Every college student is aware of the benefits of studying abroad: international experience, the opportunity to learn a new language, and expand your cultural horizons.  However, in addition to knowing the benefits of international travel, students are also aware of a major down-side: the cost.

Fulbright Ambassador

Fulbright Ambassador. Photo by Meg Stewart

Once students and their families factor the cost of plane tickets, visa costs, passport costs, local transportation, fees, tuition, room and board, and incidentals, total costs can rise anywhere between $3,000-$10,000 per semester. Without scholarships, students’ only options are paying for these costs out-of-pocket or taking out loans. In addition, many countries do not allow international students to work legally, restricting students’ income during their study abroad experience.

Studying abroad is an opportunity that every student should be able to experience.

Below is a list of the top five funding opportunities for students of any age, from high school students to recent graduates, which either provide a fully-funded study abroad experience, or significantly cover most costs. Most of these scholarships require no additional commitment after students are awarded funding; however, there are a few that have a work commitment attached, which can be beneficial if students are interested in working for the US government.

Read on, take note, and eventually apply for these (and more!) study scholarships without wasting your time.

1. Critical Language Scholarship

For students willing to study in countries outside of Western Europe and open to learning a less-commonly taught or “critical” language, there are several US government scholarships and fellowships available. Less-commonly taught languages are usually broadly defined as non-Romance and non-Germanic languages.  This definition also includes languages that may be considered “endangered”, where the native-speaking population is extremely small or the native speakers are unable or choose not to teach the language to younger generations.  “Critical” languages are languages that the US government considers important for national security. Currently, this definition encompasses many languages spoken in the Middle East, East Asia, and Southeast Asia.  

The “CLS” provides undergraduate and graduate students with intensive summer language in thirteen critical languages including: Arabic, Mandarin Chinese, Turkish, Hindi, Russian, Punjabi, and Indonesian, among others.  The scholarship covers most if not all costs for the summer and provides international and domestic travel between your home and the institute program site, language instruction, room and board while in country, any applicable visa fees, entrance fees for cultural activities, and sponsored travel within the host country.  There is no additional commitment required after a student completes the program.

2. Boren Awards for International Study

The “Boren” is available for undergraduates (Boren Scholarship) and graduate students (Boren Fellow) and provides up to $20,000 for undergraduate students and up to $30,000 for graduate students to study abroad from a summer to an entire academic school year.  The Boren Awards’ main focus is on languages deemed critical to U.S. national security and includes funding for learning languages such as Arabic, Uighur, Javanese, Lingala, and Czech.  Unlike the CLS and NSLI-Y programs, students are expected to create their own study abroad program and find their own affiliate institution.  After a student completes their study abroad experience, they are committed to fulfill a government service requirement for one year.

3. Fulbright U.S. Student Program

The Fulbright Program hosts many different types of funding.  The most well-known program consists of two main types of grants available to students who have at least completed an undergraduate degree- Study/Research and English Teaching Assistantship. Study/Research grants are granted to students conducting projects in the arts and academic fields and the ELA awards place Fulbright recipients in university classrooms to aid in teaching English to non-native English speakers. Unlike the other funding opportunities on this list, the awards are not limited to language study in less-commonly taught or “critical” languages. Awards are available for approximately 140 countries around the world, including countries in Western Europe and South America.  Funding amounts vary but with some smart budgeting, a Fulbright recipient should be able to support his or herself for the duration of their time abroad.  Applicants do not have to currently be enrolled in a university in order to receive funding.

4. Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship

The “Gilman” is for undergraduate students only and offers up to $5,000  to students with limited financial means “to pursue academic studies or credit-bearing, career-oriented internships abroad”.  In addition, if students are studying or using a “critical language” during his or her award, they are eligible to receive a $8,000 “Critical Need Award” from the Gilman Scholarship Program.  The Gilman Scholarship Program considers the following language and language families as “critical needs”: Arabic (all dialects), Chinese (all dialects), Bahasa Indonesia, Japanese, Turkic (Azerbaijani, Kazakh, Kyrgyz, Turkish, Turkmen, Uzbek), Persian (Farsi, Dari, Kurdish, Pashto, Tajiki), Indic (Hindi, Urdu, Nepali, Sinhala, Bengali, Punjabi, Marathi, Gujarati, Sindhi), Korean, Russian, and Swahili.

5. National Security Language Initiative for Youth

For the ambitious high school student, there is the NSLI-Y, or the National Security Language Initiative for Youth.  Like many of the aforementioned programs, the NSLI-Y focuses on “critical needs” languages and is the high-school equivalent of the Critical Language Scholarship Program. However, the NSLI-Y also gives students the opportunity to study abroad for an academic semester or year.  Students are paired with a host family and the scholarship covers room and board, in-country cultural excursions, orientation and support, tuition, round-trip travel from the participant’s home region and the host country, visa costs, and secondary medical benefits.  The languages offered by NSLI-Y for 2014 are Arabic, Mandarin Chinese, Hindi, Korean, Persian (Tajiki), Russian, and Turkish.

How to Apply for Scholarships to Study Abroad

Many of the above scholarships open up their applications at the end of summer or beginning of the academic school year. Applicants should have least a 3.2 grade point average, two letters of recommendation, and personal essays. Some also may require an in-person or phone interview. Most universities and colleges provide counselors or workshops that can help students prepare materials and essays for these competitive scholarships. So, now you know…

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