Whether you’re a Canadian or American student who wants to study abroad or an international student hoping to study in the U.S., the cost of completing an academic program in a foreign country may make you think twice. Fortunately, scholarships can help to cover the costs of tuition, personal expenses, and travel to help international students pay for their education.
As part of our commitment to helping domestic students expand their horizons through studying abroad and international students experience educational opportunities in the U.S., our team here at Remitly has put together this scholarship guide. Read on to learn what types of scholarships may be available and how to find and apply for them.
Can you use U.S. federal financial aid at an international university?
The federal student aid program helps make higher education more affordable for U.S. citizens and eligible noncitizens. The program primarily provides grants you don’t need to repay and loans that you do pay back after graduation.
With funding through federal financial aid, people can attend many schools in the U.S. as domestic students. Many prospective international students don’t know that you can also get federal student aid to study at select institutions abroad.
There are more than 20 international universities where you can use federal financial assistance. American University of the Caribbean in St. Maarten, McGill University in Canada, the Tel Aviv University Sackler School of Medicine in Israel, and the University College Dublin in Ireland are just a few of the schools included on the list.
In most cases, qualified undergraduate students can apply for a financial aid award for up to four years at one of these schools by filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) online.
Types of studying abroad scholarships
Scholarships are financial awards to cover the cost of higher education that you receive from a school, government agency, or nonprofit organization.
While you don’t need to repay scholarship money, you may need to meet specific requirements to continue to receive funding. For example, you may need to attend college full-time, maintain a minimum grade point average (GPA), or participate in a sport or other activity.
Many scholarships are merit scholarships, meaning they are awarded based on academic performance.
Also sometimes called merit aid, these scholarships are usually competitive. Scholarship committees weigh the scholarship applications using a set of criteria that may include things like grade point averages and standardized test scores.
Undergraduate scholarships awarded based on merit may place emphasis on what courses students took while attending secondary school. Evaluations for merit scholarships for graduate students may involve looking at applicants’ areas of interest and what they hope to conduct research on.
Fulbright Scholarships are an example of merit scholarships for American students who want to study abroad. The awards are open to seniors in undergraduate programs, graduate students, and young professionals with strong academic records. You can learn more about this scholarship at the Fulbright program’s official website.
Need-based scholarships examine whether you can afford college on your own and are typically reserved for those with genuine demonstrated financial need.
Before a scholarship committee awards need-based scholarships, they typically review the financial information of international students and their families. As a result, you may need to present documentation like bank statements or income tax returns when you apply for need-based scholarships.
International students may sometimes qualify for institutional aid directly from universities if they excel at certain activities.
For example, athletics scholarships may cover all or part of tuition and fees for students who will participate in college sports, while arts scholarships may be available for students of the visual arts, theater, and music. Graduate students may receive scholarships for conducting research into specific fields as well.
In addition to activity-based university scholarships, many schools offer international scholarships for specific academic programs. These may be fully-funded scholarships that pay for the entire cost of your education or smaller awards that cover some but not all of your expenses.
Check with your school’s financial aid office to determine what activity-based and program-specific scholarships are open to international students.
Some scholarships for international students are for individuals who belong to a particular group. For example, some scholarships are reserved for women students, LGBTQIA+ students, Mexican students who want to study in the U.S., DACA students, or students from specific developing countries.
These scholarship opportunities may be available through nonprofit groups as well as directly through public and private universities. Sometimes, people refer to these types of awards as diversity scholarships because they allow universities to make their student body more diverse.
International students can consider other forms of funding beyond traditional scholarships. Whether or not you receive financial aid from other sources, crowdfunding, fundraising, and work-study could help you raise money to cover college costs. Read our guide to alternatives to federal and private loans for studying abroad for more information.
How to find study abroad scholarships
While plenty of financial resources are available for domestic and international students who want to study in a different country, you’ll likely need to do some research to discover them. Let’s delve into how to find scholarships.
Searching for scholarships online
The Internet has made finding scholarships easier than ever for domestic and international students. The U.S. Department of Labor has a simple-to-use search tool that lets you focus on scholarships for attending school outside the U.S. or international applicants at U.S. colleges and universities.
You can also type keywords into a search engine to find other opportunities. When doing a general search, be as specific as possible with your search query. For example, you could search “scholarships for international women students UNIVERSITY NAME” or “U.S. need-based scholarship international students eligible.”
Talking to your study abroad advisor or financial aid office
The school you currently or plan to attend is an excellent resource for international students applying for scholarships and for American students who need help paying for the costs of studying abroad. Your advisor or the school’s office can also answer questions about what a scholarship covers or what other financial aid may be available to you.
