7 Secrets to Winning Scholarships to Study Abroad

The lack of money doesn’t have stand between you and studying abroad. Hundreds of scholarships are available that can cover the cost of your program, and then some. Unfortunately, many students don’t apply for scholarships because they feel that their chance of winning a scholarship is as likely as winning the lottery. However, composing a winning scholarship application doesn’t have to be difficult. Having been on both sides of the scholarship process, once as a scholarship recipient and then as a scholarship application reviewer, I have learned several simple yet effective "secrets" that can improve your chances of winning scholarships to study abroad!

Secret 1: Apply for Scholarships

This might seem obvious, but you would be surprised how many students don’t apply for scholarships. Often, students who fail to apply for a scholarship convince themselves that doing so is a waste of time because they won’t win. Unfortunately, too many students take this point of view and fail to apply for scholarships leaving only a brave few with the increased probability of winning.

Secret 2: Increase your Odds

Apply for as many scholarships as possible. The more scholarships you apply for, the better chance you have of receiving an award. This point might seem obvious too, but most students only apply for 1-3 scholarships believing that number is enough to cover the cost of their study abroad program. This approach is a major mistake. Very few individual scholarships can pay for your entire study abroad program. To increase your odds of winning several scholarships, you will need to apply for at least 10-20 scholarships. Give yourself 4-6 months of preparation time to ensure the process is not overwhelming.

Secret 3: Stand Out! Write Towards your Diversity

We all have something about us that makes us unique and different from others. Whatever makes you unique, use it to craft a captivating application that gets the scholarship reviewers attention. There is no limit to what experiences you can use to demonstrate your diversity or uniqueness. If you have certain unique experiences from being an ethnic minority student or if you are the first person in your family who will go abroad, use these aspects of your background to enhance your application. By incorporating these experiences into your application, you will gain an advantage over other applicants who fail to act similarly, because scholarship programs are always looking to diversify their pool of scholarship recipients.

Secret 4: Choose Non-Traditional Locations and Critical Languages

Another way to increase your odds of receiving a scholarship is by applying to study in non-traditional locations or critical languages. Many scholarship programs want to provide scholarships to applicants going to diverse locations. The more uncommon the destination, the better your chances for receiving certain scholarships, like the Gilman Scholarship. For example, if you are applying for a scholarship to study in London and a hundred other students hand in quality applications to study in London, your chances of winning the scholarship is 1:100. However, if you are planning to study in Vietnam and only five other applicants hand in applications to study in Vietnam, you have a higher probability of winning.

This principle also applies for scholarships for language study. The more critical the language (by “critical” I mean languages that are in high demand, but which few people study), the more competitive the applicant. In some cases, like the Boren Scholarship, studying a critical language is a scholarship requirement.

If the language you want to study is not a critical language, you can still increase your odds by choosing a non-traditional location to study that language. Instead of studying French in France, choosing another Francophone country in which to study would make you more competitive. The same goes for Spanish. Instead of choosing to study Spanish in Spain, focusing on Latin America would also increase your odds.

Secret 5: Demonstrate Personal Value

Although you may freely apply for scholarships, most scholarships come with strings attached. In most cases, your responsibilities may be as simple as sharing your study abroad experience with other students. In other cases, the requirements can be more intense, such as having to agree to serve with the civil service after completing your degree. With these considerations in mind, research the organization providing the scholarship and frame your application in a way that demonstrates your value and how you will contribute to their goals. Visiting the organization’s website and reading their “about” and “mission statement” sections is a good place to start. Use their information to craft your essays, resumes, curriculum vitae, and any other applicable documents.

Secret 6: Be Creative

Creativity can help you win scholarships. By being creative, you demonstrate that you are willing to go far and beyond most other scholarship applicants. This dedication impresses scholarship reviewers who spend hours reading through hundreds of uninteresting applications. Let your application be the one that makes them wake up and pay attention.

Being creative can take many forms. If the scholarship requires a video essay, make a video that engages the reviewer. The last thing you would want to do is open your laptop and press record on your webcam. Put some effort into it. Pay attention to your lighting, and add quality audio and background music. If the application requires a written essay or personal statement, make it as engaging as possible. Produce a creative narrative that not only answers the essay question, but creates images in the reviewers mind. Consider using metaphors or even poetry or foreign quotes written in the language or country of interest. Having your essay stating with a quote in Chinese followed by an explanation that ties into the theme of your essay can work wonders!

Secret 7: Follow the Rules

The biggest mistake many students make when applying for a scholarship is the failure to follow the rules. Do you really want to disqualify yourself after putting in all the time and effort to create a winning application? During nearly every scholarship season, some students disqualify themselves from the competition simply by not following the rules. To guarantee you will not be one of these ill-fated students, write down the requirements for the scholarship on a checklist. Check off each requirement as you go through the process of completing the application.

By paying attention to these rules, you will increase our odds of receiving a scholarship.