All students have their reasons for studying abroad— learning a language, volunteering for a humanitarian organization, or interning with a global company. All need money to fund their adventures. In conjunction with SpareFoot’s Spare Funds Scholarship announcement, I’m here to offer some useful advice about the scholarship process for any and all college kids going abroad. I should know, because I’m doing it myself now in preparation for my own study abroad adventure in Costa Rica this summer.
The guiding principle in applying for scholarships can be summed up with the old adage, “You can’t win if you don’t play.” If you’re worried about your credentials, the time commitment (won’t be a problem if you follow our tips!), or you just hate writing essays, remember this: You won’t have a chance at any scholarships unless you apply. There are some wacky scholarships out there if you look hard enough. Be persistent, and cast a wide net.
First things first
Instead of hurling yourself into the application process, it’s best to have a plan. Talk to your study abroad advisor and the program coordinator for your trip about potential expenses. Many programs will be able to tell you what a student generally spends over the course of the study abroad session. Next, come up with a budget for your abroad experience including tuition, books, travel costs, personal expenses, housing, food, medical and anything else you might need to account for. Compare your budget with your current loans and available funds to determine how much help you’ll actually need.
Before you do anything related to scholarships, apply for a FAFSA— that’s federal financial aid. While you’re under no obligation to accept federal loans, the demographic and financial information you provide will help narrow down the scholarship search. Plus, it’s a prerequisite for many scholarship opportunities.
Cast a wide net
As we mentioned, there are a ton of scholarships out there, all with different requirements and benefits. While many are merit- or need-based, some are completely non-academic, like Spare Funds. Your study abroad advisor can point you to your university’s scholarship resources, and you can check out websites like StudyAbroad.com and Scholarships.com for a variety of non-university-affiliated opportunities. Ask anyone with a job if their employer offers any scholarships. The more you look, the more outlandish scholarships you’ll find; the Excellence in Predicting the Future award, for instance, is exactly what it sounds like, and it’s awarded every two months!
Juggling a bunch of scholarship apps can get messy, so it’s a good idea to stay organized. Make an Excel spreadsheet listing each scholarship and their requirements, deadline and award amounts. Arrange them by priority or your level of completion, whatever method makes the process easiest for you. If letters of recommendation are required, keep track of the people you need to ask to ensure you’re getting the right letter for each opportunity.
The scholarship essay
Scholarship apps come with diverse criteria, but one of the most common components is the essay. While topics vary, a majority boil down to, “Who are you, and why do you want/need/deserve our scholarship?” Keeping this question in mind gives you a great starting point for whatever essay you might be writing.
Talking about yourself can be difficult if you don’t carry a natural braggadocio, but often times it’s a matter of perspective. Ask your parents, friends, teachers, and whoever knows you well enough to speak to your strengths (grandparents are a great resource for this as well; odds are, they’ve had plenty of practice talking you up!), and start making a list. This will both build your confidence and give you some material to go on.
Next, find out as much as you can about the organization offering the scholarship. Get an idea of the priorities and personality behind the organization, and use this information to guide your essay. A humanitarian group would love to hear about the bonds you formed during a volunteer experience, but a commercial business will want to know more about your work ethic and lessons in leadership you might have gained from volunteering.
Waiting is the hardest part
Tom Petty was dead-on with that annoying song of his. Waiting to hear back from the various scholarship organizations is torture, and you just can’t expect to hear back from them immediately. Everyone must have an opportunity to apply before the deadline, which means the jury is out until that date.
In the mean time, rent a storage unit to stash your stuff in while you’re off globe trotting. Then get outside, do something fun, and enjoy not writing a bunch of essays and spending a ton on postage. Forget about it for now, and eventually you’ll get a fun surprise in the mail: Your acceptance letter!