While studying abroad is great for many international students, it comes with its own set of challenges. From language barriers to culture shock and financial challenges, international students have to learn to navigate all these to enhance their study abroad experience. When it comes to paying for your studies, there are options out there in the form of scholarships, grants, and fellowships. The trick is knowing where to look and how to stand out in your application.

As an international student, securing scholarships can be challenging. Beyond the usual difficulties like finding the right scholarships to apply for and submitting strong applications, you face additional obstacles like access to resources that could strengthen your application, like volunteer experience, internships, or extracurricular activities.

If you are an international student looking for information about scholarship applications, this guide will walk you through everything you need to know to land scholarships as an international student. We’ll show you the best places to search, and what’s needed for a successful application.

Frequently Asked Questions for International Students Applying for Scholarships Abroad

FAQ 1. What types of scholarships are available for international students?

As an international student, the good news is there are scholarships specifically targeted at you. The trick lies in finding and applying for ones that fit your unique needs. Below are some of the scholarship types available for international students;

  • Merit-based scholarships: These are awarded based on your academic achievements and talents. They include scholarships for high GPAs, test scores, extracurriculars, athletics, arts, etc. This type of scholarship can be seen throughout the world. In the United States, there are some undergraduate scholarships that are automatically given based on the SAT and ACT scores and GPA.
  • Need-based scholarships: These are for those who demonstrate financial need. Need-based scholarships are common in private universities and colleges in the United States for undergraduate international students, and most require the CSS Profile to be filled out to calculate the Estimate Family Contribution (EFC). There are many universities and colleges that meet 100% of the demonstrated need.
  • Government scholarships: Some countries offer scholarships for international students to study in their country. For example, the Government of Singapore provides scholarships to first-time international students to pursue their studies at select institutions in Singapore. Check out our list of all the government scholarships available for international students!
  • University Scholarships: Many universities provide partial to full scholarships specifically for international students. These could include departmental scholarships or merit-based scholarships among others. For example, Shanghai University offers various scholarship opportunities for international students enrolled at the institution. Check out our scholarship database for more scholarships!
  • Private/External scholarships: Numerous non-profit and private organizations offer scholarships for international students. These may be merit, need, or topic-based. Most of the private/external scholarships can be applied to most institutions that are accredited. Therefore, private/external scholarships are a good choice for students who are already admitted to a university but want to get additional funding on top of the university scholarships. However, there are some scholarships which are only for a certain institution. For example, you’ll find the Rhodes Scholarship established by the Rhodes Foundation to support international students in pursuing their studies at the University of Oxford.
  • Exchange Scholarships: Programs like Fulbright and Rotary allow you to study in another country in exchange for acting as a cultural ambassador. They often provide funding and stipends.

FAQ 2. How can international students find scholarship opportunities?

The first place to look for scholarships as an international student is the university website that you are interested in. Many colleges and universities offer scholarships and grants specifically for international students.

Another option is scholarship search engines like Globalscholarships. These search engines aggregate thousands of scholarships from colleges, private organizations, nonprofits, and more. In our scholarship database, you can also filter by scholarship amount, application deadline, specific eligibility criteria, etc.

We also recommend communities on Reddit, especially r/intltoUSA  (undergraduate and graduate), r/ApplyingtoCollege (undergraduate), and r/GradAdmissions (graduate). Although the first subreddit has USA in it, they do have active discussions for other parts of the world!

Lastly, don’t forget to check out government and private organizations. Large companies, non-profits like the MasterCard Foundation Scholars Program, religious organizations, and community groups often offer scholarships. Do some digging to find ones you may be eligible for based on your country of origin, field of study, special skills, or other attributes.

FAQ 3: What are the qualifications I need to have to be eligible for scholarships?

The eligibility requirements for different scholarships vary depending on the institution’s country and your interested degree. It will be difficult to cover all the degrees and countries in this short section, so we’ll do USA here. For other countries’ requirements, please see our menus for the study guides for each country (Note: we are still adding countries there, so we don’t have a guide for most countries yet). Another option is to look at our scholarship database, filter through the countries, and see what the requirements are.

For undergraduate scholarships in the US, many merit scholarships have a minimum GPA requirement, typically a 3.0 or higher (or its equivalent in the UK system, Indian system, etc.). Many also require ACT/SAT for these merit scholarships. For need-based scholarships, you still need to be able to enter the university in order to get the need-based scholarships, and it is difficult to get into these universities if you have a GPA below 3.0. However, if you have some extraordinary extracurricular activities and SAT/ACT scores, you might be able to get in. Of course, you do need to meet their English Language requirements such as TOEFL or IELTS or have them waivered by meeting certain criteria. Other things like essays and extracurriculars do help with the application, but these two things only make a huge difference in top-tier schools like the Ivy Leagues and equivalent universities and liberal arts colleges.

For Master’s and Ph.D. in the US, you need a good GPA, recommendation letters, and research experience, which is a necessity for Ph.D.  There are other things involved like the GRE (some institutions are optional), personal statements, etc. For a Ph.D., research experience is essential: although for most fields, you do not need a publication, but research experience such as working at a lab is a must. Additionally, a good personal statement on why and what you want to do research in the Ph.D. is necessary. Ph.D. is 90% research and 10% coursework. For Master’s, you do not need to have research experience for admission, but it will be very good if you have some experience.

FAQ 4: What documents should I submit for a scholarship application?

When applying for international scholarships, pay close attention to deadlines and make sure you provide all required documentation including;

  • The scholarship application form
  • Academic certificates and transcripts
  • Test scores
  • References
  • A copy of your passport
  • Research proposal / Personal Statement for postgraduate scholarship applicants
  • Motivation Letter and Essay
  • A resume highlighting your achievements

The requirements vary by country, degree, and institution, so please check with the institution for the application requirements.

