Disclaimer! In this edition, I will be writing from an engineering perspective. Follow the blog or reach out for applications to other disciplines.
Let’s face it, with the current value of the Naira and the economic challenges brought by Covid-19 pandemic, it would take a long time to save up for that post graduate dream of yours in Canada!
As a former engineering graduate student, I understand what it means to desire an international education, and have it fully funded. Trust me, I know!
So, in this blog series, I will talk to you about my experiences in getting multiple scholarships and awards for my tuition and living expenses. I will also talk about some learnings I had schooling in Canada.
Let’s start with the basics!
One of the foremost requirements for getting admission into graduate (grad) school is having good grades from your undergraduate study (duh!). Most schools require a minimum of a second class upper prior to getting admission. So, it’s important to understand that good grades are essential and everyone applying to a graduate program already has good grades. What then separates your application from the rest and leads to a full scholarship?
In Canada, there are 2 streams of post graduate study – the first stream is the master’s program. In this stream, there are three types of programs (yes really!) (a) a course-based MEng program (b) a thesis-based MEng program and (c) a thesis-based MSc program that requires an in-depth original research project. The second stream is the PhD program which is thesis-based. To apply for a PhD degree program, you will typically be required to complete an MSc program first.
Let’s talk applications, the boring stuff (hehehe!).
For M.Eng programs, they are typically self-funded because funding and scholarship opportunities are limited or non-existent. No need to focus on those, rather, I’ll get right into admissions for the MSc and PhD streams because they are funded through scholarships from the university, research body or a supervisor.
There are 4 key areas you will need to impress the admissions committee in;
(1.) Your Reference Letters, (2.) Statement of Intent, (3.) Research Proposal and (4.) Resume.
In addition to the minimum educational requirement and your GPA as I mentioned earlier, you will also need to demonstrate your command of the English language through standardized tests like IELTS or TOEFL. To impress the admission’s committee, you should take note of the following;
Reference letters: Make sure you are strategic about who writes your reference letters. You should not approach just anyone to ask for a reference letter. In addition to being strategic, make sure you give them bullet points of what the reference letter should address. Examples include; your English-speaking abilities, how long they have known you, if you were part of the top % in your class, your communication skills and ability to work within a team, your community building interest outside of your academic studies (this shows you are a well-rounded individual). Another key to having a strong reference letter is for your referee to support any abilities or skills they have indicated in the reference letter with an anecdote (more like walk the talk!)
Statement of Intent (SOI): One mistake a lot of people make here is to copy an SOI from a friend or off the internet. Your SOI should tell your own story. It should answer the questions; what it is you want to achieve from grad school, why you want to achieve it (like a SO WHAT statement!) and how you intend to achieve this (this is where your research proposal comes in). When I made my SOI, I dedicated the first paragraph to my background and journey into engineering, my second paragraph spoke about how my skills, mindset and experience during my undergrad and work experience had prepared me for grad school, and the last 2 paragraphs spoke about why I chose the course and school I was applying to and finally how this all falls into the big dreams I have for myself. So, you see, my SOI was unique to just me as no one else could have the same story. You also need to be careful not to make your SOI too long (2 pages are more than enough), you should tell you story clearly and concisely.
Research proposal: Writing my research proposal was scary to me, just because I thought whatever I had written would be cast in stone. To me, it had to be crystal clear and down to all the nitty gritty. Shout out to my friend who reviewed it repeatedly for me and even did my plagiarism check. Yes, you need someone experienced to review what you wrote! Be rest assured whatever research proposal you write at this stage is only a mere indication of what your interests are and what you believe you can contribute to the research community. It is by no means a finalized document. My research proposal changed several times even after I had started taking courses towards my research. The key here is to showcase your technical writing and critical thinking ability and to show that you can add value to the knowledge area of your choosing. A big trap to watch out for here is PLAGIARISM! Do not think you can just copy and paste words you find on google (even if you reference the author). I am also assuming you know that you must cite and reference every work or words that are not yours. Originality is a key trait that would help you thrive in grad school.
Resume: Your resume should be no longer than 2 pages and should give a snapshot of what you have been doing since you finished your first degree (or maybe first and second degrees). It is okay if you have no work experience after your first degree. The committee is only looking to get to know you better, show some personality in your resume. Show your education, work history, community involvement and research experience. You can also be strategic here by including your GPA (if they meet or supersede the minimum requirement), relevant awards and scholarships to boost your profile. Another reason why the committee may want to review resumes is to see if you have sufficient work experience, (for example, if you are switching from sciences to engineering or if your grades are below the minimum GPA required) to cover any inadequacies of meeting the minimum grades required or educational requirement., in these cases be sure to leverage on your resume.
Now that you have prepared your application documents, what next?
I will talk about this in the next part…
Lauretta Pearse is a first-class graduate of Civil and Environmental Engineering from the University of Lagos (Nigeria) and she also obtained a distinction in her Master’s degree (MSc.) in Civil Engineering at the University of Calgary (Canada). She is currently a Civil and Environmental Engineer with an engineering consulting firm in Alberta, Canada.
She can be reached for questions and consultations via firstname.lastname@example.org