How to Apply for Study Abroad Scholarships Without Wasting Your Time 

by Danielle DeSimone

Don’t let study abroad costs get you down. A common misconception about study abroad is that it is unaffordable, but guess what? There are literally thousands of study abroad scholarships and grants out there, just waiting for you to apply for them! And who doesn’t love free money? We get all those heart-eye-emoji vibes just thinking about it.

You might have to make some sacrifices in the months leading up to your summer/semester/year abroad (say no to splurging on dessert and cut down on on that post-Christmas-sales shopping), but being smart with your money before studying abroad is just one stepping stone on the way to bigger and better adventures. And with financial aid, you’ll be able to finally achieve your goal of studying abroad, just as long as you’re willing to put in the work of applying!

Students researching on a tablet

Here are 10 sure-fire tips to score the best study abroad scholarships (but don’t think that means they’re easy study abroad scholarships!).

1. Ask for Help

First and foremost, don’t be afraid to reach out to the people around you for help. Contact your university’s study abroad office, your professors, the financial aid office, and your academic advisors to ask them about scholarships or grants that they may know of. 

If possible, go in-person to these offices to ask for advice, rather than just emailing or calling. Not only will this make it easier for your professors or study abroad office to help you, but they’ll be impressed with your clear determination and initiative in arriving to discuss financial aid in person. The hardest part of getting study abroad scholarships is simply finding them, so be sure to ask the professionals if they know of any!

2. Research, Research, Research

It cannot be said enough: do your research! The more scholarships you can apply for, the more financial aid you will get. You can start by exploring GoAbroad’s Scholarships Directory! There are also a number of other resources such as NAFSA that compile lists of scholarships for study abroad students, but this list is not exhaustive and there are many different types of scholarships that you should also explore, including: 

  • Location-Specific Scholarships/Grants: These scholarships or grants are created to encourage students to study in specific countries, or even certain cities, such as scholarships specifically for students looking to study in Japan. You might find these scholarships provided by your university, by the government of the country you plan to study in, or even by the government of your home country, which hopes to foster international relations through the exchange of study abroad students. 
  • Program-Specific Scholarships/Grants: These scholarships or grants are often offered to students who decide to study abroad through a particular program. This could be the independent study abroad provider or through a particular program crafted by your university, and only students who plan to study through that program qualify to apply. 
  • Subject-Specific Scholarships/Grants: Many grants or scholarships are awarded to students who plan to pursue a certain field of study or major while abroad, such as Foreign Language Scholarships. This financial aid can be incredibly specific, zeroing in on not just the subject, but also a certain subject to be studied in a particular country. 
  • University-Provided Scholarships/Grants: Many universities provide scholarships or grants on a merit-basis to be generally applied to any students looking to study abroad. However, don’t just research financial aid provided by your home university! Study abroad grants for undergraduates can be available from different institutions depending on your affiliations. Also, look at the university you will be studying at while abroad; many higher education institutions throughout the world provide scholarships for international students to encourage a more diverse student body to attend their university.
  • Organization-Provided Scholarships/Grants: Be sure to do thorough research of nonprofit, chapter, or heritage organizations that may provide scholarships or grants to deserving students who match their criteria. Prime examples include scholarships for LGBT students or students of Italian or Hispanic descent. The possibilities are endless!
  • Government-Funded Scholarships/Grants: Aside from assuring that your FAFSA financial aid will carry over for your study abroad semester, there are a number of government-funded grants or scholarships that encourage students to study or do work abroad. Good examples of this include the Fulbright Program, or Chevening Scholarships and Fellowships, which are funded by the UK government specifically for international student leaders looking to study in the UK.

Is your head spinning? Get started with these 45 Scholarships for Study Abroad Around the World. 

A woman on her laptop

3. Contact the Scholarship/Grant Funder Directly

The best way to know all the nitty-gritty details of the scholarships you will be applying for, as well as up-to-date application requirements, is to contact the funder directly. Not only will this ensure that you have all the correct information, you will also be showing the scholarship or grant funder/provider that you are not afraid to take the initiative and actively pursue the scholarship you are applying for.

Get. On. Their. Radar! 

4. Tweak Your Resume

Once you’ve compiled your list of scholarships that you plan on applying for, you now have to work on actually being awarded the scholarships. A huge part of this is your resume! Be sure to highlight any international experience you’ve had, update all of your recent campus activities and try not to go over one page. Writing concisely is important.

Cover letters go hand-in-hand with resumes, and are sometimes a crucial part of an application, as they can be your one chance to make an argument for why you deserve to be awarded a scholarship. However, you can’t just send in a generic cover letter about wonderful of a student you are. Focus on how you plan to translate your lessons from abroad into your life on campus and at home.

If you are applying for a scholarship provided by a university abroad, be sure to research how that country typically organizes their resumes or cover letters and, if you’re confident enough in your language skills, you could try writing them in the language of the country you will be studying in!

5. Check Your References

No, we don’t mean your bibliography. Most scholarship applications require personal references; that is, someone you’ve worked with either in a professional or academic setting. For most students, this means reaching out to professors and asking for their assistance. When asking a professor to be a reference, or to write you a recommendation letter, always ask them far in advance so that they may prepare.

It is also important to choose professors or employers who you have interacted with, so that they know you well enough to recommend you. In other words, don’t ask your Spanish 101 professor who you took a class with two years ago to write your recommendation letter (unless your relationship with him/her is sólido). 

Reach out to authority figures who you know not only would be happy to recommend you for a scholarship, but are also pertinent to the scholarship itself. For example, if you are applying for a leadership scholarship abroad, reach out to the academic advisor of the campus club you are a part of. If you are applying to an international relations scholarship, reach out to your political science professor. However, regardless of who you reach out to, always be respectful and realize that you are asking them to take time out of their busy schedules to help you (and a follow-up, written thank you note never hurts either).

6. Make Your Calendar

If you are applying for a number of different scholarships or grants, as well as applying for the study abroad program itself, it can be difficult to keep track of all the different deadlines and application requirements. This may seem obvious, but make a calendar specific to your study abroad applications, with each deadline clearly marked. Staying organized is crucial when applying to more than one scholarship (or even just one!). 

7. Apply, Apply Apply!

It may seem tiring, but apply for study abroad scholarships as quickly and thoroughly you can. This requires a lot of time and patience – especially when applying for scholarships of smaller amounts – but every little bit counts. It’ll all add up and ultimately will allow you to have a much more affordable and less stressful summer, semester, or year abroad!

Also, be sure to customize your applications whenever possible, and avoid the temptation to simply copy and paste from one application to another. Scholarship providers know when you’ve done your research on the values of their foundation or the focus of a specific scholarship. Customizing each application will give you a much better chance of being awarded that scholarship! 

8. Take Your Time & Take it Seriously

It can be easy to feel the need to rush through applications, especially if you are applying to a number of them. However, you should treat study abroad applications just as seriously as the applications you completed to be accepted into your university. Read and follow the directions, and leave yourself enough time to complete all of your applications without feeling like you’re under a heavy-hammer deadline. You’ll turn out better-quality work if you do not feel rushed, and better-quality work means a better chance for more financial aid!

Students in a calssroom

9. Have the Grades

This may seem rudimentary, but in order to get the scholarship, you often have to have good grades. Not all scholarships or grants require stellar grades or grade point averages, but many of them do. This is simply because the providers want to know that the student receiving their scholarship is serious about their study abroad experience. It’s important to put in the work and get good grades before your time abroad to show scholarship providers that you plan to take your study abroad experience seriously as not just a chance to travel, but also an opportunity to expand your academic horizons.

10. The Proof is in the Passion

Most, if not all, study abroad scholarship applications require a personal essay. You might start having vivid flashbacks to your university application essays and the stress they caused, but never fear! In these applications, it’s your chance to shine. Be sure to let your passion for study abroad and the country you’ll be studying in to come through in your application essay. 

Scholarship funders and providers want to know that their money is being used for a good purpose, and that the student who is applying for them appreciates the opportunity they are being given. So don’t be afraid to express yourself; tell your story and explain why you deserve the scholarship that will allow you to study abroad. 

At the end of the day, the most important thing to remember is to put in the time and effort when applying to study abroad scholarships, just as much as you would for any other academic scholarship, and you are sure to see the results. Even if you do not receive as many scholarships for your study abroad experience as you would have hoped, there are other options to fund your time abroad with crowdfunding websites such as FundMyTravel or even by finding tutoring and babysitting jobs while you are abroad (an excellent way to immerse yourself in the culture you are studying in!). 

Staying organized, working hard, and following these tips will lead you to scoring a study abroad scholarship, and will ultimately lead you to achieving your goal of studying abroad.

Try not to get bogged down in all the money matters and forget the real reason for all the work: the incredibly life-changing experience of throwing yourself into another world beyond your comfort zone, and all the adventures that come with it.