How to Overcome Challenges and Inequalities When Applying to International Scholarships

Pursuing higher education abroad on a full or partial scholarship is a dream for many Nigerian students. However, limited scholarship spots coupled with various socioeconomic inequalities make this highly competitive.

Nigerian applicants face several challenges including lack of guidance, high costs, limited access to standardized tests and difficulties obtaining recommenders from renowned universities. Being aware of these issues and adopting strategies to overcome them is key to accessing prestigious international scholarships.

In this article, I will cover:

  • Challenges Nigerian students face in scholarship applications
  • Inequalities and biases hampering access
  • Strategies to overcome obstacles
  • Building strong profiles despite constraints
  • Scholarships favorable to Nigerian students
  • Timelines, fees and documentation tips

Let’s help you succeed against the odds and secure life-changing international scholarships!

Challenges Facing Nigerian Scholarship Applicants

Nigerian students hoping to win scholarships for undergraduate or graduate studies abroad face a unique set of hurdles compared to their peers worldwide. Being cognizant of these can help you take countermeasures.

1. Lack of Robust Guidance Resources

Unlike India, China and other countries with established coaching systems, Nigerian students have fewer trustworthy guidance resources. Many rely on informal networks or agents, risking misinformation. Creating awareness is essential.

2. Limited Access to Standardized Test prep

Nigeria has fewer test prep options for essential exams like SAT, GRE, GMAT due to limited demand. Self-study is challenging. Seeking affordable online courses ensures adequate practice.

3. High Application Costs

Application fees, tests, visa paperwork imposition substantial costs for Nigerian families. Pursuing numerous universities is not feasible. Research thoroughly and apply only to programs aligning strongly with your goals.

4. Difficulty Obtaining Recommendations

Admission committees favor letters from renowned global universities. For Nigerians who haven’t studied abroad, securing such recommendations is harder. Tactfully requesting professors from international linkages can help.

5. Visa Hurdles

Embassy officials scrutinize Nigerian applicants more stringently than other nationalities. Focused preparation to clearly justify your merit and intent reduces rejections.

6. Multiple Reapplication Attempts Needed

The acceptance rates for international scholarships are extremely low, often less than 1%. Be mentally prepared to apply over multiple years before succeeding. Patience and perseverance matter.

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Inequalities Hampering Nigerian Applicants

Apart from generic challenges, certain sociopolitical inequalities also disproportionately affect Nigerian scholarship applicants:

Financial Constraints

Limited financial means restrict opportunities from the outset, preventing many bright Nigerian students from even aspiring to top global universities. Targeting affordable options and highlighting need in applications helps.

Grade Deflation

Grade deflation in Nigerian high schools puts local students at a disadvantage. US admission committees adjust for deflation from India/China, but not Africa. Proactively addressing this issue is vital.

Insufficient Extracurricular Opportunities

Stellar extracurricular profiles spanning research, volunteering, internships and leadership experience is a must. But access constraints hinder Nigerian students from such opportunities, unless part of an elite circle. Expanding representation is crucial.

Standardized Test Imbalance

Latest research shows standardized test performance correlates strongly with family income, parent education level and access to test prep. This accentuates inequalities for lower-income Nigerian applicants. Emphasizing GPAs from Nigeria can offset lower test scores.

Visa Scrutiny

Geopolitical factors lead Nigerian passport holders to face higher scrutiny for US student visas than other nationalities like India or China. Ensuring flawless documentation and strong ties to Nigeria are key to mitigating rejections.

Awareness of these systemic imbalances enables Nigerian applicants to craft strategies compensating for disadvantages.

8 Strategies to Overcome Challenges

The odds are stacked against Nigerian students, but implementing deliberate strategies can help tilt them in your favor.

1. Seek Guidance From Alumni

Alumni who have succeeded at obtaining international scholarships are invaluable resources. Reach out over social media and leverage their expertise.

2. Find Test Prep Options

Seek out affordable test prep options like online courses and second-hand prep books to excel at SAT, GRE, GMAT, IELTS needed for admissions and scholarships.

3. Reduce Application Costs

Minimize application expenses by researching thoroughly and targeting only best-fit universities offering generous aid. CREDO,ICODE and Flywire reduce transfer fees.

4. Build Relationships For Stronger Recommendations

Start building connections with professors from international universities during undergraduate studies to facilitate obtaining recommendations later.

5. Master Your Visa Interview

Prepare extensively for visa interviews to logically and confidently articulate your aspirations, merits, research interests and plans to return to Nigeria post-studies.

6. Pursue Multiple Scholarship Avenues

Apply to various scholarship programs via universities, governments, foundations and industry. Multi-channel efforts diversify opportunities.

