Are you someone (or a parent of someone) dreaming of studying abroad? Are you an aspiring adventurer who wants to make the most of their college experience by doing a week, a semester, or even a year abroad (like me!), but are worried about how to pay for it?
Well, I had the same dream. I wanted a life changing experience abroad but without the credit card debt or stress of student loans.
I actually refused it. “There must be a way I can study for free”, I thought. A program, a scholarship, a miracle—something!
So, I started looking for ways to get money to help me study abroad. And guess what?
I found it. $69,122 in scholarships. That helped pay for my college education, actually helping me graduate debt free. And more than $40,000 of that were scholarships I could use for my study abroad!
$41,027.13. That's how much I won in study abroad scholarships (And you can, too. Seriously)
Yep! More than $40,000 USD that led to me studying abroad in Dubai, UAE—one of the most expensive countries in the world—completely free.
In fact, I made money studying abroad.
After my flights, accommodations, textbooks, and tuition were all paid for with the scholarship money I had a bit left over.
In this article I'll tell you exactly how I not only found, but applied and won 5-figures in study abroad funding. I'll also share some valuable secrets with you at the end, so make sure you read all the way.
In this article I'll share my process of finding study abroad scholarships, weighing my probability of winning them, applying to them, and ultimately winning them.
Where to look for study abroad scholarships (that you actually have a chance of winning)
You may see stories of students winning a million dollars in scholarships to attend college, or $250,000 in scholarships for their college tuition. It's possible! (especially if you use this book—I highly recommend it)
But it's not the quite the same for study abroad scholarships. Study abroad is an elective—not usually required for your degree. Or if it is, it's paid as a part of your usual tuition in which case any usual scholarship can be used toward it.
Lesson #1: Not all scholarships can be used as study abroad scholarships. Thorough my story, I'll help you get an idea of which are most likely to be useful for you, and where to focus your energy to get the most money!
Search for study abroad scholarships at your home university.
This is first because this it's easily the most underutilized scholarship resource. Start right under your nose!
The larger your home university the more likely other students have studied abroad before and they have existing resources. The smaller your university, the more specific, niche study abroad scholarships they likely have.
Either way, your uni likely has a department that specializes in studying abroad.
Seek them out. Don't blow them off just because they're likely holed up in a tiny admin office next to your school's library.
They will have the ultimate supply of resources for your specific situation. They'll know which schools abroad are the cheapest, which universities they have an established relationship with, what type of study abroad you can do—direct exchange, alternative program, faculty-led program, etc.
And their department likely has study abroad scholarships itself that they can connect you with!
If you haven't gone to your school's study abroad department yet: put down your laptop, put your Ramen noodles on your side desk, and go right now.
Search for study abroad scholarships at the university abroad.
Search their website
Surprised you there, huh?
Who said you can only apply for scholarships at your home university? You're technically enrolled at both schools, so be sure to check the abroad institution's website as well.
If they have a search bar, search the following terms:
- “scholarships for international students”
- “scholarships for study abroad students”
- “financial aid for international students”
Contact their study abroad office directly
Don't be afraid to contact the international university's study abroad office as well and inquire directly.
Their country and education system may work differently than the U.S.'s (or your home country's). Who knows the financial aid options they have! I won the same scholarship twice from my abroad university in Dubai—keep reading to see which ones.
Find a previous student
The best person to know which study abroad scholarships you could apply for would be someone who studied abroad at that same university! Search online, ask your school, and ask your abroad institution if there is a current or previous student who studied abroad there using scholarships.
You can contact them directly and ask them for a list—they can even recommend you to the ones they applied to but didn't actually win!
Apply, apply, apply. And when you get enough money? Keep applying.
When I was in college I applied to more than 150 scholarships. How many of them did I actually win? Six.
💡 If I were a college student now I would be using Grantable* to store and reuse the many scholarships and applications I filled out. Phew! Would have saved me so much time and energy!
Do I regret the time and effort it took to apply to all of those scholarships I didn't win? Not at all.
Each application was a chance to hone my writing skills, tweak my resume, reconnect with old professors and mentors for letters of recommendation, and find a new perspective in which I could ‘sell myself'. But, if you think money will fall into your bank account and add some zeroes on the end of that $20, I have bad news. Be prepared to put in the immense time and effort to get that moola.
