If you’re a Nigerian graduate looking to go for your graduate studies (either MS or PhD) in the United States of America (USA) as a Nigerian citizen, then this post is for you.
If you’d like to get your postgraduate degree in America as a Nigerian, then you likely have many questions that you’d love detailed answers to.
In this post, you’ll find answers to those frequently asked questions that you might have.
Let’s jump right in!
1. Everything feels overwhelming – the process of applying to study in America as a Nigerian graduate is so demanding, where do I start?
I agree – it’s a lot to juggle.
From completing your undergraduate degree to researching US schools, from taking standardized tests to (maybe) completing your NYSC program, and from actually applying to schools and waiting to hear back for results, everything seems like a lot. And I’m with you on that one.
But to reduce the stress of all these, I’d advise that you start with one thing first… and that’s giving yourself enough TIME on this process.
Start by giving yourself enough time for you to go through the whole process of preparing to apply, researching, and applying to the US schools that best fit your postgraduate education needs.
You see, US schools take applications at least one year in advance to the time that you plan to actually start studying.
So, if your goal is to start studying by August/September 2023, then you’ll need to start the application process at least a year before that time.
So, how much time you need will depend on when you plan to start studying in the US.
For example, if you plan to start studying in the US by August/September 2023, you need to give yourself enough time to start the process by at least August 2022… even preferably earlier than that, say, January or March 2022.
It’s even a very good idea to give yourself a year once you graduate or complete your NYSC program and when you start applying.
So you can use that year to prepare, focus on your applications, and give yourself the best shot at getting into excellent US schools that work for you.
So, start by deciding when you want to start studying at the US school, and when you want to start preparing for the whole process.
This would give you enough time to do your research, put in all the required documents, and still meet all the schools’ deadlines.
2. Basically, what are key steps to applying to US postgraduate schools for either a MS or PhD degree as a Nigerian student?
There are six main steps:
Step 1: Decide your application timeline (of a year or more).
US admissions is a marathon, not a sprint. The more time you give yourself to prepare and work hard at your applications, the better.
If you’d like to get more details about the specific application timelines across many US schools, and how to smartly plan your applications, read this guide on US Graduate School Applications 101: How to Smartly Plan Your Applications (+ Free Sample Application Templates).
Step 2: Gather your documents.
- Your Nigerian international passport
- University certificate(s), for example, your Bachelor’s degree certificate,
- TranscriptsCambridge A’Level or IGSCE results (if this is applicable to you),
- Resume/CV (showing your educational profile and accomplishments)
- Final-year project
- Letters of recommendation from your professors or mentors that know you well
For help on writing your resume, read this guide: How to Write a Resume for Graduate School Applications (Free Resume Template): The Ultimate Writing Guide for Nigerian Graduates.
As you start looking into schools, you’ll also need to prepare other documents like:
- Your statement of purpose (see Step 5 later on)
Some of these documents take some time to compile, so the earlier you start, the better.
For more on the six most critical documents you need to gather, here’s a guide you can use: 6 Critical Documents You Need to Start Applying to U.S. Graduate Schools (As An International Applicant).
Step 3: Do your research.
There are over tens of thousands of universities in the US that offer graduate degrees. Now that’s A LOT of schools, and you definitely can’t apply to 100, or even 45, of those schools.
So you’ll need to do your research to find the US schools that best fit what you want in a postgraduate university education.
For example, here are some of the things you’d need to research:
- Why you’re going for your graduate school education, why now, and why the US, in relation to your career goals and plans after graduation
- US schools with strong departments in the course or degree that you want to get your graduate degree in
- How much money you’ll need to spend, your finances, and how you can get scholarships or external funding for the schools you’re looking to get into
- Application requirements, test score ranges, and application deadlines for the schools
- Cities / states where you’d like to live in the US – for example, based on cost of living, existing Nigerian community in the local area, closeness to family or tight-knit community, the weather, and other factors, etc.
Side note: You’d think the weather is such a flimsy thing to consider as you do your research.
But I have to tell you, the general weather in Nigeria is fairly similar across board, compared to what you’ll experience in many US cities, especially during the winter (very, very cold) and summer (so hot) seasons in those US cities.
The best way to prepare is to do your research; so you can better understand your specific situation, and the best US schools that would be a great fit for you and your career goals.
To help you start narrowing down your choice of schools, it’s awesome to understand what US graduate schools look for in international students (especially Nigerian graduates)…
… so to get more details on how to put the best foot forward in your applications as you research US schools, here’s a handy guide for you to use: What US Graduate Schools Look for in Applications from Nigerian Graduates.
Step 4: Take standardized exams / tests
Just like you’d take UTME or post-UTME to enter Nigerian universities, you’d need to take certain entrance graduate exams that you’d use to apply to US schools.
The Number One biggest exam for graduate admissions in the US is the GRE general test. You’ll need to take the GRE, whether you’re an Engineering, Social Sciences, or Humanities student.
