“Scholarship application is not a therapy session. Don’t express your poverty and personal problems seeking for sympathy and mercy”

-          Ernest B. Makulilo

At the very early stages of my scholarship journey, I clearly understood what I am up to in terms of competition. I knew for sure, I was not the only one on this planet who was looking for scholarships around the world. There are millions of people around the world both in Developing Countries and Developed Countries are looking for different ways of getting financial support. 

In the United States, for instance, the cost of education is extremely high. From kindergarten to high school, education is free. There are no tuition and fees associated with education. But when you go to college, it’s very expensive. For public universities, for instance, just tuition and fees are starting from $10,000 before adding costs of accommodation, food, and other expenses. There are lots of universities where tuition fees start from $30,000 and above. This was the case for my graduate studies at the University of San Diego in California where tuition and fees for a master’s degree in peace studies and conflict resolution is $36,000. Then you come to add the costs of books, transportation, accommodation, food, and other personal expenses, making it extremely expensive. How can a person like me afford such costs? And even millions of Americans can’t afford such costs associated with it. The only way I was able to go to the University of San Diego was because I received over $60,000 scholarship money. 

 Many families in America, for instance, tends to start saving for tuition and fees for their kids when they grow up. There are several packages on how to create a college fund for your kids. But all in all, it’s not easy, very expensive. This makes students start thinking about colleges and funding at their very early stages of their lives. They tend to start creating a competitive profile so that when the time comes to go to college, they are sure of getting scholarships. This works for many families because they can’t afford to save for college tuition for their kids, many opt to go to scholarship consultants to know what is needed for their kids to prepare from even junior high school. Kids start improving grades and volunteering, participating in different programs that can make them more competitive and stand out from other applicants. 

    When I was in high school, I did learn more about capitalism. This mode of life is still very foreign to many people in Developing Countries. Post-colonial African countries, for instance, had a communal way of life. Some countries like Tanzania even went on to officially practice socialism (Ujamaa in Nyerere’s context). But no matter the form, people lived as one community, identity themselves as one, taking care of the community, and just being as one big family. This changed in the 1980s when liberalism and multiparty politics started to raise in Africa. Unfortunately, this wasn’t growing organically, as many countries were technically forced. But till today, even though we are into the competitive life of capitalism, many people in Africa and other Developing Countries are not that competitive in the very early years of their lives. Some even with degrees still want people to do things for them despite given directions on how to go about it. You find out many bring lots of excuses and not using their education to complete at the highest level. 

    It’s not all bad about capitalism. It’s the jungle with all kinds of animals including the big five scary animals. It’s the survival of the fittest. The weak will completely be wiped off and the strongest will survive. It looks like no order at all, many see this is not good at all. But the good thing if this capitalism, you are the one to decide which kind of animal you want to become in the jungle. If you choose to be a deer you will be eaten at one point by lions, cheetahs, etc. But if you choose to be a lion or cheetah, no one will take advantage of you and destroy you. That’s how the scholarship application process is. It’s the survival of the fittest. You’re the one you decide whether you want a scholarship or you want to waste your time and get wiped off when competition arises. If you have decided to be competitive, you have chosen to be that lion in the jungle. Therefore, stop any excuses you may have and take charge of your life. 



“The Loan boards’ effect”


    At the beginning of the 2000s many countries, especially in Africa, started to find ways to fund education. Many governments started to create loan boards following conditions from IMF and other Western Countries as the condition to get aids was to start what is famously known as a cost-sharing policy instead of governments to provide free education. I remember in 2005-2006, the Higher Learning Students Loan Board of Tanzania was established. Other countries had theirs at different times, different names but saving the same purposes. They all had and still have what was termed as means-testing. The means testing is determining if you can pay tuition and fees on your own. In other words, the means-testing intends to find poor people to be eligible for student loans. In some countries, if you studied in certain private schools or these English medium schools with high fees, you are technically eliminated from people who will be given scholarships. So being poor is “embraced” and applicants have to provide pieces of evidence to show how poor they are. You find others even including letters of explanation that they walked several miles back and forth to school or didn’t have shoes while growing up, or they were not able to get school fees during secondary education. 

    When you are applying for scholarships in Developed Countries, there is one important component of the application. This is called a Statement of Purpose or others call it a Motivational Letter. This brings a lot of confusion to many applicants as they still have that mind of loan boards application in their heads. It didn’t affect me at all, because I tend to do research on many things if I want to write. But in the course of 10 years which I have been helping people on how to apply and compete for scholarship opportunities, I see thousands of applicants, especially from Africa, think that poverty is the reason for them to be given scholarships. They think people will have sympathy for their sad stories. So instead of clearly stating what motivates them to apply or why should they be given such scholarships, they spend most of their time expressing how poor they are and waiting for mercy. 

    The funny stories I read every day, you see people who are even in their 30s expressing that they are orphans. My head right away starts spinning, an orphan at 35? Really? The person who has even a wife and kids is writing I am very poor, an orphan, and looking for scholarships. Cut down that nonsense, you’re an adult and take responsibility, take charge, compete and never wait for sympathy. The more you wait for sympathy is the time you have decided to become that deer in the jungle, you will never survive. In the end, you will start complaining to God and saying the world is not fair or saying those who get scholarships are favored because of other reasons of nepotism and so forth

    So when I wanted to start applying for opportunities around the world, first and foremost I went on exploring the rules of the game. I wanted to know what it takes for someone to be given thousands of dollars by an institution that doesn’t even know you. It was at this point, I know there is a very huge difference between what I used to know as applying for a loan board in my country versus applying for scholarships elsewhere. While the loan board emphasizes more on your poverty as the basis of giving you student loans, the scholarships on the other way focusing on your competence, and what will you bring to the table once you get selected. It was an awaking call as to never in my life, in this capitalist world, to use my poverty as why I should be given something, especially scholarships. I had to create a competitive profile of my life, I had to position myself to a situation whenever I apply something, I get it because I qualify and most importantly I go above and beyond the minimum requirements. And that’s what I have been telling people every day. 

    English proficiency test, for instance, is required for many schools when you apply for scholarships. Over 99 percent of all scholarships will require you to submit either TOEFL (Test Of English as Foreign Language) or IELTS (International English Language Testing System) results. There are very few scholarships that can provide waivers or don’t have that requirement at all. But to me, if you’re looking for scholarships, it is a must to take the test before you apply. Just assume, there are two applicants, you and another person. You don’t have English proficiency test results, and the scholarship doesn’t require, but you have the same grades and qualifications as the other candidate. But the other candidate, though not required, submitted TOEFL results which he scored over 85. The other candidate will be given high consideration as he has gone above and beyond the minimum requirements. 

Ernest Boniface Makulilo


Missouri, USA

www.youtube.com/ebmscholars (for English Videos)

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