How to Study Abroad for Free: A Comprehensive Guide to Applying for Scholarships
Studying abroad is an invaluable experience, and one that you will never forget, but it can also be quite expensive. Fortunately, there are many programs and opportunities out there to help fund your trip abroad; all you have to do is apply! The following guide will walk you through everything from choosing your destination to finalizing your scholarship offer and packing your bags; get ready to start saving money!
What do I study?
Study Abroad is a perfect way to increase your knowledge, network and even improve your language skills. The cost of studying abroad varies greatly depending on what type of program you choose, how long you are looking at spending abroad and where in the world you want to study. Because of these variables, it is difficult (if not impossible) to calculate exactly how much an overseas study experience will cost without actually knowing what you’re looking for. But don’t be discouraged!
Where do I study?
When you’re applying for scholarships, it helps to have a concrete idea of where you want to study. This might be an obvious choice, like Paris or Rome, but it could also be somewhere completely different and exciting. Once you know where you want to go, start researching universities in that area! The scholarships application process can be more competitive in certain locations than others—for example, international studies majors who want to study abroad are likely competing with many other students who want their own free ticket overseas.
Who can I apply to?
The first thing you’ll need to do when applying for scholarships is research programs that fit your area of study. Consider both your short-term goals as well as long-term career path. If you want experience abroad but don’t know where you’d like to work after college, look into European or Asian exchange programs that focus on a particular academic discipline, such as engineering or public health. These programs are often full-ride scholarships and may be easier to get accepted into than similar American programs.
Is there an application fee?
Many scholarships and grants don’t charge an application fee, but a few do. If you need to pay a fee to apply, it will be listed in scholarship or grant details. If there is an application fee listed, you can avoid paying by applying early (some scholarships are first-come, first-served) or submitting an alternate form of application that doesn’t require payment—like an essay.
How do I apply?
Make a list of scholarships that might be relevant to you, but don’t apply for them just yet. Instead, identify your top 3-5 programs and/or awards that are well worth your time—for instance, if you want to study abroad in China, look into winning a Gates Scholarship—and then find out how much money each one can give you. The harder it is to win these scholarships, the more impressive it will be when you do. If you’re not able to get any external funding—for example, if tuition isn’t fully covered or not at all covered by a scholarship—then consider saving up some money before applying.
Do I need a cover letter?
Yes. Yes, you do. Remember, your cover letter needs to capture an employer’s attention, while also showcasing your interest in and knowledge of their company. So it’s best to mention some aspect of a business that stands out (good or bad) and why you’re interested in it; then highlight any skills you have that match what they need at their company. If there’s no specific hiring manager listed on a job posting—or if several people will be reading through resumes—say why you’d want to work for that company overall.
Am I eligible?
If you have a GPA above 3.5, then you are eligible to apply for scholarships. If your GPA is below that mark, it’s possible to boost it if you retake classes and/or get involved in additional activities outside of classwork. Some students choose to take SAT/ACT prep courses over their summer break in order to improve their test scores – but if that’s too pricey, there are other free online resources (such as Khan Academy) that can help with improving test scores.
Is there an essay or personal statement involved?
If you’re applying to a university, there will likely be an essay or personal statement involved. The prompt is usually straightforward: it’s asking you what you’ve done or accomplished (and sometimes why) that makes you a good candidate for that school and its programs. The university wants to get an idea of your personality, too—so make sure your essays are full of real-life examples and stories. Tell them what’s awesome about YOU!
What materials do I need to send with my application package?
Requirements vary by scholarship and can change. However, most require a resume or CV, a cover letter, one-to-two page personal statement, official transcript(s), language certification and two letters of recommendation.
Are interviews required?
Depending on where you’re applying, some scholarships are awarded based solely on a personal statement or essay. Others require that you interview with a selection committee in person. If your scholarship requires an interview, practice with someone who will be critical of your answers and demeanor (your parents aren’t objective enough), so that when it comes time for your big day, you’ll be comfortable and confident in front of all those unfamiliar faces.
When will decisions be made about my application package?
Some programs make decisions on first-come, first-served basis, so you’ll need to find out if your university is awarding scholarships via early decision or rolling admissions. If you’re deciding between multiple study abroad programs, check out the official university websites and look under Scholarship Opportunities or Financial Aid to see what they offer.
When can I expect my scholarship funds, if awarded, and how long will they last?
Make sure to ask about scholarship disbursement policies, including whether funds will be sent on a quarterly or bi-annual basis and whether they are renewable. The length of your stay is an important factor in how much funding you’ll need to support yourself. Some short-term programs last just two weeks; others can last nearly a year. Be prepared for all scenarios!