Student to Student
How to Find International Fellowships and Scholarships
Take Advantage of Existing Opportunities for Study Abroad
By Erin Alisa Guntly
A bridge in Cambridge, England.
International study fellowships and scholarships can be a springboard to international careers. The opportunities exist. Successfully taking advantage of them requires early planning, research, and a well-prepared application.
While traditional study abroad requires participants to pay their expenses, fellows and scholars are funded—normally for tuition, fees, tickets, room and board, and sometimes for books and materials as well. Fellowships
and scholarships are not work programs; there is no set of tasks for participants to accomplish. They are study opportunities, where the participant has the autonomy to take control and the responsibility to make it work.
A good place to start looking for opportunities is the Institute for International Education, the administrator of the Fulbright program. This and similar websites have links that allow you to search by region,
specialty, undergraduate or postgraduate support, duration, and amount of stipend. Some fellowships, such as Fulbright and Rotary, are also available to applicants without university affiliation.
Planning well ahead is critical to success. Departure dates are often as much as 9-15 months after applications are due, and preparing a solid application can take two or three additional months.
When choosing a sponsoring program, it is important to read the fine print carefully. Some federally funded programs have a service commitment after graduation. Others have speaking commitments before, during, and after your term
of support. Some require stringent reporting practices during time abroad. While the terms and conditions are usually not decisive in choosing which program is best, applicants should nevertheless be aware of the commitment to the supporting organization.
Once you choose a program and know its requirements, then you must design a program of study. A well-designed program includes verifiable details that demonstrate that the applicants have has done their research and that their
program is viable. Consider the difference between the following two statements: “I intend to study Kazakh at a language school in Kazakhstan.” “I will begin my program abroad with a month-long private intensive course in Kazakh at
the University of Alma Ata’s Department Language and Literature, which will provide a foundation for beginning my research.”
The first sentence is a statement of intent, but the second shows that the scholar has a clear agenda and has taken the time to research their program so that it will work on the ground.
This level of detail—listing approximate dates, specific organizations and locations, achievable goals—can mean the difference between a worthy applicant and a successful scholar. The litmus test is viability: Can
you accomplish what you say you want to accomplish? The application is the only chance to prove that a program is viable, and including details helps sell the package.
Other details to include are the names of relevant nonprofits and other organizations that you plan to use in your work, contacts in the country doing related work, a general timeline and travel dates, goals for each phase of
the program, and an explanation as to how this program fits into your broader educational agenda.
Another way to improve viability is to have made contact with people and institutes that you mention. This can be as simple as sending an email describing your program and asking for a tentative meeting, but it demonstrates that
you can do what you describe.
Evidence is also important if part of the application involves a budget. Any program-related expense outlined in a budget has to be backed up by printouts of ticket prices, course tuition, and room and board costs. Also remember
that this is only a budget request; the amount of support is determined by the sponsoring organization.
Finally, the issue of language: Most of the world’s languages are not taught at universities in the U.S., and you will not be expected to presently have a command of Mongolian or Swahili. Finding a tutor, private course,
or even self-study materials and describing these efforts in an application can demonstrate an earnest commitment to language study.
Scholarships and Fellowships: Five Myths
1. They are only for social science and policy people. Many sponsors encourage applicants from the arts and from hard sciences. Disciplines include dance, biology, music, and engineering.
2. They are only for doctoral candidates. Fellowships tend to be for postgraduates, including PhD candidates, but scholarships are often for undergrads or recent graduates. Advanced study sponsors often have a related program
for junior scholars.
3. Participants can only go to certain countries and regions. Sponsors do have geographic limitations, but the range of programs ensures that almost anywhere is a potential destination. It is a question of finding the right program.
4. Only fluent second language speakers are considered. Some sponsors require fluency prior to departure; others will fund beginning language study as part of a scholar’s program. Again, it is a matter of finding the right
5. Those not part of a university need not apply. Some major programs, notably Rotary and Fulbright, accept and encourage at-large applicants. Other programs are available to recent graduates as well.
Scholarships and Fellowships: Programs and Websites
Most programs are administered by outside contractors, for example IIE administers Fulbright and part of NSEP. Both of these major programs are government funded, but literally hundreds of smaller, privately funded programs exist
for scholars at all levels and in all fields.
IIE: The Institute for International Education is a major clearinghouse for international programs, including the Fulbright program. It also administers a variety of programs funded by nonprofits, think tanks, and companies.
SSRC: The Social Science Research Council administers programs throughout the world, most of which are privately funded and relatively small in scale. Programs are available to scholars at all levels, including
at large applicants.
IREX: International Research and Exchanges Board manages programs worldwide, and covering a wide range of disciplines.
Fulbright is the best known international scholar program offers programs in all disciplines and in most countries. Host countries create their own requirements, which can include language skills. The result is that some destinations
are very competitive (Britain, Latin America) while other places are much less so. Applications are due in October and are available through IIE. At large applications are welcome, but candidates must have at least a bachelor’s degree.
National Security Education Program: The name is somewhat deceiving, as applications are welcome in all fields and to all parts of the world except Western Europe. Scholars are required to study a language, but beyond this there
is a great deal of latitude in designing a program.
In searching for other country specific programs, embassies in Washington can often be of assistance.
See the TransitionsAbroad.com section on Study Abroad Funding: Scholarships, Fellowships, and Financial Aid for more resources.
ERIN GUNTLY completed a David Boren Fellowship in Russia and Japan and a master’s degree in Commercial Diplomacy at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey.