Hi guys! Happy New Month! How have you been? How did Q1 go? Did you smash all your goals? Did you make some progress? I hope you are not beating yourself up about weight you did not lose, or the opportunities you did not seize. There is no time to be sad o! Abeg, get up, gbera and keep it moving! Legggo!!!
I have been asked several times about my MBA experience, and although this blogpost is not about that (yet), it is about a topic that is just as important – how to pay school fees for graduate school! I don’t really believe in coincidences as I think all my steps are ordered by God and He already knows the end from the beginning. I had been nursing thoughts about writing this blogpost on my flight today, especially after I got a reminder email from someone who had asked for guidance on the topic. However, I knew I had to do it when I bumped into a friend who I had bonded with on this ‘looking for school fees’ matter back in 2015! 😊 We got into business school the same year – INSEAD and LBS – and we both had the same headache about funding. Almost 3 years down the line, we sat together on the plane and reminisced about how God saw us through that period and I took that as my cue to write. So, here we go!
A lot of people have given up on their graduate school dreams (or even avoided dreaming at all) because of this money matter. I understand how lofty some dreams can seem, especially when you convert all your life savings into USD and the number of zeros just reduces by half. But I have good news for you! I am yet to meet anyone who got admission into a good school and was unable to attend because of funding problems. This matter always resolves itself one way or the other, and I want to share with you some of the ways that The Able God can use to ensure your insufficient funds somehow become sufficient for this graduate school project.
There are 2 major ways through which you can raise school fees and living expenses – your money and other people’s money (OPM). For self-funding (using your money), I think it is quite straightforward, this is a combination of your investments and any savings you have stashed away somewhere (hopefully not just under your mattress). The key thing about savings is making sure that you are saving in foreign currency too, so that you are protected from the ‘higi-haga’ of exchange rate ‘krinkum-krankum’. Side bar – where is Honorable Patrick these days? I miss him, lol.
Back to the matter. I recall that I started saving about 3 years before I finally went to school. Every month after I was paid my salary, I would ping my aboki, transfer Naira to him and then wait for him to pay the equivalent USD amount into my local domiciliary account. A good number of commercial banks offer domiciliary account services in the major currencies so go and get one open quickly. I started with $100, gradually increased it as my income increased, and kept the discipline until I had saved quite a decent amount. I told myself that even if I did not get admission, at least I would have saved up enough to buy a house, and having aggregated cash is just priceless. I honestly don’t know why I was saving in USD but when the devaluation hit in 2015, boy, was I thankful that I did!! If I had saved the same amount in Naira, it would have still been a lot of Naira but HALF of the USD that I needed to pay my fees. Sadly, abroad schools don’t collect Naira so I would have been on my own – thank God for the Holy Spirit that moves us to do things we might not even understand until we look back in retrospect.
Depending on the school you go to, the labor laws in that country and the length of the program you are doing, you could also earn money from internships or part-time jobs. This extra cash can go a long way in paying your monthly bills and helping you flex small too. There is nothing like too much cash o! My French student visa did not allow me to work, but my friends in LBS could take on part-time jobs. All my LBS friends were what? BALLLLERSSSS!!! Hahahahaha.
Oh, by the way, I don’t know a lot of people who were able to afford their abroad school fees only from their savings and investments. Of course, people like that exist but I just don’t know a lot of them. So, since there are not many of us that can cut just one cheque to pay fees, let me move on swiftly to the other sources of funding that can help you bridge the gap.
I present to you – OPM. There are various flavors of OPM, from free money to educational loans from the government. The most important thing to note here is that no matter what you do, you must shoot your shot to get OPM.
Free OPM can come through scholarships, paid fellowships and gifts from benevolent friends and family members.
Scholarships/Fellowships: For this kind of OPM, you have to commit to doing the good work of research! You have to dig and seek until you find. From school websites, to websites of donor agencies, you have to keep looking. Set up ‘scholarship’ RSS alerts on select websites. This is one time when you cannot afford to find Whatsapp broadcasts too annoying, lol. Depending on the kind of groups you are on, you might receive lots of broadcasts about scholarship opportunities in New Zealand or Kuala Lumpur. Just explore! Don’t turn up your nose at anything o, there are only a few things sweeter than free money (e.g., puff-puff and golden-brown dodo).
