Free university for capable students (MCF Scholars)

Mastercard Scholars pays your way through a dozen universities abroad if you are a promising student who has not yet gone to university (or some schools also graduate school) and you have no money.

Deadlines vary widely, especially depending on which country a particular university is in. Check out the below carefully for more info…

About Mastercard Scholars

The MasterCard Foundation (MCF) has committed $500 million to support rising young leaders in Sub Saharan Africa. Through this investment, 18,000 secondary and tertiary students will receive scholarships over the next decade.

MUCH more info below…

Advice for the Kenyan applicant

The best way to apply is to make friends with an American or Canadian or Ghanaian or South African (depending on the school you want to apply to) who recently went through university and is willing to help explain and navigate the process. For example, every university has a big fee to apply, but some of them will waive it for you. If you want to succeed, someone familiar with the process needs to help you put together a competitive application.

Soon, in Nairobi at Pawa, we will organise a session with a American university advisor from the US Embassy, for anyone in our wider community who would be interested… email me sasha at if you want to be kept in the loop, though I will also try to post here.

Exams required

Most schools require exams at one point or another, which do cost money. There are a few schools that allow you to apply for the Mastercard scholarship without completing the full regular university application process or exams, which of course I would highly recommend. I have noted those universities below. In that case, you take them once you become a semi-finalist. But you have to be a really strong student on paper to be successful without exams.

  • SAT 1s cost about $85 internationally + likely a few additional local fees
  • TOEFL costs $175 in Nairobi
  • IELTS costs $200 in Nairobi

I have also been exploring whether free online courses or other exams that are FREE could be proxies, providing the proof of English language ability that these universities need.

Different universities have totally different processes

Each university has its own programme info and process, so you have to check out each one and see its requirements. Some don’t have good info online.

Here’s a GREAT CHART you need to download about specifically US universities. (Click that link!) And here below are links to more info of most of the others: 

  • ASU has a clear and probably least cumbersome process. Competitive students can full out just the MCF application process first, without TOEFL or SATs.
  • For Duke and UC Berkeley and Michigan State and Cape Town and Pretoria and McGill (app fee waived) you have to apply and be admitted to their universities first before you can apply for the scholarship.
  • MSU (Michigan State University) has programmes for undergraduate and graduate with detailed info online.
  • Stanford doesn’t seem to have much info online.
  • Wellesley waives its application fee, too. It takes three female students per year through a clear application process. but you do have to be admitted to the university first, before you can apply for the scholarship. Their website has a nice profile of current scholars.
  • For Toronto, you need to be a graduating high school student. It seems like you apply for both together, or just apply to university, not specifically to this MCF scholarship.
  • Ashesi and Earth each have a general page but nothing specific about applying to MCF, so I have no idea how to do so.
  • At Makerere applications are due in May. Also, it’s administered by the Gender Mainstreaming department? But only the application form itself lsits the requirements, and one section is for verification from “local council 1 officials from the district of residence”. I’m not sure if that means they favour Ugandan students.
  • Kwame Nkrumah seems focused mostly on Ghanaians, apps due in April.
  • For AUB you already have to be living in Lebanon.

How to prove you know English well

Each school requires some exam to prove you have a good command of the English language. Here are requirements specifically from ASU.

For ASU, applicants from Kenya must provide evidence of English language proficiency, which may be fulfilled by meeting one of the following:

  • Minimum score of 500 (paper-based), 173 (computer-based), or 61 (internet-based) on the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL).
  • Minimum overall band of 6.0 with no band below 5.5 on the International English Language Testing System (IELTS).
  • Minimum Pearson Test of English (PTE) of 53.

Note: Some ASU colleges/schools have higher English proficiency requirements. For example, The ASU Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering require a higher TOEFL score of 550 (paper-based), 213 (computer-based) or 79 (internet-based) as well as an IELTS score of 6.5. And, the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism requires a higher TOEFL score of 600 (paper-based) or 100 (internet-based), an IELTS score of 7.0 and a PTE score of 73.

Again, that is all specifically for ASU. It’s just one example.


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