After applying to 7 schools abroad, he was offered 4 university admissions and 3 scholarships in the United States. He is currently studying for bachelor’s degree in Biochemistry at Arizona State University on MasterCard Foundation Scholarship which covers his tuition fees, living expenses, laptop computer, air tickets and more.
Today, Moses shares the success secrets of applying and winning a scholarship.
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ASA: Can you tell us briefly about yourself? Who is Moses Onyeabor, and a bit of your background?
Moses: My name is Moses Onyeabor. I was born in a small village in Enugu state, Nigeria. I was born into a polygamous family. My father had 3 wives. My mum was like the last of the 3 wives. And I happened to be the last of his kids. Which was fun.
As the last child, you get so much attention. So I grew up being loved by my father, mum and brothers. When I was born, my family was really struggling. My father could hardly feed the family. So I was born into a life of struggle…
ASA: Wow OK. I learnt you are a recipient of MasterCard Foundation Scholarship Program. How did that all come about?
For me it was a miracle. But it took a huge part of my time and effort. It started from my junior school. Right from my junior school, I have always valued my education. I didn’t want anything that will come between me and my academics. I always tried to be the best in my class. And that made me to work really hard.
Due to the fact that my parents could not take care of my academic needs, I had to move to Abuja, the capital city of Nigeria to live with my elder brother who was married. He had to fund my education and everything. I spent most of my time in his shop. I hardly had time to study. But whenever I go to school, I try to utilize every time I had. I don’t waste my time. And I observe the kind of friends I kept.
That helped me to keep track with what was going on in school. After my junior WAEC, I had all As in the 9 subjects I sat for. Because of that, I was selected to attend “School for the Gifted” in Gwagwalada, Abuja, Nigeria. You don’t apply to go to the school. The government has to invite you.
Then during my second year, I learnt about a program called USAP – United States Achievers Program – sponsored by American embassy in Nigeria. The advisor came to the school for the gifted. Her name is Mrs. Shade Adebayo. She told us that, “if you do well in your Mock WAEC, you can apply and have the chance of getting accepted into USAP”. Then USAP will help you in funding your application to schools in United States, Canada and any other school you want to apply to.
When I heard about it, I knew I had the academic qualification. But I was skeptical about the Nigerian system and attitude towards money. Because by the time I go half way and they ask for money, it will be a waste of time and effort. But my friend encouraged me that we should give it a try.
We applied. After about 3 to 4 weeks, we got an email confirming that we were among the 120 people selected across Nigeria to come for the interview. Out of 120 people they needed just 15 people to sponsor. That was a huddle for me because, like I said earlier, I always spend most of my time in my brother’s shop. So getting time to prepare for the interview was a big issue for me. I had to stay awake some nights trying to put together one or two things.
I also wrote JAMB. The day I was supposed to go for the interview was the day I was to write my post JAMB. I was faced with a tough decision. The whole thing was a kind of blurry because, we are not quite sure of this interview. I finally decided to go for the interview and forget about post jamb.
After everything, by God’s grace, I was selected among the 15 students to be sponsored. The American embassy in Nigeria, paid all my application fees, the scanning, emailing, everything that I had to do to apply for schools in United states. Sometimes they even pay for my transport from my home to the embassy. In fact everything was like free of charge for me.
I applied for schools in United States, about 3 schools in Canada, one in Costa Rica. And then after everything, I had 4 admissions, 3 scholarships. 2 of the scholarships were not comprehensive. They just pay some amount of money while I pay the rest. But at ASU, I got the MasterCard foundations scholarship which is all encompassing.
They pay for my tuition fees, boarding, everything that has to do with my school. They also paid for my flight from Nigeria to here. And if I want to go back to Nigeria, they’ll also pay for my flight. They bought me a laptop, a printer; I get paid at the end of the month.
There was no way you could say no to such a scholarship.
I didn’t have a hard time making my choice. The night I got the email that I have been selected for this scholarship, oh my God, I could not believe it. In fact, what I did was, I saw the email, I closed my phone, turned it off, switched it back on, and check back to my mail box. And I still saw this email. I started crying, you know. I could not believe it. I could not just believe it.
ASA: Just about everything. So it’s like you are going to school absolutely for free?
