Study abroad scholarships are the thing everyone wants, but don’t know how to get. They’re elusive, vague, and competitive. While every scholarship will be looking for something a little different, there are a few general tips for all study abroad scholarships:
- Start planning NOW. Today. I applied for my first study abroad scholarship two months into college, which landed me the Critical Language Scholarship (valued at over $10,000) to study in Indonesia the following summer. I also applied to my first scholarship to fund my China trip four months into college and a full year BEFORE I actually left. Some scholarships (such as the Fund for Education Abroad with awards up to $10,000) require you to apply a full academic year before you depart. Others, such as the Gilman Scholarship, don’t have applications until much later, but have strict requirements that you’ll want to make sure you’re taking into account.
- Pick a weird place. Over 30% of U.S. students studying abroad go to the UK, Spain, and Italy. Sorry, but getting someone to pay for you to hang out in Barcelona or Rome is going to be hard. Instead, try going somewhere random, like Argentina or Vietnam. This will make your scholarship applications stand out.
- Learn a language. Many big-ticket scholarships (such as Boren or Critical Language) are specifically targeted for students studying a critical-need language.
- Connect it to your career goals. How will spending a semester in Chiang Mai, Thailand help you achieve your ultimate career objectives? What will you learn abroad that you can’t learn in the States? Think of a CLEAR plan and sell yourself in your essays.
- Bring out your unique qualities. Several scholarships (such as the Fund for Education Abroad and Foundation for Global Scholars) are targeted for underrepresented students in study abroad. If you identify as male, attend community college, or are a STEM major, you count. Bring these qualities out in your application essays, and explain why YOU will help represent the diversity of the U.S. abroad.
- Give back. Many scholarships ask you how you’ll give back to your community abroad and at home. Start thinking of clear, simple ways you can make a difference. While I was in China, I volunteered teaching English in elderly centers. Once I came back to the States, I gave info sessions about study abroad scholarships to STEM students.
- Have someone read your essays. If your school has a scholarship office or writing center, go there MULTIPLE TIMES. Plan on going through at least 5-6 solid essay drafts. Before you send it in, ask your roommate to look it over or give it to your professor for a second (or third) opinion.
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