A scholarship rejection can be soul-crushing for any applicant. In some cases, it can also dampen a student’s hope of applying for other scholarships and financial aid. The reverse was true for Solace Ojotule, who used her scholarship rejections as fuel to try harder.
Despite facing seven scholarship rejections, her persistence and positive outlook eventually paid off when she won a Mastercard foundation scholarship (Mastercard Foundation Scholars Programme) to study at the prestigious University of Edinburgh, which has attracted the likes of many Chevening scholars. While receiving the scholarship was a joyous occasion for Ojotule, it didn’t come without her fair share of trials and hardships.
We caught up with the Nigerian to learn more about her background, the scholarship application process, her experience at the University of Edinburgh as well as tips for future international students intending to apply for scholarships.
Hi Solace. Tell us about your background, including what it’s like growing up in Nigeria.
Growing up in Nigeria, I had an average, middle-class upbringing. I lost my dad when I was young. So, it was quite difficult for my mum to pay for my school tuition. So, after university, I decided look for scholarships to pay for my master’s degree because I did not want to bother my mum.
With an average lifestyle, I have to go the extra mile, pick up different trades, assist my mum and help out with the family business, to earn an income to fund my education. I didn’t belong to an upper-class family, so there were a lot of things I had to do to be able to afford an education.
Have you participated in any community engagement projects?
Yes, Mastercard Foundation Scholars are very passionate about the next generation of African leaders.
Let me give you some background information about me. I grew up in a highly patriarchal society. As mentioned earlier, I lost my dad when I was young. I’ve shared this issue on social media to spotlight the issue so more people are aware of it. When I lost him, my mum didn’t have a male child. So each of my father’s properties was taken away.
My mum has five girls and needs to feed them. Growing up, I caught on to this injustice early on. Before anything, I am human first, whether male or female. So, I decided to speak against this discrimination. Growing up in that kind of environment, you are constantly told what a good girl you should be, so you could be somebody’s wife, but nobody really talks to you about your personal development.
Everything they teach about your life revolves around your marriage. A university education makes you realise more about this injustice. Everybody has rights in society, and everybody deserves to be treated equally. Education is empowering for me, so I decided to start a change from my little space.
I started a non-profit organisation called She Rise Africa, which aims to educate girls because many of them grew up in an environment where they are constantly told what a good girl they should be in order to be somebody’s wife. But nobody really talks to you about your personal development. Nobody tells them to strive for their own goals. Everything they teach about your life revolves around you and marriage.
She Rise Africa aims to empower girls so that they can be whatever they want to be if they have an education. We visit secondary schools and tell girls that they can pursue their career goals, aside from the future decided for them by society. We book sessions with them, sensitise them, and do many online activities to emphasise the fact that “women’s rights are human rights”.
We also address issues such as gender-based violence, education among girls and spotlight women’s issues that are very prominent in rural communities. We have also conducted intervention programmes, which included a pad sanitisation programme where we give sanitary pads to girls and teach them about menstrual hygiene and the transition into adulthood.
You’ll be shocked that many of these girls do not even recognise a sanitary pad. I told Mastercard Foundation Scholarship about my voluntary services, and that was how I was able to get the scholarship.
What motivated you to continue applying for scholarships, despite facing seven rejections?
My motivating factor was I didn’t want to be average anymore. I was very determined to say, “Girls can do whatever they want to do”.
I feel like if my mum were more educated, she would have been more empowered to confront the things that came her way when she lost my dad. I was very passionate about pursuing my education and went for it with everything I had.
I wanted to pursue a postgraduate degree but lacked the funds. Applying for scholarships was my only alternative. I knew that if I were to receive a scholarship rejection, it would only push me harder in my next application.
I used rejection as a learning experience and as a learning curve to improve my next scholarship application.
I was very passionate about getting a master’s, and I would keep on applying until I started a master’s in Nigeria, or until I got a scholarship. Eventually, it happened.
Did you only target universities in the UK, or were you also considering other countries?
I was looking for study abroad opportunities because I could not find many internal study opportunities that offered scholarships in Nigeria. But I knew there were many external scholarships available.
Any opportunity I could get to study abroad, I took it. Besides the UK, I had also considered applying to South Korea. I did not consider applying to the US because of the clauses attached to applications, and also because I had limited finances to do the GRE, IELTS and other exams. The UK, however, accepts the West African examination certificate.
What do you like about your university so far?
Everything! It’s a dream come true for me. I love the fact that the University of Edinburgh is one of the top five universities in the UK. I love how the learning system here is structured to empower you and values your opinion.
I also love the way lecturers interact with students. They don’t make you feel intimidated. It has helped me to think from a broader perspective. I love how everyone has a different opinion, and no one’s opinion is superior to others.
The tourist attractions in Edinburgh make it very lovely, and I love the diversity the city has to offer.
Not to forget, study materials are readily available and embedded online, so students don’t have to stress themselves by looking for resources. If you want a physical learning resource, you can go to the library.
Have you taken any memorable classes?
Gender and development class, of course. It’s exciting for me because I’m passionate about the topic. Once you take a course, you get to observe other people’s arguments about the issue. The class was very exciting for me — this includes learning about the different waves of feminism.
Having come from a country where the majority of people are of a similar ethnic background, I can see that prejudice doesn’t just span gender but also between different races, religions and places. I learned that privileges which are granted in one society could be taken away when settling in another society.
So, that part of intersectionality made me realise that, yes, discrimination comes in many forms, but also through the specific needs of different people.
Are you involved in any clubs or organisations?
Besides being a member of the Feminist Society, I am also a member of the African Film Club.
It spotlights African films, and we invite people to watch them. After the movie ends, we discuss issues related to Africa — be it poverty, conflicts, resource costs and why things aren’t functioning under the leadership in Africa.
What’s one thing from home that you miss? How do you substitute it?
The food. You’ll never realise you are out of the country until the food you brought from home is finished. I have to go to an African store, and it would cost me about 10 times more than what it would back home. It wouldn’t even be the amount you’d hoped.
I miss my family and friends who are back home too.
Do you have any tips for international students who are looking to apply for scholarships in the UK?
The scholarship search is not for the faint-hearted. It is not for those who easily give up hope if one application doesn’t work out. A scholarship is a numbers game.
If you’re going to apply for scholarships, be aware that you may need to send out as many applications as possible. If you face rejections, I wouldn’t advise you to feel bad about it. Instead, use it as valuable feedback to improve on your next scholarship application.
A scholarship application requires time and energy. I too, had to make many application attempts before securing the Mastercard Foundation Scholarship. So, don’t stop applying. If I can get a scholarship, you can too.
Don’t give up. Keep chasing and pursuing that dream — you’re going to make it.