My Journey to the Amrica is a 4-part story. If you missed the first part, read it here.
By my final year, most people were making plans to get jobs. But I had only one goal in life and it was to study for my master’s degree in the USA.
A few companies like KPMG, P&G, Skye Bank, Zenith Bank, and Access Bank came to UNILAG to conduct job aptitude tests for students with 3.5 CGPA and above. For lack of anything better to do, and because you get free snacks and drinks at the end of the tests, I wrote the first three companies’ exams and passed, but did not follow up on any of them. I was going to Amrica, remember? Every time anyone asked me for my post-NYSC plans, I would confidently tell them I was going to study for my master’s degree in America, and I was not interested in hearing any advice telling me to either work for a few years first before going, or apply to the UK instead. As I said earlier – stubborn goat. This meant the whole Nigeria expected Oluwatoyin to be in the US come August 2010, and I was determined not to disappoint them.
I did my Industrial Training in the transmission unit at Starcomms – a telecoms service provider – and loved it. You know the pipu that ensure your conversations and data packets are transmitted over the airwaves to their destinations using microwaves? Na we! This experience informed my decision to study Elect/Elect Engineering with a wireless communications specialization. One of the lies I told in my Statement of Purpose (SOP) was that my goal for wanting to study the course was to go back to Nigeria and apply the knowledge I gained in school towards ensuring broadband internet was readily available and affordable. Yeah right! Boya I’m MTN or Glo.
P.S: 90% of Nigerians pursuing higher education in the US lie in their statements of purpose about planning to return to Nigeria after completing their programs, but never do.
My cousin had gained admission to study for her Ph.D. in the US so I asked her for her advice. One of the things she told me was to go to the Educational Advising Center (EAC) of the United States Information Services (USIS), as they would advise me on schools to apply to, help with my SOPs, and coach me for the VISA interview for a fee of ₦27,000. I heeded her advice and spoke to one of the two counselors at EAC. She asked me for my undergraduate school, CGPA, my age, and course of study. And I replied with: UNILAG, 4.01/5, 22 years old, and mobile communications respectively.
While we were talking, a boy came in to speak with her about going to the US for his undergraduate program, and when she asked him for his age, he said was in his early 20s. This woman shouted at the poor boy and asked him how on earth he could just be planning to get a first degree at his old age. She asked him to take a look at me, saying I was only 22 years old and female, yet I had already graduated with a degree in Elect/Elect engineering from the University of Lagos with a 2nd class upper and was already planning to go for my masters. Hearing this immediately put 2 hefty shoulder pads on my shoulders, and made me swell with pride. As far as I was concerned, that statement meant the admission process was going to be a breeze and any American university would be glad to have me in their school. Little did I know that pride goes before a fall.
GRE and TOEFL are required exams to take for many postgraduate programs in the US ,and I can’t remember how much they cost now, but they weren’t cheap. You also had to pay an application fee for every school you applied to, write a statement of purpose tailored to the specific question asked by the school, and submit three letters of recommendation to each of the school you applied to. As you can see, applying for postgraduate studies is not beans. EAC advised their students to apply to 10 schools to increase their chances of getting admitted to at least one school. Application fees were like $50 or $100 (I can’t really remember). Somebody was now asking me to pay that amount 10 times! Could never be me. I decided to apply only to 4 schools and I chose 4 top schools with one of them being my dream school, even though you were advised to apply to 1 top school, 2 medium schools and 1 safety school based on your grade and credentials.
I sat for the GRE exam and scored 1270 – 720 in math and 550 in verbal. The average math score for the schools I applied to was 750, with some people even scoring as high as 800. Yet, I refused to heed sound advice telling me to retake the exam, believing that I could compensate for my low score with other parts of my application. I really didn’t know what was going on. I barely went back to EAC for advice and follow up because laziness and procrastination were my strongholds then. Their office was located in Broad Street, and I worked in VI, so I’d have to take buses to get to their office, which was quite inconvenient for me.
The lecturers at UNILAG I begged to write my letters of recommendation and gave thank you gifts to wrote babanla nonsense. Could you blame them though? They barely knew me and were even less familiar with writing such letters. Imagine a lecturer writing ‘she’s a good girl’ inside a letter of recommendation, instead of highlighting my academic and leadership achievements. I am suspecting, although I can’t prove it, that other candidates wrote their letters of recommendation themselves and just asked the lecturers to sign and send it. But what was my own? I submitted the letters like that. After all, I was a star candidate! Yinmu.
I gave my statements of purpose to a few friends who weren’t really knowledgeable about writing SOPs to review and they gave me decent feedback. In my heart of hearts, I knew my SOPs weren’t compelling enough to make me a strong candidate for admission, but I brushed the thought aside and constantly reminded myself that I was a 22-year-old female, elect/elect engineering graduate of the prestigious UNILAG with a 4.01 CGPA and 8-months industry experience. Even I am laughing at my nerve as I’m typing this. Anyway, I ended up applying to only 3 schools as I missed the application deadline for one of the schools. My latest deadline was December 31, 2009, and I was expecting admission decisions around April 2010 for resumption in August 2010.
By May 2010, I had received an email from my dream school notifying me that the admission decision had been made and I needed to login to the portal to see the decision. With a heart beating partly out of fear and excitement, I logged on to the portal and read:
After considering your application, we regret to inform you…”
There was no need to read the rest. I got my first taste of rejection and failure in 22 years and it almost broke me. I cried my eyes out, but after a while, I figured I still had 2 more schools to wait for so I dried my tears. It was like all 3 schools got together and planned to show me pepper for my igberaga (pride).
2nd school wrote: “We regret to inform you…” Even the 3rd school that was supposed to be my safety school sent me the “we regret to inform you…” mail.
I wasn’t interested in being retained at my NYSC office, so I was just whiling away time there and barely applied myself diligently. I had not applied for a single job because I was 100% certain I was going to japa to the US. I had told the whole of Nigeria, whether they cared to listen or not, that I was going to the US in August. How was I going to face them and explain that nobody gave me admission when I bragged about going for my masters in the USA like I had already secured the admission?