Applying for scholarships through study abroad programs
In some cases, you may be able to apply for a scholarship at the same time or right after you apply to a study abroad program. Such scholarships may be awarded by a third-party organization providing study abroad opportunities, by your school in your home country, or by the foreign university you intend to study at.
Networking and looking for local scholarships
Not all scholarships appear on scholarship databases. Others may be difficult to research because their websites aren’t in your native language.
Networking can be a great way to discover international students’ scholarships that you might miss. Talk to other people that attended an international school for their undergraduate or postgraduate studies, and ask how they paid for their tuition and travel expenses.
Post your academic plans on social media and ask for tips on finding financial resources. You never know— opportunities may present once people know you intend to study abroad.
Applying for studying abroad scholarships
Once you have found several scholarships that you may qualify for, it’s time to apply. Follow these tips to make the best impression.
Tips for writing a strong scholarship essay
Many international students’ scholarships require you to write an essay in the official language of the country where the scholarship program is based. For example, applicants for a Fulbright scholarship must submit a personal statement and a teaching assistant statement.
Stay calm if you don’t have strong writing skills. Doing the following can help you write the strongest scholarship essays possible:
- Begin working well before the deadline so you have enough time to finish
- Search for past submitted essays online to see examples
- Describe your accomplishments but be short and to-the-point
- Explain your financial need in detail
- Demonstrate that you have clear academic goals and go into detail about how the scholarship will help you achieve them
- Break the content into paragraphs and use bullet points and headers for easy reading
- Read your essay out loud to yourself to spot grammatical errors
- Have someone else proofread the essay before you submit it
Gathering letters of recommendation
Most scholarships require letters of recommendation, but guidelines vary. The application may specify that the letter must come from someone familiar with academic history because they taught you or served as an advisor. In other cases, the scholarship committee may want to hear from people who know you personally.
Consider who to ask for letters carefully. The person should know you well enough to speak authentically about your strengths and communicate well.
When asking someone to write a letter for you, provide specific instructions about how to send the letter when finished. Provide them with a stamped addressed envelope or an email address to make things as simple as possible. Be sure to send a thank-you note afterward.
Preparing for scholarship interviews
Some scholarships involve an interview as well as an essay. Do the following to shine during yours:
- Dress professionally just as you would for a job interview
- Research commonly asked scholarship interview questions and have someone question you for practice
- Video your practice sessions so you can evaluate your posture, gestures, and facial expressions
- Practice keeping still while talking so you don’t fidget or appear nervous during your interview
- Prepare one or two questions to ask the interviewer about the program
- Calm your nerves by taking deep breaths before and during your interview
- Feel free to pause and think about answers as needed. It’s OK to say, “That’s a great question…” once or twice to buy yourself some time.
Common mistakes to avoid when applying for studying abroad scholarships
When applying for scholarships, knowing what not to do is as important as understanding what it takes to succeed. Be careful to avoid the following:
Missing scholarship application deadlines
Nearly all scholarships have application deadlines. You need to submit everything by that date to ensure your application is considered.
To turn everything in on time, give yourself deadlines to finish various steps in the application process. For example, you might aim to have the first draft of your essay done in two weeks and a second draft finished a week later.
Not following directions
Each scholarship application has a unique set of directions. Follow them to avoid your application getting tossed aside.
Read the instructions carefully. If something is unclear, email or call the organization or institution awarding the scholarship to get clarification.
Not budgeting scholarship funds effectively
Even if you receive a scholarship for full tuition and room and board, you’ll have living expenses to cover while studying as an international student. Creating a budget ahead of time can help your funds go further.
Sending in a sloppy or incomplete application
Your application is often your first and only chance to make a great impression. Just as you wouldn’t send a resume full of typos, missing critical information, or written on crumpled paper, ensure that your application looks great, is free of errors, and is completely filled out.
Overlooking small scholarships
Applying for a full tuition scholarship is a great idea, but competition for big awards is often high.
All too often, international students studying in the U.S. and American students planning to study abroad skip smaller scholarships and put all their effort into applying for large ones. Unfortunately, this may mean not getting any financial assistance.
A better approach is to apply for a mix of small and large scholarships. The smaller scholarship award programs may have fewer applicants, increasing the chances that your application will stand out. You may receive multiple small scholarships that add to a total similar to a large, highly competitive scholarship.
Although the costs of studying in other countries may seem daunting, there is plenty of financial help available for international students.
Use the tips above for finding scholarships as a starting point for your research, and follow the guidelines to improve your scholarship chances once you discover programs. Start as early as possible to allow yourself enough time to research and apply.
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