After you have done all your research and found some opportunities, you should now do the good work of writing winning applications. Brethren, there are no shortcuts here. You have to learn how to write a solid application OR pay for the services of someone to teach you how to write a good application and practice, practice and practice some more. The more applications you submit, the higher your chances of getting more scholarships. The more scholarships, the more money. The more money, the more balling. You see how this works? But you have to put in the work!
For benevolent family members or friends who will just dash you more, or rather, choose to invest in your career, you have to do the work of asking. Don’t let pride, fear of rejection or a silly sense of entitlement rob you of this blessing o! A closed mouth is a closed destiny, so you better open your mouth and ask. Put the word out there that you have gained admission and you are now looking for funding. When they ask, ‘how are you doing?’, you reply ‘Great! I am going to school and I am looking for funding’, lol. No matter the question, the answer is ‘I am going to school and I am currently looking for funding’. Hehehehe. Okay, don’t be obnoxious about it but also don’t be shy to ask for help. Even if they don’t have the cash, they may be able to connect you to opportunities you could not have discovered on your own.
I will like to sound a note of caution to people who feel entitled to their family member’s money. It is not your money, so you have no right to it. It is important that you ask in humility and show true appreciation when they do bless you, because they are not obligated to give you anything. We clear? Okay cool!
Soft loans: Sometimes, your friends and family might not be able to give you the full amount as a gift, but they might be able to offer it as a soft loan. They might also offer soft loans to you to ensure that you don’t squander the money they are investing in your career and they can get some Return on Investment (ROI). A soft loan is essentially a loan that has more lenient terms compared to regular bank loans. For example, if banks are offering loans at 20% and asking for immediate repayment, you could get a soft loan from a rich friend at 5% and ask to start repaying 3-6 months after graduation when you should have secured a job.
The important thing to note here is to not be entitled or get offended when someone decides to offer their support to you as a loan instead of as a gift. Again, remember, it is their money and they can administer it as they please. I remember applying for a soft loan from a family member of mine and with all the documentation I submitted, you would have thought I was applying for a loan from The Central Bank, lol. I wrote an application letter, humbly stated my preferred terms (interest rate, grace period and repayment period), explained how I thought I would be able to pay back within the timeframe and included a simple financial model showing the repayment schedule. I even went as far as assuring him that my total monthly loan repayments (including my other not-so-soft loans) would not surpass 30% of my monthly income, which is the general rule of thumb for payroll loans. I am sure he was impressed by the level of ‘professionalism’ of my application, and to the glory of God, he approved my application and gave me the funds. Halleluyah!! You know the best part, at the point of repayment, he waived the interest and only asked for the principal! I know God must have touched his heart, but I also know that if I had asked casually or flippantly, I might not have found favor in his sight, in the first place. So, shoot your shot but shoot it well! The God of favor will be with you! Amen!
Final category of OPM are the educational loans from certain institutions or governments, depending on the country of study. This is usually targeted at tuition paymemts. Sadly, the Nigerian government does not provide educational loans (yet) and it is suicidal to try to get a regular loan from a commercial bank to pay school fees. You won’t have even finished first semester before they start asking for loan repayment with exorbitant interest rates. Hian! Some countries offer student loans to international students, if the student has 1-2 guarantors who are citizens. In some other regions of the world, Prodigy Finance (which was set up by an INSEAD alum to provide affordable student loans to students from countries with no educational loans like Nigeria) is a viable option. I took a Prodigy loan at a great interest rate (less than half of commercial banks’ lending rates) and a 7-year repayment period starting 6 months post-graduation. I am still repaying monthly and every time I do that transfer, I just thank God again!
Again, you must do your research about what is available in the countries you are considering and find what works best for your personal situation. In all of this, you will need to keep looking to The Able & Willing God for favor, wisdom, discretion and direction.
In summary, I used a combination of the Prodigy loan and a soft loan to cover my tuition, while my savings and a small scholarship from a philanthropist’s family office helped cover my living expenses (rent, food, travel, transport, winter clothes, etc). You shaa won’t starve because you are trying to get an advanced degree.
I hope this has been helpful. Let me know if I missed out any other funding sources in the comments section. Remember, I don’t know anyone who got admission and was unable to go to school because of funding, so dream again, apply to schools and start doing your research. The world (and your school) is waiting for you! God is too good and faithful to leave you out in the cold.
p.s – I am off to Jordan with Naija Nomads in a couple of weeks. I am still calm because work is plenty, lol but the ginger will soon fall on me. Watch out!