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7. Craft Your Story Thoughtfully

Frame your academic journey highlighting challenges overcome to subtly convey disadvantages without sounding entitled. Demonstrate grit.

8. Upgrade Your Online Presence

Create professional LinkedIn and Twitter profiles to be discoverable to overseas universities. Seek mentors globally.

With grit and smarts, you can overcome obstacles facing Nigerian applicants.

Building Strong Profiles Despite Constraints

Here are some tips to strengthen your scholarship application profile despite limitations:


  • Excel in core subjects – math, science, English. Keep grades consistently high throughout schooling.
  • Take the most rigorous curriculum allowed in high school. Ace relevant subjects for your major.
  • Perform exceptionally in Bachelor’s program, especially in your major. Maintain high cumulative GPA.
  • Prepare thoroughly for standardized tests. Take them multiple times until you score strongly.


  • Demonstrate initiative by founding clubs, activities. Take leadership roles.
  • Stand out with research projects, publications, patents and other IP.
  • Build expertise through online courses. Get certified in high-demand skills.
  • Take online internships and pro-bono freelancing projects to gain experience.
  • Participate actively in student organizations and conferences.

Financial Need

  • Clearly explain financial constraints restricting access. Quantify need thoughtfully.
  • Research scholarships specifically targeting disadvantaged populations.
  • Keep costs low by applying only to top universities offering generous aid.

With some creativity despite resource constraints, you can develop outstanding scholarship profiles.

Scholarship Programs Favorable to Nigerians

Here are some promising scholarship avenues for Nigerian applicants based on acceptance rates and affordability:

Undergraduate Scholarships

  • Harvard Financial Aid Program – Needs-blind aid with no loans in financial package. Extensive outreach in Nigeria.
  • Yale Young Global Scholars – Leadership scholarship for high school students. No minimum score requirements.
  • African Leadership Academy Anzisha Prize – Covers studies at leading US/UK universities. Strong focus on youth entrepreneurship.
  • Mastercard Foundation Scholars Program – Covers undergrad studies at multiple intl universities. 70% funding reserved for African students.

Graduate Scholarships

  • Chevening Scholarships – UK government funding for one-year master’s degrees. High acceptance rate for Nigerians.
  • Rhodes Scholarships – Fully funded scholarship to Oxford University. Significant representation of Nigerian scholars.
  • Commonwealth Scholarships – For master’s and PhD studies across Commonwealth countries. Nigerian success rate over 50%.
  • Fulbright FLTA Program – Sponsored year in the US as a teaching assistant. Valuable exchange experience.
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University-Specific Aid

Many top universities offer full scholarships or extremely generous financial aid:

  • Harvard, Yale, Princeton, MIT, Stanford, Columbia, University of Pennsylvania, Cornell – Need blind aid policies, no student loans in packages for low-income applicants.
  • New York University, University of Southern California, Northwestern – Full tuition scholarships for strong applicants based on merit/need.
  • Washington & Lee University, Davidson College, Trinity College – Full ride scholarships including room and board.

Researching scholarships leveraging your strengths as a Nigerian applicant maximizes potential.

Application Timelines and Deadlines

Here’s a roadmap of key timelines:

24 months before – Take standardized tests. Research target universities and scholarship programs.

18 months before – Retake standardized tests for higher scores. Begin applications for early admission/scholarship deadlines.

12 months before – Complete university applications. Prepare scholarship essays. Request recommendations.

9 months before – Submit scholarship applications. Complete financial aid profiles.

6 months before – Interview preparations. Apply for student visa.

4 months before – Finalize documents and enrollment. Book travel.

Apply for scholarships with rolling deadlines on an ongoing basis. Meet all deadlines diligently.

Estimated Costs and Documents Needed

Some key expenses to budget:

  • SAT/ACT/GMAT/GRE registration – $40-200 per test
  • TOEFL/IELTS – $150-250
  • University application fees – $35-120 per application
  • Visa fees – $200-300 including biometrics, couriers
  • Financial documents – bank statements, tax filings, sponsors’ affidavits

Documents needed: official transcripts, test scores, recommendations, essays, resume, passport, photos.

Meticulous planning and preparation is vital for minimizing costs and assembling a flawless application.

Wrapping Up

The path to prestigious international scholarships is steep for most Nigerian students, riddled with socioeconomic constraints. But obstacles can be overcome with guidance from alumni, upgrading academics and profiles strategically despite limitations, targeting affordable universities offering generous aid, and crafting your story thoughtfully. With perseverance and wisdom, you can buck the odds stacked against you.

Securing a life-changing scholarship enables you to gain global competencies and networks advancing your career and creating opportunities for others back home. It represents hope for a brighter future for Nigerian youth. Press on diligently!

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