Moses: No it’s not like that. It’s like you are “getting paid for going to school”.
ASA: Ok. Getting paid for going to school. Oh…
Moses: But, like every other scholarship you have to be up and doing. You make sure you are at the top of your game.
ASA: What was it exactly that challenged you to go through all the hurdles of applying to the scholarships, because, I know it’s kind of tedious. What got you to stick to this thing till the very end?
Moses: My motivation was the fact that, I am this kind of person that like depending on myself. I have my brother to support me, relatives that I could go and beg for support and fund. But as a person, that was not my drive. I feel I should be able to do some things for myself. So I was working so hard looking for a way to take the burden of my school off my brother…
Again, I have also heard stories of people who were successful in scholarship. In fact when I got to the American embassy, they told me that someone from my school, got a scholarship… Though his scholarship is not like MasterCard, but he got a scholarship.
When I heard that, I was like, if someone I knew could do this, no matter what it takes I will do it. I had to write so many essays. In total, I wrote more than 40 essays before I could get a scholarship. On Christmas day, people were celebrating; all I did was pick up my bag, pen and paper, went to the back of our house and was busy writing essays on the 25th day of December.
I wrote about 7 essays on that day. It was not easy. But what motivated me was my passion and desire to succeed.
ASA: You are definitely a good student, academically. You have good grades, alright. I also assume the other 120 students that were selected for USAP had good grades too?
ASA: So what was your unfair advantage? Does it have to do with your background, extracurricular activities, volunteer jobs?
Moses: Just like you pointed out, those 120 students were very smart people. Every one of them deserves to be among those sponsored. But the criteria are not just about all As and good grades. It also has to do with extracurricular activities, like were you a prefect in your school? Even if you were not a prefect, what did you do? How many competitions have you gone for or popular online forums? How many have you won? Have you been able to create any projects?
For me, I was among the FCT children’s parliament in 2005 because in my area council in Abuja, I was the best student… I had also gone for competitions, won some, didn’t win some… These things kind of gave me an advantage. Another thing was the fact that I didn’t write post UME.
Moses: Yea. It kind of gave me advantage because after the interview they were like, what was you score in Jamb? I told them. Where is your post Ume? I told them the day I was supposed to go for post UME was the day I had to come for this interview.
They were like, “does that mean that if you don’t get this you have to waste one year?” They were like “this score in jamb in a year that people did so poorly, you want to waste this score?”
So, I felt they didn’t want me to waste one year, or may be they love the fact that…
ASA: that you really want this…
Moses: Yes. That’s true, that I really wanted to do this. That, if I’m picked, I’ll give it my all. It was as if my life was based on it. And I believe I also found favor in the sight of those that interviewed me. I believe all these things came together and played a role.
ASA: Where do you see yourself in the next 5 years, from what you have going right now?
Moses: In the next 5 years, that will be like 2 years after my graduation. After my bachelors degree, I’m looking forward to further my higher education. Possibly, getting my masters degree. And if God helps me, go for PhD. But 5 years from now would have meant a huge leap in my career, life and everything about me.
5 years from now, my method of thinking would have changed. The kind of connection I would have made would have been sufficient enough to help me achieve my dream of making an impact in my community…
I have in mind of encouraging people. There are people that need to be encouraged, especially back home; People who feel like all hope is lost. I see myself in the nearest future, trying to create something that will serve as an encouragement to such people, especially those who are really talented, both academically and otherwise. People with no means of harnessing their talent. Possibly while I’m still school, help them make us of their God-given talent…
I see myself being sufficient in my own ability and trying to extend helping hand to people who need it.
ASA: Can you tell us something interesting about you?
Moses: Something interesting?
ASA: It can be just about anything. Let me give you a clue. I think I read something about Kanu Nwankwo. You can tell us something about that.
Moses: Oh yes. Let me tell you about that… So when I was a kid, I used to play football very well. When people see me, they called me Kanu Nwankwo. That was fun anyway. But what happened was that when I was in primary school, Kanu Nwankwo actually had to visit our school in Abuja. Then the coach of my school and another school wanted to combine a team to play in exhibition for Kanu. For me that was like a dream come true.
It was so wonderful. I think that was an interesting part for me.
ASA: Lot of African students out there looking to study abroad on scholarships. What advice will you give to them?