Tips to submitting applications to study abroad scholarships that actually win
‘Pro/con' every scholarship before you apply
Save as much of your time as possible. Try to only apply for the scholarships you have the best chance at winning.
A yourself the following questions about each scholarship before you decide to apply :
- Am I a desirable applicant for this study abroad scholarship?
- Does my major, previous job experience, internships, social connections, etc. make me relevant for this?
- Is the scholarship a substantial amount?
- Is it renewable? If so, for how many semesters?
- How long is the application process, and what does it require (essays, letters of recommendation, previous experience, etc.?
- What level of competition is there—will I be competing against hundreds of other applicants or thousands?
- Is it worth the effort to me?
Don't waste your time applying for a scholarship you have a minimal chance of winning.
If you'll be competing for a scholarship against a million other applicants but this is the perfect scholarship for you, go for it!
If the scholarship isn't that fitting to you, but it's very obscure, and the competition is less stiff, still go for it. The point is, that you need to focus your energy.
Want the fastest way of sorting which scholarshi? Our Application Tool-kit includes a “Should I Apply to This?” Calculator!
We'll walk you step-by-step through the thought process and save you hours and hours of wasted time and headache by giving you a simple: YES or NO on whether you should apply to that scholarship and your chances of winning!
More time back = more applications = more money for you!
Prioritize niche or obscure study abroad scholarships
Why go through the hassle of applying for a scholarship you may not win just because everyone else is applying to it.
When it comes to study abroad scholarships, go the path less traveled.
By looking for very specific, new, or local scholarships, you drastically increase your chances of winning. Usually, these scholarships are for smaller amounts since a smaller pool of people applies to them, but hey, money is money.
Focus on having a great application as a whole.
This may sound like common sense (and it really is), but successfully hitting all the marks of a bomb-a** application may not be as obvious as you think.
Firstly, you should always be selling yourself. Never put anything negative about yourself in an application. If they ask for self-critique, critique, but always spin it so that it's more of a point of improvement that you acknowledge and can fix. This also means playing to your strengths.
I don't know why you would… but if you ever feel like you should downplay your experiences or accomplishments, throw that thought out of the window.
This application is your chance to brag. Include every relevant thing possible, and present it in an interesting and engaging way so that whoever is reading your application says, “Wow! This is such a unique and strong application.” It's very important for your application to stand out from the rest, so don't be afraid to take risks!
In study abroad scholarship applications specifically, universities usually want you to describe the value you hope to find in your experience abroad and why you chose that country.
Be honest and raw in why you want to travel—I wanted to go to Dubai, UAE, because I knew nothing about Islam or the Middle East besides the mess that Western media portrays it as in the media. My school respected my desire to see their country with my own eyes and not judge before I experienced it.
Work on your essay writing skills
However, the pivotal aspect of a successful application is how well-written it is, hands down. (Did you just gulp? 😅)
Writing is not a common pastime and most Americans struggle with it. But the fact is, most scholarships require an essay section where you pretty much have to tell them why you deserve that scholarship over everyone else applying for it.
If your essay is not grammatically correct, spell-checked, and formatted properly, it doesn't matter if you have the best story in the world—you won't have told it well enough for the person reading it to understand. Let alone care.
💡 Basically: it doesn't matter if you have the most poetic, ground-breaking thing in the world to say, you have tell a good story or it's a waste of time.
Always have a friend, parent, or even your university's writing center read over applications before you submit them.
If you've been putting in the hours of work needed for a good application, you've likely missed little grammar mistakes and some other mishaps. It's worth the last few minutes of annoyingly fixing little mistakes to find out you've won that scholarship.
And finally: start as early as you possibly can. But no matter what, start!
Don't be me; staying up all night balancing homework and writing these applications. Harassing professors and old high school teachers for letters of recommendation the week before the submission date, and pulling my hair out when they don't reply within 5 minutes.
Trust me: it's not cute, and it's not fun.
Start your applications well before the deadline. The final week before it's due should just be you casually reviewing and making final tweaks.
