The first time I studied abroad, I had a much better financial situation. Since I was living on campus, I received more federal aid which helped me afford the program. This, combined with personal savings and a small loan, allowed me to travel without being overly concerned about money throughout the trip.
After my 3rd year, I decided to study abroad again but this time I had yet to learn how I would afford it. I no longer wanted to live on campus, so my financial aid decreased by a few thousand dollars. While I had enough aid to afford the program, I also needed to come up with enough money to pay my rent while I was gone. This is when I started looking into the Gilman Scholarship program, which allows students with limited financial means to study abroad.
I began my research into the program by looking up the percentage of applicants that receive a scholarship. I learned that the number was about 25%, so each applicant has a 1 in 4 chance of receiving a scholarship. Initially, this made me apprehensive because the scholarship is based on a combination of merit, financial need, and a series of essay questions. During the first two years of college, I had to retake several classes and I was still working toward strengthening my GPA. But rather than let this deter me, I went ahead and applied anyway and hoped that the people reading my application would see that my grades had improved over time.
After answering questions about my background and financial aid eligibility, it was time to focus on the essay questions. The application requires three writing supplements: a statement of purpose, an essay about building mutual understanding, and a follow-up-on-service proposal. There are two other optional essays that you can submit, but I chose to only submit the ones that applied to me. While the essay questions did seem daunting at first, they allowed me to think about why I wanted to study abroad in Ghana specifically. I was able to draw on my experience working in research labs and connect that to my future goal of studying public health. While the statement of purpose allowed me to describe how my desire to study abroad was connected to my future career goals, the building on mutual-understanding essay is how I showcased that I had researched Ghanaian culture. For the follow-up-on-service proposal, I decided to write a series of articles about the scholarship and my experience studying abroad. The proposal is where you can get very creative, and many people choose to blog or make videos about their experiences. Keep in mind, that these essays allow the application reviewers to hear your voice, so it is very important to have people (including your study abroad advisor) proofread your essays. Having my essay proofread several times allowed me to come up with multiple drafts to submit the version I was most proud of.
Once all of my essays were submitted along with my application, I contacted my study abroad advisor to certify my application. While this does not have to be done at the time you submit your application, it is best to contact your advisor ahead of time since it is likely that they will be certifying many applications from your university. After submitting my application in March, I received my decision letter in May. The application requires you to log into the applicant portal to see whether or not you received the scholarship. Logging in was probably the most nerve-wracking two minutes of my life, but I was delighted to learn that I received $3,000, which allowed me to pay for my rent while studying abroad over the summer.
Applying for the Gilman Scholarship was one of the best decisions I have made throughout my college career, and I encourage everyone with financial need to apply if they want to study abroad. The awards range from $1,000-$5,000 and while this will not pay for the entirety of your trip, it can lower your overall expenses.
Gilman Scholarship program website: https://www.gilmanscholarship.org/