FAQ 5: What are the possibilities of securing a scholarship for international students?

In order to have the best chances of getting a full tuition undergraduate scholarship in USA or higher, you should aim for 1500+ on the SAT or 33+ on the ACT and a good GPA of 3.8+.  We estimate that you have a 80% chance of getting a full tuition scholarship or higher if you have those credentials, and possibly closer to 100%, if you apply for automatic scholarships that are based on ACT/SAT scores. These schools won’t be Ivy Leagues, but you will be able to get a high-quality education. If you have a 1450+ on the SAT or 30+ on the ACT and a good GPA of 3.8+, we estimate that your chances are about 60% of getting a full tuition scholarship or higher in the USA.

In order to maximize your chances, you should aim to get high SAT / ACT scores. Although there are many institutions that went test optional, we still recommend you to take these because they will better your chances at most institutions. If you already have high SAT / ACT Scores, you should work on your essays and other aspects of your application to better your chances.

The possibilities of securing scholarships will be better if you start your search early and apply widely. If you are looking for scholarships in the US, consider applying to liberal arts colleges because they are generous with scholarships for international students and also scholarships with automatic scholarships based on SAT/ACT as safeties. If you have good SAT/ACT scores, consider applying to top private universities and colleges as they are need-blind and meet 100% of the demonstrated need. Consider searching on our scholarship database for some of the generous scholarships for international students.

Another way to maximize your chances is to apply for nationality-specific scholarships. In many universities around the world, there are endowed scholarships where a donation is made to support specific groups of students. And, many of these scholarships have nationality requirements where the scholarship is specific to students from a country or a group of countries. We highly recommend you to find scholarships that are specific to your country or your region and consider applying as you will be competing with a limited number of students. How to find these scholarships? A good place to start is our scholarship database where you can filter by nationality. You just have to select your nationality and see what scholarships are for you.

For Master’s, it is extremely difficult to get a full tuition or fully funded scholarships in the U.S. There are some scholarships, but it is very difficult since Master’s programs are seen as funding sources (i.e. cash-cows) for Ph.D. programs for many institutions. Of course, there are exceptions like research assistantships/teaching assistantships but Ph.D. students are considered first for this position. Some institutions do give full funding for Master’s, but their admissions are extremely competitive (see Princeton University Master’s CS).There are scholarships for Master’s students like Knight-Hennessy, but there are few. We estimate that the chances for students to get a full tuition or fully funded Master’s scholarships is 15% for US given that he is a decent student. We recommend that you apply outside of U.S. if you are going to apply for Master’s scholarships and need full tuition or fully funded scholarships.

For Ph.D in the US, all you need is to get into the programs, and most institutions will give funding for all their Ph.D. students 4 to 6 years guaranteed. If you get into a well-regarded program, you will most likely get full funding. If you do not get funding for your Ph.D. in the US, we recommend that you not attend because the Ph.D. from that institution is most likely not worth it. Other countries are different, and many Ph.D. are project-based, but in the US, you do get automatic scholarships guaranteed for a set number of years.

FAQ 6: How do I apply for international scholarships?

Applying for international scholarships shouldn’t be daunting. Many universities and organizations that offer scholarships have moved the application online. All you need to do is ensure that you meet the eligibility criteria and gather all the required documentation to support your application.

Ensure that you customize each application and take your time to follow the scholarship application guidelines. Also, do not forget to proofread your scholarship application and fix any spelling or grammar mistakes.

Remember to apply for as many scholarships as possible to boost your chances of receiving one.

If you meet all the scholarship requirements and have perseverance, you have an excellent chance of landing an international scholarship to fund your studies abroad.

FAQ 7: When is the best time to apply for a scholarship for International students?

Apply as early as possible. Most scholarships have limited funding and spots, so the earlier you apply the better your odds are of securing one. Pay close attention to all deadlines and give yourself ample time to submit a thoughtful application.

For example, the McCall MacBain Scholarship has an application deadline of September. Ensure you start your application as early as June to avoid the last-minute rush and risk of submitting a substandard application.

From where to look for scholarships, to how to apply and what’s required, you’ve now got the knowledge and tools to go after those scholarships. Apply widely, tailor your materials, get people to review your applications, and don’t get discouraged. Scholarships are out there, you just have to find them and convince the committees that you deserve it.

FAQ 8: What factors should I consider when choosing universities and study destinations?

Before you embark on your study abroad journey, you need to keep in mind that there are various factors to consider to make your journey successful. Top of the list is academic and living finances. Consider study destinations with lower costs of living and tuition. If you are planning to study in Australia, you can start by checking out some of the cheap universities in Australia for international students to explore your options.

Another factor to consider is the location. Some countries are known to have the best programs in certain subjects. For example, if you want to study medicine, you can explore some of the best countries to study medicine to ensure you are getting the best educational resources and support to attain your medical degree.

Other factors include the academic reputation of the institution, the programs being offered, support services for international students, and visa requirements, among others.

About the Author: Hyun Lee

Hi! I am Hyun, and I am the founder at Global Scholarships. I've received a full-tuition scholarship at Birmingham-Southern College and a $1,000 Burger King Scholarship for my undergraduate degree and was offered a fully funded scholarship consisting of tuition, living stipend, and health insurance for computer science Ph.D. program at North Carolina State University. You can read more about my scholarship journey here. If you are interested, you can follow me on Linkedin where I regularly write about scholarship opportunities.

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