Getting a head start on your application will give you the necessary time to make sure that a scholarship is worth the effort of applying for, it will let you make your essay stronger, it will let your professors make their letters of recommendation stronger, and it will give you the confidence you need to win!
The following are the exact study abroad scholarships I won and the story behind how I won them. I hope it can give you a perspective of how much time and effort I put into applying for them and the real secret behind winning them.
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Which study abroad scholarships did I win? The exact list, and how
David L. Boren Language Scholarship
AWARD AMOUNT: $20,000 USD
I found the Boren Language Scholarship quite simply: by Googling “study abroad scholarships VCU”. Exactly that.
I applied right before the deadline. Why do I think I won it? For having exceptional writing skills, a creative perspective, and persistence.
For this scholarship, I had to write two very well-thought-out 800-word essays and get three letters of recommendation all basically convincing them that studying abroad would be very beneficial in my career path.
It was a lot of time and effort put into writing these essays and having a compelling argument why a STEM major like me, who is now a Mathematics major, would benefit by learning a foreign language and living abroad for a year.
Now, this scholarship has one string attached—I have agreed to work for the US government for at least one year in some fashion after I graduate, in exchange for this grant.
The William Jefferson Clinton Scholarship
AWARD AMOUNT: Complimentary tuition and board for one semester ($13,989 USD value)
I found William Jefferson Clinton Scholarship, again, by Googling “study abroad scholarships AUD”. It's a scholarship specific to the American University in Dubai that offers complimentary tuition for one semester. I found it on their website and had to apply completely separately from my application to attend the school and any other scholarships or grants I applied to.
In case it wasn't clear: I applied for another scholarship already after I had just won a huge sum of money with the Boren. You might be wondering, “why?”
But I encourage you instead to ask: why not?
The William Jefferson Clinton Scholarship application process ncluding a health physical by my physician, a $50 application fee, and a 500-word essay of why I have an interest in learning about the Middle East and experiencing life there.
When I received the email saying I had passed to the phone interview stage, I was shocked. And when I found out I had actually won the scholarship, I was flabbergasted!
Virginia Commonwealth University's Deans Scholarship
AWARD AMOUNT: $3,519 x 2 semesters = $7,038 USD
I won the Virginia Commonwealth University Dean Scholarship through my school, VCU. I applied to attend VCU for my bachelor's degree, and was automatically entered into consideration for tuition supplementing scholarships.
(This is a side-lesson for those still in high school—your grades might actually matter. More specifically: how valuable you are perceived to be, matters.)
👑 You do not have to be a certain major, age, or even be a student to win funds to travel and study abroad! Our Packs Light Past Winners Wall proves that!
This scholarship was given to me as an incentive to choose to go to VCU, I believe, for three reasons:
- I had an above-average SAT score. My SAT score was 2010, when the the national SAT score average that year was 1498
- I had an above-average GPA. having a 4.35 GPA thanks to the International Baccalaureate classes I was taking
- I applied as a biomedical engineering major. The BME program at VCU a new and highly-funded degree program still thirsty for new students and willing to bribe us. I ended up changing my major by the time I studied abroad, but I got to keep the scholarship.
The scholarship applied at least $3,250 for each semester of my college career, and it did transfer for my study abroad program! The only stipulation was that I needed to keep my GPA above a 3.30 for each semester to keep it.
The Dean's Scholarship wasn't a huge deciding factor in me choosing to go to VCU—especially when I found out that it transferred for any study abroad program. If you're in high school, consider the university you choose, what scholarships/financial incentives they offer to all students, and how financially friendly they are.
Ready to start your study abroad scholarship search?
I hope my advice has inspired you to pursue some study abroad scholarships. Well, you can start right here! Here are some resources you can check out for an abundance of education abroad scholarships:
These are the best resources for study abroad scholarships that I've found. Click the above links and comb through every single scholarship to see if you fit the bill for any of them.
If you take away anything from all of this: it should be that you may not win all of the scholarships that I won… But you can win!
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Yes. I applied to study abroad scholarships all through out my college career, freshman to senior year. I studied abroad my junior year, too. It's never too late!
No. This article is about my traditional study abroad during college. But I've also studied abroad after graduation too, using paid travel opportunities!