Choosing to study abroad should not be a last second decision. It’s important to thoroughly evaluate your abroad destination and ask yourself, “Why is this right for me?” Are you interested in sightseeing with a heavy workload? Or perhaps you’d like to intern abroad focusing more on career skills. Regardless of your choice, it’s vital to plan ahead.
Once you’ve collected all the dates and deadlines from your school’s study abroad office, the next step is budgeting your trip. For example, when I decided to study and intern in London, it was necessary for me to apply for multiple scholarships. London is a very expensive city and I refused to let the cost of traveling affect my future plans.
I chose to apply for three scholarships: Two $1,000 scholarships through the University of Pittsburgh’s study abroad office and the Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship. The Gilman scholarship awards its summer recipients $2,500 and its semester recipients $5,000. The Gilman is truly a lifesaver for anyone in need of that extra cash cushion.
Thankfully for me, I was lucky enough to win one $1,000 grant and the $2,500 summer Gilman award. Believe me, it has made my travel abroad experience much less stressful and exceptionally more feasible—paying room and board and helping me travel beyond the city of London.
Winning the University scholarship was fairly easy because they are very generous towards students who receive the Pell Grant. The Gilman on the hand had a very thorough application process. Furthermore, the Gilman does not often award students traveling to traditional abroad sites such as the UK. They inspire students to go far beyond their comfort zones and experience completely new worlds.
After being awarded the scholarship, I was incredibly thankful but also surprised. I didn’t think my essay would be so influential, but I believe I’ve figured out what scholarship organizations such as the Gilman are looking for in an applicant.
TIP 1. First, you need to be a good writer—that’s a given. The Gilman requires each applicant to write two essays. The first is an essay in which they ask the applicant to connect the three fields of his or her life—family, academics and career, specifically to their study abroad program. The second essay asks you to propose a follow-up service product in which you describe a plan to promote the Gilman once you return home. This could involve public speaking, promoting through your University’s study abroad office or even with social marketing.
TIP 2. If writing isn’t you strong point, that leads me to my next tip. Second, plan ahead. Practice writing. The essays are worth (in my opinion) 85% of the application. Therefore, it pays to have good writing skills. There’s no harm in working on your writing. The best tip I can give you is to keep your writing detailed and on target. For example, if they want you to connect your future goals to your abroad program, do exactly that. There is no room for tangents or back-stories when you’re dealing with a word limit. Only write the essentials. You don’t have to be incredibly poetic either, keep your audience in mind and make sure each sentence counts. Lastly, be sure to cut any excess words. However, in order to keep your writing sharp it will need to be proofread.
TIP 3. Use your resources. I had over four people proofread my essays and two of them were University of Pittsburgh study abroad advisors. The advisors knew the ins and outs to what makes a great Gilman application and without them, I would have not received the reward. Your school wants to help, so don’t be afraid to ask!
In 2013, I was the host of a podcast called, “Trash Talk” at my school’s radio station, WPTS. I proposed to Gilman a new podcast—“The Study Abroad Experience Show.” On said show, I would 1) Promote the Gilman and 2) Conduct interviews with students who have studied abroad or who plan to study abroad in the future.
Gilman liked the idea and I have a lot of work waiting for me once I get back to the states. Keep in mind—I had been working at the radio station for two semesters before I applied for the Gilman. Grant programs are going to want to see hardworking students who take the initiative in life, so get to it. Build your resume before you apply. It’s worth it.
Challenge yourself, work hard, and apply to see the world. My time in London has most definitely changed my view on the way the world thinks and acts, and I am incredibly grateful for the opportunity.
Here’s a link to the Gilman website for anyone who wants to know more: http://www.iie.org/Programs/Gilman-Scholarship-Program
Words by Frank Rocks, a University of Pittsburgh student who studied abroad in London with CAPA International Education during Summer 2014.
For more from Frank's study abroad experience in London, swing by his blog.