The GRE consists of three sections where you’ll be tested on:
- Analytical Writing, or AWA (scored from 0.0 to 6.0)
- Verbal Reasoning, or VR (scored from 130 to 170)
- Quantitative Reasoning, or QR (scored from 130 to 170)
If you’d like useful resources to help you understand how to prepare for each of these three sections of the GRE, here you go:
- How to Prepare for the AWA section of the GRE as a Nigerian Graduate
- How to Prepare for the Verbal Reasoning section of the GRE as a Nigerian Graduate
- How to Prepare for the Quantitative Reasoning section of the GRE as a Nigerian Graduate
If you’re wondering what a real-life, actual GRE test-taking experience looks like, read mine here: Writing the GRE Test in Nigeria: My Experience.
You might also need to take:
- The TOEFL/IELTS (if some of your desired schools want it from Nigerian applicants), or
- The GRE subject tests (to demonstrate your top-notch ability in specific subjects like Biology, Chemistry, Literature in English, Math, Physics, or Psychology)
And although some US schools might say these tests are optional, it’s often in your best interest to write these exams (especially the GRE) as an international student / graduate coming from Nigeria.
Because here’s the deal: writing these exams and performing exceptionally well will make you stand out.
It will give your application that better chance (that you need) to favorably compete with other top-notch candidates from all over the world, including native students from US universities.
Step 5: Create your final list of prospective schools, and write your statement of purpose
At this stage, you’re putting final touches to your research and preparation phase.
And this is where you start getting serious about the US schools that you’d actually be applying to.
The biggest mistake I see Nigerian graduates make with creating that final list of schools: is applying to schools without finding the schools that best fit their profile.
Look, you can graduate with a 4.9 GPA from your Nigerian university, and emerge as the best graduating student in your university, but that doesn’t mean US schools would be fighting over themselves to admit you.
That’s just not true.
You can’t just choose to apply to Stanford, MIT, and Princeton University, and expect any of those schools to admit you.
You need to be practical with your chances, given the fact that you’re an international student, and you’re competing for very few admission slots with the best of the best students from top-notch universities all over the world.
Especially given the fact that there are a lot of graduate universities in the US.
Which means you can win, if you’ll actually put in the work to do your research, and find the US schools that best fit for you.
US graduate schools look for way more things than your GPA; things like your research experience.
To know why you need to still work a lot (even as a first class graduate), and to get more details on what US graduate schools are really looking for…
… read this guide: What US Graduate Schools Look for in Applications from Nigerian Graduates.
So this is where you use all this information to:
- Create your final list of prospective schools, and
- Write your statement of purpose
Here are some factors that you can use to create your final list of prospective US schools:
- Your GPA, specific scores in upper-level classes, research experience, etc. In fact, your entire profile, which lets you remove some schools from your list, and add other schools
- The research area you’d like to study. And the programs that are both strong in that research area and that also work with your profile
- How you expect to pay for school. If you won’t be able to attend a US school without funding, then that makes it easier for you to remove programs that want you to pay a lot of money
To critically evaluate your profile so you can start creating your final list of schools where you stand an awesome chance of getting admitted, use this guide: How To Evaluate Your Profile And Apply To US Graduate Schools.
You might even need to send emails to individual professors in US schools to discuss more about how your research interests align with theirs; and possibly look into funding opportunities…
… here’s a useful guide to help you email US professors as a Nigerian graduate: How to Smartly Email Professors for Graduate School Admissions (+ Free Email Template).
Once you start getting really clear about your final list of schools to apply to, you’ll be getting into a better position to write your Statement of Purpose (SoP).
Your SoP helps you convince the admission committees in the schools you’ll be applying to, on why you’ll be an excellent fit for their program.
Here’s a guide to help you write your Statement of Purpose:
Step 6: Apply
So far, you’ve given enough time to apply as a Nigerian graduate to US graduate schools and universities.
You’ve gathered your documents and done your research.
You’ve taken your standardized tests, written your resume and Statement of Purpose, and started looking into funding options that will work for your profile.
You’ve done most of the work, but your work’s not done yet.
The next step is for you to apply. Based on the factors that you’ve considered, you’d have narrowed down your list of schools into a final shortlist.
Here’s a checklist of the tasks you’ll generally need to complete for each school: Your Final Steps To Applying To U.S. Graduate Schools As An International Student.
Apply to your final shortlist of schools and pat yourself on the back. Well done!
Next, you’ll just have to wait and pray, so that your hard work eventually yields excellent results.
For more details about the four types of admission decisions at US graduate schools (and what to do if you get any one of the four)…
… here’a good resource for you to use: The 4 U.S. Admission Decision Types And How To Handle Each One.
That gives you some key steps you can take now to start and quickly get up to speed.
If you’d like a more in-depth guide on how to apply to U.S. schools (and get accepted) as a Nigerian graduate…