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How to Find and Win Study Abroad Scholarships


Studying abroad is one of the most exciting activities you can do as a college student, especially if you’ve never been abroad before or are trying to learn a foreign language. But like college, study abroad programs can cost a pretty penny, which is why you should definitely apply for study abroad scholarships.

In this guide, we'll go over how much study abroad programs typically cost, what kinds of study abroad scholarships are available and what these scholarships usually cover, how to find study abroad scholarships, and finally how to make your scholarship application stand out.


What Are Study Abroad Programs?

Study abroad programs allow a student, usually a college student, to attend a foreign college or university, typically for a semester, summer, or full school year.

The purpose of study abroad programs is to broaden students’ horizons and expose them to new experiences and challenges by letting them live in a foreign country and adapt to another culture (and possibly another language).

Study abroad students typically earn college credit through the foreign institution they study at, which can then be transferred back to their home institution (exactly how these grades transfer will vary depending on the university).

As an example, in my spring semester as a junior at USC, I participated in a study abroad program with Sophia University in Tokyo, Japan. There, I got to take a full class load, and those grades were later transferred to USC, ultimately appearing on my undergraduate transcript.

Some study abroad programs offer internship and/or volunteer opportunities or require them as part of the program. In addition, some programs might require you to live with a host family, whereas others will simply provide you with a dorm or apartment.

There are many benefits to study abroad programs besides merely exposing you to new cultures.

For one, you can put the experience on your resume, which might give you a leg up in your job applications after you graduate college, especially if you're thinking of working in an international setting or for a more globally minded business.

Studying abroad can also give a big boost to your language skills if you’re in a country whose language you’re trying to learn, particularly if you’re living with a host family that doesn’t speak any English!

Finally, all the experiences and challenges you’ll more than likely face abroad will help you mature and grow as a person. Ideally, you’ll become confident in your everyday abilities and learn to trust and rely on yourself even more than you were able to before you went abroad.


How Much Do Study Abroad Programs Cost?

As we’ve explained, there’s a huge array of study abroad programs out there. And these don’t just vary in length and location but also in cost.

A semester-long study abroad program will normally cost just as much as, if not more than, a semester at your home university.

Why? In addition to paying for study abroad tuition and fees, you’ll generally need to pay for things such as meal plans, housing, airfare, books, field trips, and foreign ATM fees.

The cost of your study abroad program will vary depending primarily on the following factors:

  • Location of the foreign college: Private universities based in well-off countries mean higher tuition and living expenses
  • Length of the program: The longer the program, the higher the cost
  • Whether you get any study abroad scholarships: Such scholarships could be internal (via your home institution) or external (via the US government or other organization)⁠—we'll talk more about them in the next section

Because there are so many types of study abroad programs out there, it's difficult to come up with an average cost of a program. According to, the average cost of a single semester-long study abroad program is around $18,000.

This website also offers an extensive analysis of the average costs of a wide array of study abroad programs around the world.

But the reality is that there’s huge variation in how much you’ll pay to study abroad.

Ultimately, how much you must pay to study abroad will depend on a lot of factors. But one thing is for sure: if you manage to snag a study abroad scholarship, you’ll be able to reduce the amount you have to pay overall—and that's a great feeling!




What Are Study Abroad Scholarships?

Study abroad programs can be pretty expensive⁠—even more expensive than a semester at your home university.

The best way of countering these costs is to apply for (and hopefully win!) some study abroad scholarships. There are study abroad scholarships not just for undergraduates, but also for high school students (usually graduating seniors) and graduate students.

Here are the main categories of study abroad scholarships:

  • Need-based scholarships: These are based purely on financial need. You’ll usually have to provide evidence of how much you have in your savings, how much your family makes, etc.
  • Merit-based scholarships: These scholarships are based on your academic achievements, typically your college transcripts/GPA, letters of recommendation, extracurricular activities, and essay(s).
  • Program/school-specific scholarships: These scholarships are given out by specific study abroad programs or the schools running the programs. The CIEE scholarships and the CEA scholarships are two examples of this scholarship type.
  • Major-specific scholarships: These scholarships are geared toward students studying a certain field, such as art or STEM. One example is the Generation Google Scholarship for those interested in computer science.

As you can see, there’s a big variety of study abroad scholarships. This means that there's also wide variation in what costs scholarships can cover. For example, CEA offers travel vouchers for offsetting the costs of travel to and from your study abroad destination.

