When I wanted to apply for scholarships, the first thing I did was to define the region I wanted to apply. By understanding the region, not necessarily to be a specific country, helped me to know what I would need to prepare myself before even starting the application process. Without knowing the application process and rules of the game of the particular region or country, you will be just applying not in a competitive way. Like in any kind of competition, you need to have a blueprint and figure out your resources and how you will accomplish them successfully. 

Scholarship application is like being in the war zone. You must be fully equipped, and use all your techniques and ammunition”.

- Ernest B. Makulilo


Application Fees

     This is the first thing you need to ask yourself: does the application require you to pay any fees for admission processing? When I was applying for scholarships, I grouped my applications into two major categories - those which required application fees and those which didn’t require any fees to apply. And just know it gets very expensive sometimes. 

    Generally, if you are applying for admissions and scholarships in the United States, you are required to pay application fees. It’s extremely rare to find schools that don’t require application fees in the United States. So if your dream is to study in the United States, first and foremost you need to determine how much money you have to cover the applicant's fees. But over 99 percent of applications in Europe and the rest of the work don’t require application fees. It’s free of charge to apply. In this case, you need to clearly think and use your resources wisely. 

    The application fees in the United States range between $50 to $100, depending on the school/institution you are applying to. There are some universities that charge less than $50 while others go way up to $100. The question is, how many universities in the United States, which require application fees, are you able to apply to? How much money do you have as your budget? And bear in mind that, you will not get admission just by applying for one or two universities. 

    For the past ten years, I have seen many people come to me with a special request: “Ernest, my dream is to study in America. Would you please help me with links to apply?” Many people don’t know the difference between applying in the United States versus the rest of the world. If your dream is to study in America, you will definitely need to prepare yourself with enough cash to cover application fees to all universities you are planning to apply to. In case you don’t have enough money, my suggestion will always be to find universities that don’t require application fees, and in this case, universities in Europe, Asia and other parts of the world. 


    What worked for me was to prioritize the region I preferred more. I wanted to continue to be in the United States since I was already in the United States through Fulbright scholarship at the time I was applying for my master’s degree. I had to save enough money to apply for as many universities as I could in the United States. I used about $1,500 for all my applications which required fees. 

Graduate Admissions Tests


         Unlike other parts of the world, if you want to pursue graduate studies in the United States you are required to take graduate admissions tests. These tests are just like matriculation examinations in some countries have or used to have in Developing Countries. I remember in 2004, before joining the University of Dar es Salaam in Tanzania, I had to take the matriculation examination. Nowadays I haven’t seen prospective students in Tanzania taking such exams before joining university studies. 

 There are basically two major exams. I will highlight other types later. These exams are the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) and Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT). Your major specialization in your graduate studies will largely determine which exam to take. 


Graduate Record Examination (GRE)


    In the very simplest way, I can say, GRE is for all applicants who plan to pursue graduate programs that are not related to management (non-management programs). In my case, I did GRE because I was applying for social science programs like political science, public administration, leadership, human rights, peace studies and so forth. 

    It costs about $205 to take GRE. What you need to do is to go to the official website of GRE which is www.ets.org/gre then search for the testing center (location) in your country. You can pay online on your own just by using your Visa or MasterCard debit cards. Some banks in some countries I know they don’t “allow” to use your card to do online purchase or transactions despite the fact that those cards are visa or MasterCard. If that happens to you, you go to your bank they will fix it for you and you can do it on your own. There are some people who charge you more to use their cards to pay for your fees. For instance, the exam is $205, they will tell you to pay them $250 so that they use their cards. Don’t waste your money in that manner, just go to your bank will allow your card to be able to do online transactions. 

    I have done GRE two times so far. The first time I did was in October 2008, and the second time in 2015. Usually, the test results expire after 5 years. Back in 2008, I took the test because I was applying for a master’s degree in various universities in the United States. And in 2015, I was applying for Ph.D. studies. 

    Apart from the examination fees of $205, there are other fees associated with the examination. Something you need to know about education in the United States when it comes to transcripts or results, it’s the responsibility of the university (your former school) to send transcripts to the university you are applying to. They obviously charge you a certain amount, usually ranging from $10 to $25. This is to protect the integrity of the results and people not to tamper with the transcripts so that results need to be official once sent by the university or of by the students must be sealed, unopened. When it comes to GRE, it works the same way as normal transcripts sending. 

