I figured it would be best to begin this blog with the topic that is probably at the forefront of most study abroad students’ minds – budgeting. Before anyone can even begin to select programs and such, they of course have to consider how they will pay for it.
In all honesty, I have to tell you that even with scholarships you must be prepared to somehow pay for the entire cost of the program. Why is this? Three words – financial aid disbursement. This doesn’t happen until after the first couple weeks of school, as everyone knows. The rule does not change for study abroad. Most grants and scholarships award through the university to ensure the money is being spent in the way it was meant. So…find a family member/friend to help, get a loan at a credit union, or put it on a card.
Of course, this is a gamble. Everyone knows this going in. If you don’t have a good “set of cards” then I would advise carefully considering if you should play the game. If your gpa is low, you don’t have a unique situation, your parents are living and help pay your expenses, and you don’t work…then I would say you are facing an uphill battle. This is not to say that someone with these attributes do not receive aid. Of course they don’t. The point is that they have more hoops to jump through.
That said, the thing that helped me the most was creating undergraduate independent research projects that fit into my program’s free time. This will help me academically and professionally in the future, but it shows a seriousness to the committees awarding the scholarships that sets you apart from other applicants.
Also, for the sake of being genuine, let me tell you that I am also a first generation, high gpa double major college student who is dirt poor, and who lost both of her parents before the age of 17. Obviously, these factors were considered and weighed heavily. It also helped that I (not to sound cheeky or presumptuous, but…) write well and had my essays reviewed by several different people several different times.
Anywho, I received a $750 travel grant from the USF Office of Undergraduate Research. The application process was pretty painless. I highly recommend going down this avenue for your funding needs. Consider what you would like to research, how you would like to do it (quantitatively vs. qualitatively), make an appointment with your academic advisor to discuss possible research mentors in your department, and make it happen. The full details can be found here:http://lib.usf.edu/undergraduate-research/travel-funding/
Okay, let’s talk about the Gilman. This is the “big fish.” Only those receiving pell grants may apply, and it awards up to $5,000. I received $3,000.
First off … begin EARLY. I cannot stress this enough! There is a 7,000 character limit for each essay, which amounts to about 1 1/2-2 pages of single font text. Now, that’s not a huge amount, to be sure. However, you want to allow yourself ample time for revisions and peer/advisor reading. Take advantage of your education abroad/scholarship offices if you have them!!! People are being employed for the sole purpose of helping you! Use these resources. If there aren’t any such offices on your campus, look to your university library for writing center help, or ask friends (who write well, haha) to read your essays. I consider myself to be well-written, but even so…when you go through 10-15 revisions those words all start to blur together. Fresh eyes are definitely needed after about the 4th revision. There are two essays you need to write: a statement of purpose, and a follow-on service project.
While both are weighed about the same, I’d say the statement holds slightly more sway. This is because it is a platform for connection with the scholarship committee. While you certainly want to include relevant information about your study abroad program, financial aid (or in my case, lack thereof), and other necessaries, you also want to be a little more personal than you would in academic papers.
Make connections between your academic/career goals and the abroad program. Talk about your current studies, future goals, and the program all in one bundle, and make your case as eloquently as possible. You might mention challenges you face in going abroad (for instance: it’s been hard for me to fit in study abroad b/c I’ve been super busy with two majors and a full-time job).
Introduce your major, career goal, and program right away. DON’T be tempted to write a cutesy story! The readers at Gilman have thousands of essays to get through, so be kind and put the most relevant information first. Don’t waste their time with cheap anecdotes.
Tell them why you chose your program, and be extremely specific! Why this program? Whythis country? Will you get college credit during your trip? Where are you staying? Any excursions? Additional challenges? If you are studying a language, can you find total language immersion readily in your area? Difficult study abroad programs for your major? Have you ever known anyone who studied abroad? First generation college student? Significant financial difficulties? This is as much a “get to know you” essay as it is informative. Find the balance between the two. Also, if you face a lot of difficulties…do try to express them in a positive light, as something that you will overcome through hard work, academic merit, etc. Don’t beg! Writing a sob story is going to seem cheap. Nobody likes a beggar
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