Hearing about tuition-free universities in countries like Germany, Finland, Belgium etc. some years ago sounded too good to be true. It was at best incredible and abstract for me to come to terms with. After I had read the testimonies of those who had, through this opportunity, furthered their study abroad, I still took it with a pinch of salt. The reality however dawned on me when a friend in Cyprus traveled to Germany for his second master’s degree which was completely tuition-free. Why would a university be tuition-free was the question that aroused my curiosity? Then, I began to research about tuition-free universities. The results were phenomenal. Meanwhile, I would focus on securing admission to such universities rather than why they are free.
There are some irresistible criteria that do the magic. For master’s programs, the first on the list is a very good CGPA. Graduates or prospective applicants with a first-class bachelor’s degree have a high chance of getting admitted into graduate programs in highly ranked universities. A previous master diploma could also be a compelling advantage to pursue a second master in a related field. Second, GMAT/GRE or any other graduate aptitude test result is an added advantage especially for business or management related courses. This, to the admission committee shows the critical reasoning capacity of the applicant and the ability to comprehend of complex concepts. Third, applicants should be able to write a strong motivation letter or statement of purpose. Most universities specify the expected contents of the statement, number of words or characters. The key objective of the statement is to know how the graduate program matches the applicant’s aspirations. Not so much research experience (if any at all) is expected for the pursuit of a master’s program.
For PhD however, proof of research experience is sine qua non to gaining admission. To ensure this, getting a supervisor remains a critical factor. After all other requirements have been met, without a supervisor’s consent, the likelihood of being admitted is very low. That was my experience with University of Helsinki, Finland. I satisfactorily fulfilled all other admission requirements except getting a supervisor. After the evaluation, the university sent me a mail rejecting my application, with the stated reason: no supervisor. So, getting a supervisor’s consent who will show interest in and commit to the proposed research of the candidate is at the heart of a PhD admission.
How does that happen? The universities have a list of their faculty members on the website with their research areas and contact (email in particular). Having read through the profile, it is the sole responsibility of the applicant to contact a prospective supervisor with your research proposal, your background or other works in that area and then the consent form to be signed if the university provides one (most tuition-free European universities do). This is how I got admission into the tuition-free PhD program at Vrije University, Brussel. The professor I contacted read my research proposal and replied saying he is interested in the research area. I have had a conference paper published in that area. Without much ado, I got admitted. I was only to pay the enrollment fee of 450euro in my first and final year of PhD. It is important to note that relentless and persistent efforts is required in getting a supervisor. I contacted four different professors, but none replied. Yet, I continued to send the same email to them until one replied. I sent the same comprehensive email and secured his consent at the second reply. Applicants should understand the busy schedule of these professors and maximize the opportunity in just one email. In a courteous and precise manner, make your intention known in one email with all the necessary documents attached because that may be the only time the prospective supervisor would read the mail.