    Usually, the student/applicant needs to pay special fees to the owners of the examination, Education Testing Service (ETS). The ETS charges $27 for each copy of the test results when you order to send to the university you are applying to. And when it comes to TOEFL, the ETS charges $17 for each test result for TOEFL. What does that mean to the applicant? You must be financially stable to apply for universities in the United States. You need to pay $205 for GRE, $195 for TOEFL, about $50 for application fees, $27 copy of GRE results to be sent to the university by the ETS, and finally, about $17 for TOEFL results to be sent. The good thing is the fact that your GRE and TOEFL results can be used over and over until they expire (TOEFL expires after 2 years and GRE for 5 years). 

    If you do your calculations for applying for one university in the United States, it costs about $100 per application. That amount excludes the money you used for GRE or GMAT or TOEFL or IELTS. 

    There is one huge offer on the day you are taking the GRE exam. After finishing taking the test, you are given the offer of selecting up to 4 universities of your choice and the ETS will send the test results once they are out without any extra charge. If you put those 4 universities, you have saved $27 per university, that’s about $108. My suggestion to you is to have a plan of which universities do you plan to apply to. Don’t ever pass that opportunity. In both times I was taking the examination, I had universities I was going to apply to. The screen will display all states and universities with their special codes, you choose then results will be sent. 

Practice practice practice. Make sure you know the format of the test, go to the website www.ets.org/gre you will download free software to practice. You will be able to know the format, sample questions, and techniques. But also you can go on YouTube and get some techniques from others. Find books online and make sure you practice a lot to get good scores. 


Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT)

    The GMAT, on the other hand, is for students who want to study management programs at the graduate level. For instance, you want to study for an MBA, you will need to take the GMAT. The exams fee is $250 and you find the test center in your country online at https://www.mba.com/exams 

 When you go for doctorate studies, you can either pursue your studies in coursework and dissertation like how you did in your master’s degree or completely do a Ph.D. by thesis.  

And my thesis, it means you don’t attend normal classroom instructions with other students. It’s just you and your supervisor to work on your thesis


     Generally speaking, almost all universities in the United States prefer coursework and dissertation paths for doctorate students. Europe, Australia, Zealand and other countries prefer a Ph.D. by thesis for students. These two paths have different implications in applying for admissions and scholarships. I have done both ways, I applied through thesis and also coursework. 

     When you are applying in the United States, know that you are applying to study Ph.D. through coursework and dissertation method. And the application process is no different from applying for master’s admissions. What you do you directly apply to the department for the admissions and scholarships. In this case, you don’t need to have a Ph.D. proposal at hand, or you don’t need to have a Ph.D. supervisor in order to receive admission. You will be attending coursework with your classmates, and once you finish the coursework you will decide which topic to work on.

     In my opinion, it’s easy to apply to as many universities and scholarships through Ph.D. by coursework and dissertation. As long as the department has the program you like, and they are offering scholarships, you just go ahead and apply. You have nothing to worry about whether there will be a good supervisor or not. 

     In Europe and the rest of the world, Ph.D. by thesis has different ways of applying. First and foremost, you are supposed to find a supervisor for your Ph.D. This is because you will not be attending classroom instructions, so you need to have a supervisor from day one. So when it comes to the application, you don’t apply directly to the university. What you are supposed to do is to find who will supervise your thesis once admitted to that university. 

     In this case, you need to have a Ph.D. proposal on hand. You need to have something in mind you want to do in your Ph.D. You need to write a proposal of at least 5-10 pages. You will use this proposal along with your resume, transcripts, and other related documents to apply for a supervisor. What many people do is to find the university, then you go to the department and search for professors in the department with expertise in your area of study. For instance, if you want to write something about elections better to find someone in political science with such expertise and interest. If the professor accepts to supervise you, he/she is going to send you the acceptance letter that he/she will be your supervisor. That letter is technically the admission letter for your doctorate studies.

     One thing you need to know even before requesting for the supervisor is to find out if the program you are applying to is offering full scholarships for international students. If you don’t do that in advance, you will end up getting the supervisor but no financial support from the university. 

     As I pointed out earlier that, you need to apply for as many universities as possible to get one. If you are looking for a supervisor for your Ph.D. by thesis, don’t send one e-mail to one professor and sit down to wait for acceptance. Send even e-mails to more than 30 professors from different universities that offer various scholarships. In case you get accepted and given scholarships, at that moment you will start figuring out where to go by making a cost-benefit analysis. 

     Generally speaking, applying in the United States has more requirements than applying in other countries around the world. There are more requirements in terms of entrance examinations and application fees to schools you are applying to. If your dream is to study in the United States, you have to prepare yourself with money to incur all expenses but also well prepare yourself with those tests making sure you get good results. 


     The choice is yours on where to apply. But if you know for sure you have limited resources especially, I would advise you to focus more on applying for scholarships in Europe and other countries than applying in the United States.

Ernest Boniface Makulilo


Missouri, USA

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