Two Funded Masters Degrees and a Career Switch to Business Information Systems- Moyosore Kemi-Rotimi
Scholar: Moyosoore Kemi-Rotimi
Undergraduate Course and Degree- B.A in religious studies. Second class upper degree
Undergrad University - Obafemi Awolowo University
Graduate Course and University 1- M.A in Religious Studies, Wake Forest University.
Graduate Course and University 2- Masters in Business information systems University of Arkansas Little Rock
I was among the top three in my undergrad class and for some weird reason, my undergraduate adviser (who has remained a very close mentor till date) and my father were convinced I was Harvard material. At that point, a Master's in Religious Studies was their dream for me (not necessarily mine) so I applied to Harvard during service year in 2011/2012 and I was not admitted. I felt I had obliged their wish and could finally move on with my life. lol!
I was jobless for few months post- NYSC before I got a job with Diamond Bank. By the time I got that job, I had admission offers from 2 schools in the UK, but both were only offering £1,000 scholarship (UK school are notorious for not having scholarships) so I gladly took the job instead with the hope of saving something substantial for school. The plan was to return to school after 5years, but I got bored after 1 year, partly because I am naturally restless, and because I had an overbearing supervisor. I have, however, come to appreciate my restlessness as an asset that has contributed to my "scholarship-fortune". Spent most of my 2nd year in the bank planning my graduate school journey. Given that at that point I could take ownership of the decision to proceed to grad school, I was more intentional about it and exuded more commitment to the process. I started by doing a lot of random online searches for schools and options then finally realized I needed guided counsel.
In October 2014, I took a weekend trip from Lagos to Iwo to have a sit down with my Mentor (who was - still is - VC of Bowen University). We sat together late into the night to narrow down possible schools I could apply to in the US and Europe. We also identified contact persons where possible and I sent out introductory emails. Prior to that meeting, I had never heard of Wake Forest University which is where I eventually got my first Masters. Even though my first GRE was still valid, I was advised to write another one to increase my chances of funding because my initial score was 296. I knew this was solid advice, but I DID NOT have the time given my crazy Lagos life and work schedule, so I wisely chose my battles. My TOEFL which I aced (116/120) had also expired but I decided not to write another one. My refusal to write another GRE and TOEFL drastically cut down the number of schools I could apply to. If I had started this process earlier than October, I would have rewritten those exams which is why I advise people start the process of grad school application as early as possible. I knew that my "busy schedule" could be an inhibitor in putting my best foot forward in my application so I invested in a tablet and committed to leaving home a lot earlier than usual for my Ogudu to Apapa journey. That way, I got to work before 6am every day and had about 1hr to myself in the car where I could do my research and put together ideas for my statement of purpose. I personally think personalizing your personal statement/statement of purpose is one of the most important things in an application - either general graduate school application or scholarship application. If you do not invest in this, or literally copy someone else's own, the lack of authenticity shows up eventually! Nobody can tell your story better than you so be authentic! Laziness is not an option when it comes to this!
I ended up applying to three schools - 2 in the US; 1 in Canada. I honestly did not look for a lot of external scholarships but applied to all the possible scholarships available in the schools I applied to. The Canadian school and one of the US schools (Harvard again.lol!) did not extend an offer but Wake Forest University did. My admission offer came with a full tuition waiver ($36,420 per session) based on the merit of my application - I did not have to apply for a separate scholarship! If I had not sought counsel, I may never have found this school. If I had not been intentional about my application, I may not have gotten the kind of admission package I got! In all though, I recognize God just wanted to favor me! By God's grace, my academic performance was excellent, and my scholarship/tuition waiver got renewed for the second year. Note that even though I had saved up some, it was peanuts compared to the cost of this master’s, so I COULD NOT have earned my M.A Religious Studies without a scholarship.
Now to my current degree...