Most study abroad scholarships will give you a specific amount of money⁠—often ranging from hundreds to thousands of dollars⁠—that can be applied to things such as tuition and fees, housing or homestays, meal plans, travel, books and other school supplies, etc.

Other scholarships might specify how and where you can use the award.

In terms of eligibility, whether you qualify for a study abroad scholarship will, once again, depend on the scholarship you apply for and its eligibility requirements.

Generally speaking, for most merit-based study abroad scholarships, you'll need to have the following to be competitive:
  • A high GPA⁠—often a minimum 2.5-3.0 GPA is required, though some scholarships, such as those given out by CEA, require upwards of a 3.7!
  • An impressive resume/CV, ideally with relevant work, leadership, or volunteer experience
  • Strong letters of recommendation
  • A compelling and well-written essay




How to Find Study Abroad Scholarships: 4-Step Guide

You know what kinds of study abroad scholarships exist, but how do you actually find ones you can apply for? In this section, we give you a step-by-step guide to help you track down the best study abroad scholarships for you.


Step 1: Apply for FAFSA

First things first, every year before the new college academic year starts, you should apply for FAFSA, or the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. With FAFSA, you can become eligible for government-funded loans or grants, which you can usually apply toward tuition and fees⁠, including those of your study abroad program.

FAFSA can also tell you whether you're eligible for a work-study job, which lets you earn some extra cash at your home university before you go abroad.


Step 2: See If Your Study Abroad Program Offers Scholarships

Once you’ve decided which study abroad program you want to participate in, start doing research to see whether that program or the organization that runs it offers any study abroad scholarships to students.

Some popular organizations you’ll likely see running study abroad programs are the following:

For example, say you’re a current student at the University of Pittsburgh who's thinking of studying in Paris for a semester. This study abroad program in Paris is run by CIEE, so you should go directly to the CIEE website to see what study abroad scholarships they offer.


Step 3: Check Your School’s Funding Resources

Most universities have a wealth of resources and links you can use to help you find study abroad scholarships and summer study abroad scholarships.

I first advise getting on your home university’s official website and going to the study abroad programs pages. You should be able to find a section somewhere about funding for study abroad programs. For example, on the University of Michigan study abroad page, there are links for "U-M Funding" and "External Funding Sources."

You can also check your university’s general funding page to see whether there are any regular scholarships you might be able to apply toward study abroad.

Note that I recommend seeing whether you’re eligible for internal (university-based) scholarships before you start looking for external study abroad scholarships (see Step 4 for tips on doing this).

If you can’t find any scholarships on your school’s official website, make an appointment to see your study abroad advisor. They should be able to tell you what scholarships you're eligible for and which scholarships can be applied to which programs, countries/languages, and majors.

Your advisor might also have some suggestions for external funding resources you can use if funding isn’t available through the school or the program you want to do.


Step 4: Search for Study Abroad Scholarships Online

If you haven’t secured any funding through your home university or study abroad program, then it’s time to start looking outward at external study abroad scholarships.

The best way to find these, besides asking your school and study abroad advisor, is to search for them yourself online. Tons of study abroad scholarships and summer study abroad scholarships are available to high school, college, and graduate students.

You can use the following resources to browse study abroad scholarships and summer study abroad scholarships you might be eligible for:

  • Abroad101: One of the most detailed study abroad scholarships lists that organizes scholarships by program/organization
  • Go Overseas: An annually updated list of the most popular study abroad scholarships
  • Diversity Abroad: An extensive list of study abroad scholarships that mainly target first-generation, minority, and low-income students
  • A list of study abroad scholarships with updated information on eligibility, costs, deadlines, etc.

Note that when looking for scholarships, don’t feel the need to limit your searches to study abroad scholarships specificallyin actuality, many regular scholarships for college or graduate-level education can be applied toward study abroad programs, too.

As for regular scholarships that aren’t necessarily specific to study abroad (but might be able to be applied toward a study abroad program), here are some of the best search engines you can use:

For more tips on how to find scholarships for college, check out our comprehensive guide.




6 Tips for a Great Study Abroad Scholarship Application

So far we've looked at how to find study abroad scholarships, but how can you ensure that you’re giving yourself your best shot at winning one? Below, we go over six crucial tips to keep in mind as you apply for study abroad scholarships and summer study abroad scholarships.


