The basics
Study abroad : Student Finances

Top tips for successful scholarship applications

If you want to secure a scholarship to study abroad, get used to completing a lot of applications. Find out how to write the perfect scholarship application with our tips below...


Every year, thousands of scholarships are left unclaimed and hundreds of international students do not find scholarships to fund their studies – how can this happen?

As well as scholarships awarded by universities, companies and foundations set up scholarship schemes to help students who are likely to become employed by that organisation later on or contribute positively to that sector. Scholarships can serve to assist students with their tuition fee costs, and in some cases their living expenses too! This means the criteria for scholarships is very strict and the process can be arduous just to apply for one – it’s likely that you’ll need to send off many applications to stand a good chance of receiving just one scholarship. It might not sound fun but if it means having all or part of your fees paid for, it’s worth it!

Here are a few tips that you should take onboard when applying for scholarships...


Research the scholarship

It is important that you dedicate some time and effort to research all the scholarships and grants available. They could be for small amounts or full coverage of your tuition fees; but you need to be aware of what the award is, the requirements and deadlines. A scholarship refers to different things in different countries. Don’t just apply for the first one you come across; be smart about which ones which you have the best chance of successfully obtaining. You can also investigate what help there is for domestic students in that country and see whether this also applies to international students too.

You can find further information about financial aid on the website of university of your choice (you can click through directly to their site from their profile here on Hotcourses Abroad, or make an enquiry through us).


What's the "story" behind the scholarship?

Many scholarships have a story behind them, whether they were created in memory of someone significant or otherwise. If they were created in memory of someone, do you know who this individual is? Perhaps this is someone who inspires you who and to whom you can refer when writing your application.

If you’re applying for a scholarship which is being awarded by a company or organisation, find out about them and the work they do – it’s only polite if anything! Make sure you fine-tune your application to meet their expectations. As simple as this may seem, many students simply meet the sponsors’ bare requirements and hope for the best – some even just copy and paste the same answers across different applications which we do not recommend! Read through all the scholarship information provided, watching out for details and clues about what the sponsor’s formal and informal requirements might be. 


Follow the instructions

Read the scholarship instructions carefully and make sure you understand them before you start writing - you don't want to write an application which doesn't address the guidelines or questions laid out. Complete the application in full. It's a waste of your time to put a lot of effort into an application which won't be considered because it is late or because you’re not eligible. Make sure to include all information and any documents which are asked of you – those evaluating your scholarship application won’t necessarily chase you for missing documents and information as they’re very busy, so make sure you have included everything.

Read our checklist to essential documents which international students should have when applying abroad.


Remember, the assessors don't know you!

At first glance, you might just be a name or even just a number for those evaluating the scholarship applications. Even looking at grades might not be enough to judge if competition is particularly fierce. Therefore, try to stand out and personalise your application. You should still approach this application seriously, but include one or two references to something personal so you stand out and become an actual person in their mind. Make the assessors feel like they really know you once they have finished reading your application.

Most scholarships are equally interested in a student’s extracurricular activities as well as their academic achievements, especially if they relate to the field you’re applying to. So if you have been involved helping your local community or have a passion which is particularly noteworthy or relevant, this is the time to mention that. 


The personal statement

This piece of writing could be one of the most important parts of your application as it will tell the sponsor what you are made of. It needs to be clear and concise but inspiring enough for the sponsor to take notice (without being too cliché or sentimental). Start with an outline and make sure it touches on every aspect required in the instructions. Read the question or prompts which have been given because these have been provided for a reason (so you can provide the information they’re looking for); circle and highlight these if it helps you to keep these in mind.

Use concrete examples in your personal statement. For example, instead of writing an abstract essay about volunteering in your community, write about your experiences while volunteering, what you got out of it and what came next. Don’t be shy about mentioning your achievements, but keep away from coming across as pretentious or arrogant.

Read our guide to writing a personal statement to help you.


The recommendation letter

Along with your personal statement, recommendation letters (also known as “reference letters”) are a very important part of your scholarship application. Your referee will be validating everything you have said so far in your application so choose them carefully. Choose a professor or ex-employer with whom you have excellent rapport or those who have seen you at your absolute best. 

Once you have identified who you want to ask, request the reference well in advance. Those in high positions are often busy and might forget to write it for you, possibly jeopardising your chances of meeting the application deadline.

Discuss your plans with your recommenders now, before the application is even available. Let them know what you would like to study and why you want to apply for the scholarship. These discussions can help you clarify your goals and plans further, as well as give them a better idea of what they can do to help you reach your goals (and what to write in their reference letter) – seeing you speak passionately about studying at a higher level can inspire them to write something really amazing about you.


And finally, proofread!

Once you have finished your application and before you press ‘send’, proofread it several times. Do this on different days as you might approach it with a fresh mindset or notice new errors. This is a simple thing which many don't do, so silly errors make their way into the final application which really put off scholarship assessors. Most committees do not even consider scholarship applications that have major mistakes, disregarding them instantly. Make sure you spell all key words and names correctly, especially the person you are addressing the application to (if there is one) and the name of the university or organisation.

Once you send off your scholarship, it's always worth phoning or emailing a week later to ensure they have received it - it's a good excuse to speak to someone in that department so they can put a voice to a name (plus it shows that you're really enthusiastic!



Watch the following clips about applying for financial aid:





Find a scholarship now on Hotcourses Abroad


You might also like to read:

'Scholarships: Terms defined'

'Writing a personal statement'

‘References letters: Things to consider’



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About Author


Paul Ellett is the editor for Hotcourses Abroad. His role is to plan, produce and share editorial, videos, infographics, eBooks and any other content to inform prospective and current international students about their study abroad experience. When he's not thinking about student visas in Sweden and application deadlines, Paul is an avid fan of comedy podcasts and Nicolas Cage films.