarship from one school, which was barely enough to cover my tuition and living expenses, so I could not go”. Tomide again faced the 2019 application cycle and received the same results. He had applied to both Chevening and Commonwealth twice but was not successful. He also applied to the Petroleum Technology Development Fund and only got to the interview stage.

While relating his woes to his friend Chijioke, he recommended the GetIn Graduate School Application Bootcamp, which was where Tomide first realized he had been going about it the wrong way. “I realised my CV, SOP, and references were nowhere near the globally acceptable standards. I relied heavily on my good grades and awards. However, Universities have metrics that they consider to award scholarships. And on many occasions, these metrics are more than just academic performance”. For example, his references in the past were generic, often describing him as “a good student”. This definitely couldn't fly, so Tomide went ahead to do something different. “I decided to do a thorough self-appraisal and provide enough information about myself to the lecturers resulting in an almost 2-page document. The content of this included presentations and research work I had done for different courses. This gave the lecturers tangible things to write about''. He also interestingly used only academic references and was intentional about developing a good relationship with them. He would make calls with faculty from his school and then check in frequently, giving them enough time to write these references. He had an existing IELTS test score of 7.0 and decided not to write the GRE. Since many schools waived the GRE during the pandemic, this was no stumbling block for him.

As he delved deeper into the Bootcamp, he also began to reconsider the possibilities of exploring other countries like Australia, and most especially the United States of America, to increase his chances of securing funding. So even though the UK better aligned with his study choice, he also made a strategic decision to pursue the US, a trade-off many prospective applicants understand too well.

Armed with solid documents and a list of schools, he delved straight into his 3rd application cycle, confident but anxious that this would be his desired game changer. He applied to over ten schools in the UK and 3 in the US; Tennessee State University, Florida State University and the University of New Haven. With the support system of his parents, friends and family, he stayed the course.

During this time of battling applications, he also worked hard at a consulting firm. “It was very stressful as I was working Monday to Saturday and sometimes my work would carry over to Sundays. I first worked in a construction company and then in a consulting firm. When I got home from work at night, I'd do some research and do some more on weekends. I dedicated around 8 hours every week to research and prepare for my applications. My employer at the time knew I was applying, but I had to be careful, so it did not affect my work.”

After a few months, Tomide got his golden opportunity. He received an offer from the University of New Haven with a 50% tuition scholarship to study for a Master's in Civil Engineering. He, however, knew there could be more and adopted strategies the Bootcamp taught him. “I started to cold email professors in the faculty asking to work with them as a Graduate Assistant. I eventually got a positive response from one of them. This increased my funding to 75% with a graduate teaching assistant position”.

At this point, Tomide mentioned that Florida State University has asked him to consider pursuing a PhD for an increased chance of funding, but his golden opportunity had come to stay, and so he rejected it.

A few months later, in January of 2021, he landed in Connecticut, ready to take on the world. Tomide Fayomi’s story inspires us at GetIn to continue pressing on even when the journey is arduous. When I asked him his motivation to keep going, he said, “It was more of what I really wanted. I knew I could get scholarships even with the rejections. It was frustrating, but I continued to push. I needed to have that personal motivation.”

Tomide’s resilience did not stop when he touched US soil. He continued to apply for external grants receiving some funding from the Construction Management Association of America, Connecticut Chapter in 2021, the National Society of Black Engineers in 2022 and was awarded an outstanding graduate service award by the University of New Haven. He reports that life has been really good to him. Although he initially found it tough to settle down, he was eventually able to connect with people who were his cheerleaders and really wanted his success. Tomide has already secured an internship for the summer and is excited to get started. During his free time, he enjoys watching soccer games.

Tomide has some words of wisdom for our potential applicants, “Do not give up. Know your goals and make clear plans about what you want to achieve. If you have graduated, good grades only do not guarantee you'd secure funding but places you in a good position to secure one. Bad grades also do not mean you will not secure scholarships either. However, for students still in school, strive to have a good grade and place yourself in a better position for graduate funding. Funding is for everybody. Be strategic about the application process, build your research portfolio and other relevant skills. Keep pushing. It will all be worth it in the end. Importantly, no man is an island; we all need a support system, so find yours and stick to them closely!"

We are excited to hear all the fantastic things Tomide will do in the future. We believe in him, and we are rooting for him. Thank you for reading!