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5 tips to get the highest scholarships and financial awards when studying abroad

It often surprises me how few people really know how to gain the highest financial awards for their plans to study abroad.  It actually makes me sad in a way, because often people don’t realize how much money is out there waiting to be awarded to students and families.  This isn’t just some crazy statement either.  I’ve been hunting for scholarships for my students for the past 12 years.  

Therefore, I thought I’d give you 5 tips to help you in your search to find these financial awards.  I hope this helps you!  

1.  Start early

Like any other challenging process in life, finding the highest scholarships takes time.  The students and families who I’ve worked with who typically get the highest scholarships are planning 18-24 months in advance.  That’s right – 1.5 to 2 years.  It’s true.  Not only does it take time to really research schools (more on that below) but many schools have scholarship deadlines that are considerably earlier than a regular application deadline.  Scholarship deadlines are often as early as 9 months before the student plans to attend the school!  (Christmas time for a school year starting on 1 September).  Furthermore, scholarship funds offered by schools are not unlimited.  When the pool of funds runs out, that’s it.  Therefore, it is critical to apply as early as possible.  

2.  Shop around the world

First, consider your budget carefully and explore all options globally before saying your study abroad dream is impossible.  Maybe it’s Finland or Japan for a full scholarship, maybe it’s Eastern Europe for $3,000 per year, maybe it’s a more popular destination like the USA, Canada, Australia or the UK….there are many, many different choices.  And remember, as countries around the world struggle with the pandemic and other economic problems, their schools rely even more on international students to contribute to the economy.  International students are the engine that keeps many schools running.  Therefore, there is growing ‘leverage’ on the side of students and more power is in their hands – especially for students from growing international markets.  And this leads to a greater ability to negotiate for the highest scholarships available.  So keep an open mind and work with someone to research all options carefully.  As I mentioned, many people ‘leave money on the table’ – that is, they don’t realize what is out there for them.  It pays to shop around.

3.  Do not choose only 1 school to apply to

For such a large investment of money and for such an important part of a student’s future, I’m also surprised that many families just choose one school to apply to.  Would you shop around to buy a chocolate bar?  Probably not.  How about for a new motorbike?  Probably…you’d want to research different prices and different types of bikes.  Well, don’t treat an overseas school choice like a bar of chocolate!  Even if you do have one specific dream school in mind, students who receive the highest scholarships often have a list of schools – often between 5 and 10 schools.  Why?  Well, scholarships and financial aid awards are usually ‘subjective’ – that is, they are up to the individual school.  And every school is different!  One school might really value your talents and academic performance and give you a high scholarship, while another might think differently and give you a small award…or not even accept you at all.  Getting a scholarship is not a scientific formula where an 8.5 GPA and a 6.5 IELTS = $XXX in scholarship money.  That is not how most scholarships work.  Each school makes their own decision.  Therefore, it’s best to make a list of schools to apply to.  When I work with students, often we will start with a first draft of 20 or even 25 schools and then narrow it down to 8 or 10 to apply to.  This list can be based on such things as:  a school’s strength in the student’s major, ranking, cost, location, size, weather, internship opportunities, admissions requirements and more!  A few of these may be ‘reach’ schools (ones which may be quite difficult to get accepted to), a few in the middle, and a few ‘safety’ schools (backup options which students are likely to get accepted to).  This process is one reason why students and families should plan well in advance.

4.  Scholarship vs Financial Aid

Remember – there are 2 main kinds of financial awards.  Most people know about scholarships.  Do you know about financial aid?  Scholarship is based on the student.  It could be academic performance, athletic ability, extracurricular activities….in short, it based on what the student has achieved to date.  It isn’t a monetary award that doesn’t need to be paid back.  Financial aid is based on the student’s family and their ability to afford the cost of attending the school.  Schools will analyze information based on parent jobs and income and assets that a family may have.  Financial aid isn’t also a monetary award that doesn’t need to be paid back.  It is not a loan!  Not many countries offer financial aid, but some do – and one of the most famous is America.  For example, many top high schools in the USA offer financial aid and scholarship but there are deadlines and additional forms need to be filled out.  Often, it is the CSS Profile for international students.  Did you know that some universities offer financial aid too for international students?  It’s true!  The most famous of these are liberal arts colleges.  Many of these elite, private schools offer large financial aid awards to international students – which is why you see many students from gifted high schools applying to and attending these excellent institutions in America.  So don’t forget – it’s not only about scholarships.  Financial aid is available too.

5.  Maximize your strengths and minimize your weaknesses

Finally, it is absolutely critical to assess your strengths and weaknesses as a student candidate.  Sometimes, it can be difficult to do this to yourself.  Self-assessment is hard!  That’s why a good counselor or advisor will help you to do this.  Maybe you have really good grades – but your interview skills are weak and need practice and improvement.  All high schools will require an interview for scholarship in America, for example.  Maybe you do a lot of mathematics competitions but not enough charity work or leadership activities.  Or maybe your English skills are strong, but you don’t know how to write an essay or personal statement.  It is so important to evaluate yourself (or have someone evaluate you) early on – so you have time to improve your weaknesses.  And also to maximize your strengths too!  Again, because most scholarships are subjective – what one school (or one country) may not care about as much, another school may really value.  And what schools value are what they award scholarships for.

Talk to you next week.


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