#1: Maintain a High GPA

One of the most important parts of your study abroad scholarship application will be your GPA (typically your undergraduate GPA, assuming you’re applying as a college student).

The majority of merit-based study abroad scholarships require a minimum 2.5 GPA⁠—possibly a minimum 3.0but your GPA should be a lot higher than this minimum if you really wish to stand apart from other applicants. A 3.5+ GPA will be your best bet, though the higher, the better!

More importantly, be sure that your major GPA (if you've already declared a major) is pretty high⁠—ideally, 3.7+. This tip is crucial if you're applying for study abroad scholarships that are for students interested in particular majors or fields of study.

If your GPA isn’t super high but meets the minimum requirement, don’t feel discouraged. You can always make up for a lower GPA by strengthening other parts of your scholarship application.


#2: Write a Persuasive, Interesting Essay

Most merit-based study abroad scholarships require an essay or statement (possibly more than one) about your achievements, your goals, and your reasons for wanting to study abroad.

If you’re applying to a need-based scholarship, you might also have to submit an essay explaining your financial situation and how you plan to use the scholarship money to reach your goals.

The required essay length will vary depending on the scholarship, but you’ll usually have to write around one to two double-spaced pages.

Here’s an example of a basic study abroad scholarship essay prompt (this one's for the CIEE study abroad scholarships):

In 300 words or less, explain to us how your CIEE program will impact your college experience and/or future career plans.

Other study abroad scholarship essay prompts might be more specific than this, especially if the scholarship is aimed at students who belong to a particular group or who are in a specific major.

One example of this is the current essay prompt for the API diversity scholarship:

Students are sometimes concerned about how they will be perceived in their host country and for some, it’s a matter of how their race, sexual orientation, age, ethnicity, religion, gender, etc. will impact their experience.

Describe an encounter that demonstrates the importance of diversity to you and what significance it has for your study abroad experience in your respective host country. (2 pages maximum)

These are just some of the forms your study abroad scholarship essay prompt might take. Make sure to read the directions for your scholarships closely.

In addition, keep in mind the following essential tips as you write your scholarship essay:

  • Take your time: Don’t rush the essay-writing process, as the essay is often one of the most important parts of the scholarship application. Carve out plenty of time for brainstorming ideas, writing, and editing.
  • Be authentic: Write in a way that's true to your voice and who you are. Use anecdotes and be honest about why you want to study abroad and how this scholarship will help you achieve your goals.
  • Be specific: Don’t just say you want this scholarship so you can study abroad and enjoy a different culture. Clearly explain why you want to go to this country, how the program will help you in your academic or professional goals, and what makes you the best candidate. Concrete examples and anecdotes are your friends!
  • Edit your essay and have others help: Writing a scholarship essay and then immediately turning it in will likely doom you to rejection. Make sure you spend at least a few days editing and proofreading your essay, and have someone else, such as a parent or teacher, look it over, too.


body_red_pencilEditing your scholarship essay means getting out your trusty red pen—or, er, pencil.


#3: Get Glowing Letters of Recommendation

Some study abroad scholarships require you to submit one or more letters of recommendation, so you’ll need to make sure that your letters are top-quality and present you as a strong candidate for the scholarship.

In general, you'll want to ask a professor (or a teacher, if you're in high school) for a letter of recommendation. But which professors should you ask?

Here are the ideal types of professors to consider approaching about writing you a letter (note that you'll have an even stronger letter if a professor fits more than one of these criteria):

  • A professor who knows you well and can speak to your specific strengths and goals
  • A professor whose class(es) you've excelled in (even better if these classes are in your major!)
  • A professor whom you’ve worked with outside of class on research or an extended project
  • Your thesis or dissertation advisor (if you’re a grad student)

Although we have a separate guide on how to ask a teacher for a letter of recommendation, here’s a recap of some of the most important tips to keep in mind:

  • Give your professor a lot of time to write it—at minimum a month, but six weeks or longer is ideal.
  • Ask in-person⁠. Scheduling a face-to-face meeting to talk about the letter of recommendation will make you appear more mature, confident, and prepared. It also gives you time to discuss the nitty-gritty of the scholarship.
  • Give your professor lots of information⁠. Writing a letter of recommendation is no easy feat, so be sure to provide your writer with info about the scholarship, the program, the deadlines, and yourself (e.g., your resume/CV, unofficial transcripts, essay draft, etc.).
  • Check in often via email. Once your professor has agreed to write you a recommendation letter, make an effort to keep in touch and check in every so often on their progress on your letter. It’s also a smart idea to send a polite reminder for the letter submission deadline as it draws nearer.


#4: Find Ways to Showcase Your Talents and Skills

Many study abroad scholarships require you to submit a resume/CV⁠—ideally one that illustrates your strengths, accomplishments, and talents.

You’re in charge of what goes on your resume, so think about the most impressive items you could put on yours (that are also relevant to the study abroad scholarships you’re applying for).

For example, if you’re an engineering major applying for an engineering scholarship, you should highlight specific engineering- or STEM-related extracurriculars, accomplishments, and skills you have, such as participation in your school’s engineering club or an award you received at a math competition.

Here are some ideas for what you could put on your resume:

  • Volunteer experience
  • Internship/work/research experience
  • School clubs you’re in
  • Awards/honors/scholarships you’ve won
  • Organizations you’re an active member of
  • Languages you know or are learning
  • Other relevant proficiencies/skills

For specific examples of accomplishments you could put on your resume, check out our list of 70+ academic honors examples.

I also recommend looking at our sample resumes and CVs and our free resume and CV templates. Even though these articles are mainly for those applying to graduate school and not study abroad scholarships, most of the tips and examples in them should still apply to you!


#5: Take Your Time

One of the most important tips to remember as you work on your applications for study abroad scholarships is to not rush them.

These applications can take a long time to complete, especially if you need to write more than one essay, so give yourself plenty of time to brainstorm, gather all the materials you'll need, and check your application before you submit it.

It’s best to give yourself at least a few months to work on applications and a minimum of six weeks (since you’ll most likely need to get a letter of recommendation).

If you’re applying for multiple study abroad scholarships, you'll definitely want to keep track of all your scholarship deadlines. Put on your calendar or in your planner every upcoming scholarship deadline along with the name of the scholarship so you don’t miss any crucial dates or accidentally confuse two different scholarship deadlines for each other.




#6: Ask Someone to Look Over Your Application

Our last tip is to get someone you trust, such as a parent, a friend, or a professor, to look over your study abroad scholarship applications before you submit them. This tip is especially important if you have an essay component because having someone else read it will ensure it has no obvious errors or inaccuracies.

Make sure the person who is checking your application knows exactly what kinds of materials were required for it, such as whether it needed official transcripts or an essay of a particular length.

Once you get the green light from the person, look over your study abroad scholarship app one last time, referring to the application instructions as needed, before you submit it.


Recap: How to Get Study Abroad Scholarships

Studying abroad can be an amazing experience for college students, and one that I myself highly recommend doing.

But as we know, study abroad programs can be pretty costly, especially if you don’t have any scholarships to help you out. This is why it’s vital that you apply for as many study abroad scholarships as possible.

Many kinds of study abroad scholarships are available, from those based purely on financial need to those that target students in specific minority groups or specific majors.

For most merit-based study abroad scholarships, you’ll need to have the following to be a strong candidate:

  • A high GPA (3.5+ is ideal)
  • A well-written essay
  • Strong letters of recommendation
  • An impressive resume/CV
Here are the four steps you should take to find (summer) study abroad scholarships for you:
  • Step 1: Apply for FAFSA
  • Step 2: See if your study abroad program offers any scholarships
  • Step 3: Check your school’s funding resources
  • Step 4: Search for study abroad scholarships online
Finally, let's review our six top tips for submitting a great study abroad scholarship application:
  • Maintain a high GPA
  • Write a persuasive, interesting essay
  • Get glowing letters of recommendation
  • Find ways to showcase your talents and skills
  • Take your time
  • Ask someone to look over your application

After reading this, you should be well on your way to winning some study abroad scholarships!


What’s Next?

Most people study abroad in college but what about in high school? Read our expert guide to figure out if studying abroad in high school is right for you.

Part of having an impressive study abroad scholarship application is achieving great grades. Learn what an impressive high school GPA is and what the average college GPA is by major.

Looking for other college scholarships? Then check out these amazing full-ride scholarships you could win for college!

Have friends who also need help with test prep? Share this article!

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Hannah Muniz
About the Author

Hannah received her MA in Japanese Studies from the University of Michigan and holds a bachelor's degree from the University of Southern California. From 2013 to 2015, she taught English in Japan via the JET Program. She is passionate about education, writing, and travel.

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