I knew I was going to take a second master’s before I started the first one.lol! However, my program choice changed along the way, but I recognized this early enough, so I started looking for opportunities early. Again, I looked to those that had gone ahead of me for advice and I got some. One of those advice-seeking conversations pointed me in the direction of my present school - University of Arkansas Little Rock. This time I did things differently. Wrote another GRE, succeeded in moving my score from 296 to 306 but I really wished I had gotten more especially because there was a scholarship I was eyeing that required a minimum of 316 in GRE. Eventually got admission offers from all 3 schools I applied to - College of Business at Wake Forest University, University of Arkansas Little Rock (UA Little Rock) and Northern Illinois University (NIU). Wake Forest offered me a $15,000 (out of $60,000) tuition scholarship. It was my most preferred because it was a 1-year program, I was then enrolled at Wake Forest and I was "stuck on" the school's reputation.lol! These things motivated me to bargain. This process really redefined persistent and perseverance for me. Literally sent an email every week and applied for every single scholarship the COB had to offer. Eventually, I was offered an additional $4,000 scholarship but $19,000 out of $60,000 really could not do much to help my matter. While I waited for more funding, I requested for an extension to my decision deadline which the school granted indefinitely. This option to extend decision deadline is available in most schools but you may not know if you don't ask. Hence why I always emphasize the importance of asking questions. This kind of extension buys time to keep looking for other sources of funding including internal and external scholarships.
While I was intently pursuing the Wake Forest option, I was also researching Graduate Assistantship (GA) opportunities available in the other 2 schools. I used the word researching because sometimes departments may have GAs but "someone" might just forget to make that information public knowledge. lol! And by departments, I mean both Academic departments and non-Academic departments. Let me backtrack and say before I sent out my application to all the schools, I made sure to reach out and establish contact with either the Department's Chair (head of department), the Program Adviser, Dean or all the above. This was mainly because I wanted to be sure their program offering aligned with what I wanted and because I wanted to register my name and my intentions in their minds/brain.lol! Expectedly, my research started from my department. Most departments have some sort of scholarship or GA but the key to being considered for these is to apply early and indicate interest in available GAs. I also checked with other units/departments on campus, googled with search terms such as "Graduate Assistantship + (insert school name) + (insert name of random on campus unit)". What those searches return may not be current postings, but it will most often lead to a key contact person. In one instance, I saw a previous GA vacancy announcement, reached out to the contact person and asked if he will have a position available for the next year and he responded in the affirmative. He went ahead to send me the job description when he was done putting it together even before posting it on the central vacancy announcement page. I must note that not everyone you reach out to will acknowledge or bother to reply your email and this is where perseverance MUST kick it. Keep grinding! Keep “checking in” with them! After a long wait and a routine weekly check-in with all the people I had established contact with, I finally got a part-time Graduate Assistantship offer with the College of Business at my current school – University of Arkansas Little Rock. What a part-time GA offer means is that I only had to pay 50% tuition (at in-state tuition rate which is significantly lower than out-of-state tuition rate) and I was also going to get a stipend in exchange for working with a Professor for 10hrs every week.
After I got the part-time GA offer, I sort of got comfortable and just looked for an on-campus job I could do for 10hrs (international students cannot legally work for more than 20hrs). However, I have awesome friends/cheerleaders that lose sleep when I get comfortable, so they motivated me to keep looking for a full-time GA offer which I casually did. BUT when God says I have chosen you to be favor, He will make a way no matter what! I had linked up with a Nigerian on Facebook who was to resume the same M.S Business Information Systems program so we rented a house together. She had secured full-time GA with an office on campus after lots of research and perseverance as well. On the first day of orientation (2 days before I classes started), she got a call from the director of another office she had interview with for a GA position but did not initially get offered. He told her another GA position became available and since they were impressed with her performance during the initial process, they wanted to know if she was still interested and she said no. She casually mentioned the call to me and I jokingly said “pls tell him you can recommend someone for the position”. She did. He asked me to send my resume. I got invited for an interview the next day and barely 1hr after, I got a call that they were extending a full-time GA to me. The implication of a full-time GA is that I get a scholarship (~$3,000) that covers over 90% of my tuition (it is technically all my tuition, I only pay ~$200 because college of business tuition is slightly higher than the cap tuition that GA can cover), and I get a bi-weekly stipend which just about covers my rent and feeding. In exchange, I work for 20hrs on campus. I still pay fees and health insurance out of pocket though but that is roughly ~$2,000. In the just concluded semester, I had to take on extra course load because I wanted to keep my summer open for an internship, I casually mentioned this to my Director and by some happenstance (more like miracle) a scholarship line opened up in my office’s budget and my scholarship amount for the semester was doubled. I have always been a strong believer in “a closed mouth is a closed destiny”. This miracle really proved to me that when you speak God listens and he also positions people to listen!
This summer, I will be working as a Project Analyst intern at Visa Inc.’s corporate headquarters in California – the story on how I got this internship will probably take another 3 pages so LET ME RESTRAIN MYSELF AND STOP!