How I Applied to Harvard University and Got a N15 million Scholarship from Imperial College London

Written by Ten Esan.

Never start a conversation with money. Let me tell you the real secret of how I applied to Harvard (the 5th highest-ranked university in the world) and got a N15 million scholarship from Imperial College London (the 7th highest-ranked university in the world).

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A lot of my close friends know that I don’t discuss money and there is a reason for it which I think many people on this platform may find useful.

In 2019, I took a vow of poverty, and it changed my life. I wrote about it on my Facebook wall at the time, and I made that decision while still living in Nigeria after I had noticed something really wrong in the country- money was at the forefront of every conversation. From politician to pastor to artiste; I sensed something had gone terribly amiss and I didn’t want to be a part of it.

Little did I know that this decision was going to play a key part in getting me to the next level in my life and career. At the time I realized that as an intellectual there was a mismatch between myself and my environment. I didn’t want to ‘hustle’ or ‘blow’, or ‘cash my passion’ (there’s nothing wrong with these things). But instead, I wanted to have deep discussions about research, psycho-social issues, development and more. I believed that money follows research, innovation, intelligence etc. But all I was hearing around me were things like “God will take you from face-me-I-face-you to your mansion“; while the artists are singing…”if you no get money hide your face…na money be koko” and people even saying things like “school na scam.”

It got so sickening that I took a trip to Ghana just to clear my head, and when I drove through West Africa (Togo, Portnovo, Accra etc) I felt some relief seeing Africans living simply without so much emphasis on materialism. When I got back to Nigeria it all seemed like the spirit of mammon was looming over the country as things got worse and worse; so I took a vow of poverty and said to myself- I will NEVER put money first in my thinking, speech or conversation.

When I made that decision, guess what happened?

I had one less reason not to apply to Harvard Business School and Imperial College London, where tuition was between (N50m to N70m besides living expenses). I had been encouraged by a mentor to apply to Harvard because he felt strongly that I was Harvard material. But nobody said anything about tuition. We never discussed it. I never asked, “how can I afford it?” It was good that I never asked. Why?

I know many people who would have liked to go to top schools who look at that price tag and immediately cancel themselves from even the faintest possibility of ever venturing near such an institution-some people who even read the amount just swallowed spit and stopped reading. N50m? For what??? School fees? But let me tell you why many average Nigerians don’t get into such schools.

They think it takes N50m to go to Imperial College London. It doesn’t. That is a Nigerian way of thinking.

I once asked someone- which do you think is more difficult to do: get an admission offer from Harvard or Imperial, or to raise N50m-N70m to pay for tuition? (It reminds me of the question that Jesus asked someone- which do you think is more difficult- to tell a man “your sins are forgiven” or “rise up and walk?”)

Think about it. Which do you think is the hard part?

Most Nigerians will think that paying N50-N70m is the hard part. But guess what? it’s actually not. Why? Because even if you have N50m to pay to Imperial College, they won’t give you admission. That’s not how admission works. Just this year more than 50 wealthy parents in the US are facing trial for trying to pay over $1 million bribes to get their children into such top universities and 2 have been sentenced to prison- you can read about it on Google.

The hard part of an Ivy League institution is getting the ADMISSION OFFER. And the secret is that if you have an admission offer from an Ivy League you will see people who will give you N50m+ and more. Money FOLLOWS value. Value does not FOLLOW money (God forbid!).

There are many foundations, scholarships, grants, loans, investors, gofundme etc who are eager to support people who are able to make that bold move and qualify to sit in a classroom with the top talent across the world. They may be difficult to find at first. And sadly many people sometimes want to get scholarship first before applying to schools, so you keep hearing questions like “what scholarships options are available,” before people even figure out what they want to study.

You see? its always ‘money first’ in many peoples way of thinking. (NB: There is nothing wrong with checking for the scholarship options available to institutions before applying- but don’t forget that those scholarships are designed to focus on talented people who are passionate about furthering their education; not ‘broke people’ who want to get it cheaper. See the difference?)

Last year there was an Igbo boy who graduated with a first class from UCL and was looking to do his Masters in Imperial College and didn’t have the money. He was appealing all over the internet – LinkedIn etc. Everyone could see this boy’s drive and determination. Bright young Igbo boy determined to make it. This year I found out that he not only raised the money, but also one of the biggest banks in the world (JP Morgan) offered to pay for his tuition on the condition that he resumes work with them once he graduates; and on top of that he also got a part-time job at Oxford University to earn money while studying.

I know another brilliant Yoruba girl who got in this year and is currently working as a waitress during her spare time to save up money and lessen the burden on her parents.

Sadly because of this Nigerian way of thinking, I see so many brilliant young people who could actually get into such institutions, disqualify themselves from even trying. Why?- Money is put first. “where will I see x amount of money?”

I laugh. You think money is really that important? You’re not paying attention then.

In my personal case, I ignored the costs until I had the admission offer in hand. And guess what? The Imperial College Admission offer came with a N15m scholarship THAT I NEVER EXPECTED; it was the largest amount of money I have ever received in my life from anyone. In all my working life in Nigeria, I don’t think I had ever made up to N15m total. Yes I was doing quite well for myself, had my own small car and living in Lekki. But it wasn’t until I took that vow of poverty- to remove my focus from money; that was when a school offered me N15m to assist with my tuition. But it didn’t stop there.

When some people heard that I was going to Imperial College, they just wanted to make sure that their N10 kobo was part of the process- and I am eternally grateful to them. One aunty paid for my flight to London. Another distant relative that I didn’t even know by face offered to give me a place to stay, which saved me over N4.2m in accommodation costs. It didn’t all come easy- but it came. I asked the school to allow me to pay in instalments so that I can figure out how to pay the rest. I got a job on campus to work while studying.

I had already drafted letters to write to all the big men in Nigeria to call on them for support. From Tony Elumelu to Alhaji Dangote (neither of whom I know personally). You think it’s only Davido or Top artistes that can raise money? You can do it to- but you have never had a compelling reason to do so. That is why many are still typing “God of Davido, bless me” on Instagram when many people all over the world are raising money for various causes.

Why am I telling you this story?

Because I just read Stella Owala’s comment that “everyone has access to travel abroad, and you only need to learn what you need to do” and I was sad to see how many people think Money is the primary access- particularly money which they don’t have.

It is so sad to see, but I hope a few learn. Most will not. The spirit of mammon is strong in the country. That spirit that makes people think money is everything- meanwhile they lose everything while chasing that money.

I hope a few learn. Those few we shall celebrate with. And by the way, if you think N50m is a lot to pay for tuition- you should see the kind of job offers that come after graduation. But like I said, I don’t discuss money. All I will say is that the air is very different up here; and I would love for more Nigerians and Africans to take their place on the global stage.

(NB: Please keep in mind that tuition doesn’t even have to be huge sums. N50m may be out of your range and you don’t need to go to an Ivy League school to be successful in life or anything like that- you don’t even need a formal education- but it helps. The point is to seek advice and cherish wisdom; wisdom is the principal thing. Wisdom is worth more than silver and gold; but Nigerians don’t listen. I hope you do.)

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