Moses: For me, what I will say is you need to make determination your friend. You need to trust in yourself. You need to also know that you cannot do everything by yourself. While you are confident, you should also be open to advice from people. And, then you also have to be very smart to filter out good advice and the ones that are not good.
…This year 50 people will be coming from Africa to my school on the same (MasterCard Foundation) scholarship. I told some of my Nigerian friends and asked them to apply. Some of them even emailed me when they read my story and ask how to do this. I send them the link for the application.
I tell them that if you ever need any information, I’m here to help you; I’ve gone through this; I know what they want from you. I know how to help you even fix you essays, so that you can get this.
Some of them started. But when they saw that they needed to write many essays, they stopped. They felt this is too much work. Why should I do this when I’m not even sure I’ll be picked?
To me, you’ve already failed. You have to understand that, you are probably no the smartest person. But you stand a chance. When you begin to think that you are not smart enough, you don’t have confidence in yourself, may be because you don’t have high grades, you’ve already failed.
I came from School of the Gifted, but when I got to American embassy, people from across Nigeria, I saw people who were much better than I am. It was scary. You think you are smart and then meet someone that is like 10 times smarter than you. I felt really stupid. I was like, how am I going to get this kind of scholarship when am competing with these kind of people.
But what happened was that, I actually got the scholarship, and those guys didn’t. They had to wait for another year. For some of them, it was this year that they got. We started this thing like 2 years ago. Another thing is that you need to be patient. It took me like one year to apply. I had to wait for one good year.
Back home they used to tell us that nothing good comes easy. So I spent one year waiting, writing applications, studying. I didn’t actually have the time to study. Studying at night. It was like taking myself out of my comfort zone for one good year. But it paid off. And when it did, I can’t even remember all those struggles. They are like forgotten stories.
So if you are looking to get this kind of scholarship, they are everywhere. That’s the good news. Scholarships are everywhere.
They are hard to get but they can be gotten, depending on how you pursue them. How seriously you take them. How determined you are. Even if people tell you that you can’t do it, tell yourself you can do it…
Getting a scholarship is not mission impossible. It’s something you can do. And it’s something you will do if you just believe and do the right thing. Get the right information. Meet the right people. Talk to the right people. Make the right connections. Then, you’ll see yourself one day where you want to be.
ASA: So, Moses, you are saying that it’s not really much about how smart you are. Some people tend to feel like “well, I’m not so good academically. I’m not one of the best students in my class. That means, scholarship is not for me.” Are you saying that it has to do more with your effort towards getting that scholarship than academic background?
Moses: Different scholarships are for different purposes. Some scholarships, like the one I got, is holistic. What that means is that, it involves your academic performance, extracurricular activities, financial background and your personality. And then the opinion of people around you, like teachers, guidance and counselor? What do they have to say about you? What are your future plans? This one is very comprehensive.
There are scholarships you can get just because you know how to play football. You can get sports scholarship. You can also get scholarship just because of your background. You are economically disadvantaged. They call it need-based scholarship. You are awarded scholarship because you need it. And then there is also merit based scholarship, just because you are smart.
That you are not super smart does not mean that all hope is lost. Obviously everybody is smart, just that may be when you compare to like your friends, you feel you are not that smart but you are smart. If you are not that smart (academically), it does not mean that you cannot get a scholarship.
It means you have to identify your strength. When you apply for scholarship, show them your strength. If your strength is not your academic grades, don’t push result forward. Push forward your strength. Then try to minimize your weaknesses. That’s how to do this…
And you also have to show your weakness because if you try to hide it, that’s like dishonesty. And that will disqualify you. You don’t hide your weakness. But you try not to advertise it. You advertise your strength.
ASA: It’s been an interesting one with you Moses. I appreciate your sharing your experience and story with us.
Moses: Alright, thank you.
About MasterCard Foundation Scholarship
The MasterCard Foundation Scholars Program is a $500 million, 10-year initiative to educate and prepare young people – particularly from Africa – to lead change and make a positive social impact in their communities.
The Scholars Program provides young people from economically disadvantaged communities who have demonstrated academic talent and leadership potential with access to quality and relevant education. The Program will serve an estimated 15,000 young people at the secondary and university levels. It has a particular focus on Africa.