Scholarships are a great tool to help you get abroad and fulfill your academic, professional, and personal journey. Prior to studying abroad in London, Keneechi applied for the Benjamin A. Gilman Scholarship twice—and received it after her second time. She shares 5 things to keep in mind as you prepare to apply for the scholarship. Learn from her on what worked and what didn't work, and make sure you give yourself time along the way.
P.S. This post is overflowing with useful tips, so don't forget to bookmark this!
If you’re a big dreamer like me, you lie in bed at night—or even drift off during your lectures—and imagine yourself in another part of the world. It might be a place you have visited before, or somewhere that is completely foreign to you. In your head, you ponder all of the awe-inspiring places you’d visit, the yummy food and treats you would devour, the new things you would learn and all of the special people you would meet. But suddenly...your dream comes to an abrupt stop, as you remember you can’t afford to study abroad!!
Alas, you can. This is where the Benjamin A. Gilman Scholarship comes in. Funded by the US Department of State, this scholarship is specifically for low-income students to study abroad in various countries around the world. What makes the Gilman scholarship special is that the student receives the money directly, so that it can be used to purchase flights, visas, and any other travel-related expenses that lower income students might find burdening.
I dreamed about studying abroad...and now I'm here in London (thanks to the Benjamin A. Gilman scholarship)!
When I was preparing to study abroad in Stockholm last spring, I applied for the Gilman scholarship for the fall semester, hoping to have extra funds for fika—a Swedish coffee break—and other very important cultural activities. Unfortunately, I and many other of my classmates did not receive the scholarship. After I was rejected the first time, I did more research on how to win the scholarship and got it the second round to travel this summer to London! I hope that my extra tips will be helpful to you for the first time you apply.
The application cycle for the Gilman scholarship is year-round, but it has deadlines for the Fall, Spring, and Summer sessions. Below are some tips to help you become a Gilman scholar.
1. Pick a Study Abroad Program That is Within Gilman’s Guidelines of Countries.
The government only funds students to travel to countries considered to have a Level 1 or 2 safeness, or countries that speak languages that are rare and/or important to the US. Before you move ahead, make sure the country you want to study in is actually allowed to be funded by Gilman. If you’re interested in the CAPA Global Cities program, all of the available cities should be eligible for the scholarship.
2. Make Sure You are Financially Eligible.
The Federal Government only considers students for the Gilman scholarship that are Pell Grant eligible. If you are not sure of your Pell status, be sure to ask your financial aid advisor before moving ahead.
Tip: If you are Pell Grant eligible, even if you don’t win the Gilman, there are Pell Grant funds available to you to study abroad in the summer as well! The amount will depend on the number of credits you are taking. Go speak to the grants coordinator at your financial aid office for more information!
3. Have a Good Idea of WHY You Want to Study Abroad.
The Gilman scholarship is very competitive, and many students apply without thinking about why they are studying abroad, or how studying abroad will be instrumental to their undergraduate experience and beyond. In the first essay that you'll be writing, you must clearly and confidently express your desire to study abroad, and the reason must be more substantial than “I want to see the Eiffel Tower”. The first time I applied, I knew that Stockholm was a great place to learn more about public health, and that studying abroad was a good opportunity to “broaden my horizons”. However, so does every other student who is studying abroad. In my second application for London, I highlighted specific places in London that made it a great location for public health, and how studying in London would give me an opportunity to see if I really want to move here in the future. Giving details about your chosen city and explaining exactly how this experience will fit into your academic, professional, and personal journey will take you one step closer to being a Gilman scholar.
4. Speak to Your Study Abroad Office for Help!
This one is crucial. If your school has had a study abroad office for a while, the study abroad director is probably very familiar with the Gilman scholarship application. My study abroad director was the one to promote the Gilman scholarship to me, and had sessions, information packets, and winning sample essays for students to review. There was also a current Gilman scholar on campus who gave information sessions on campus as her follow-up service project, and we were able to ask her specific questions about her application. In your second essay, in which you need to propose how you will promote the Gilman on your return, speaking to your scholar is great way to get some ideas. Your study abroad director or Gilman scholar should be able to sit down with you to help you articulate your desire to study abroad, as well as review your essays before you submit! Speaking of which...
5. Start on Time.
Your Gilman application will comprise of your personal information, some academic documents, and your essays. Everyone who applies for the Gilman is financially eligible, and there is no GPA requirement. That means that your essay is the most important part of your application, and you should spend as much time on it as possible. While the word length is not arduous, do not be deceived! While you can answer the questions in a couple of hours, your answers themselves require some deep reflections and clarity on your intentions, which will take several weeks if not months. Many people start working on the application the evening of the deadline and don’t give themselves the time to be thoughtful of their essay, which leads to the application being a waste of time, and a lost opportunity. I suggest starting your drafts about 6-8 weeks in advance, and the sooner you are finished, the better!
Bonus Tip 1: The Gilman scholarship deadlines close on midnight Central Time. This may be fine for you if you’re in that time zone, but if you’re on EST like me, that means you have one less hour to submit! Be sure to check the time and give yourself plenty of time to finish, because once it closes...you will have to wait for another semester application cycle to submit.
Bonus Tip 2: If you are awarded the Gilman, you will receive further instructions on the final documents you need to submit before you are awarded. Even if you are chosen as a scholar, you will not receive funds and may be dropped if these are not submitted on time. Make sure you are checking your emails and following up with your director and financial aid advisor to have everything submitted.
Once you receive the funds, use them for whatever needs you have, either for booking flights, living expenses, or other payments. The scholarship is a one-time payment, so make sure to budget appropriately for your time abroad. If you have any questions feel free to contact me further. Good luck!
Keneechi Obasi is an official CAPA blogger for summer 2019, sharing her story in weekly posts on CAPA World. With a major in International Studies at Spelman College, she is studying abroad in London this semester.
Keneechi's journey continues so stay tuned.