Some (Not-So-Secret) Secrets to Securing Scholarships for Studying Abroad

Have you always wanted to study abroad, but thought you could not afford it? This post is written by Spring 2016 in Seville, Spain participant Catherine Gardiner, who was awarded three scholarships (that we know of!) which would cover a big chunk of her study expenses. Read on to find out how she did it!


Is money the only thing keeping you from studying abroad? That’s what initially hindered me from even dreaming about studying in Spain. Without a steady income, there was no way I could afford a European adventure on top of my tuition and other living expenses.

But I decided to indulge and attend an information session, anyway. What the heck?  Window shopping is always free, right? In that initial meeting, as the study abroad advisors explained the expenses related to studying abroad, I realized just how attainable an adventure like this really is. To spend a semester studying in Shanghai, China, for example, is $19, 543 cheaper than studying at UHM. Here are some other comparisons:


Cost of Attending UHM*

Cost of Study Abroad Program**


Shanghai, China $ 26,834.00 $ 7,291.00 (Fall 2015) $ 19,543.00
Machida, Japan $ 26,834.00 $ 9,771.00 (Spring 2015) $ 17,063.00
Paris, France $ 26,834.00 $ 17,096.00 (Fall 2015) $  9,738.00
*Based on resident rates to include tuition, fees, books/supplies, meals, housing, and personal expenses for 2015-2016. See UHM budget.
**Cost includes school tuition, housing, excursions, health insurance, meals, textbooks, ground transportation, and UHM study abroad and student visa fees.  Round trip airfare is not included. See respective program online budgets for further breakdown of costs at

Had it not been for the informational meetings and encouragement from the study abroad advisors, I would not have applied to study abroad in Spain for the Spring and Summer 2016 terms. Furthermore, I would not have searched for and secured the scholarships which are covering nearly all my travel expenses.

As I have sought numerous scholarships, there are a few (not-so-secret) secrets that have helped me to obtain a surplus of awards.  Here are the highlights:

Money doesn’t grow on trees. You’ve got to work for it.

Your parents were right. You have to honestly work to earn a pretty penny—even (if not, especially) scholarship money.  Reading the list of requirements of a scholarship application might make you cringe at the amount of work involved: application forms, essays, recommendation letters, oh my!  But think about it: even if you put in ten hours into applying for a $1000 scholarship and you win, that’s $100 an hour.  That’s about what an orthodontist or underwater welder makes per hour. Plus scholarship money is untaxed income.  So roll up your sleeves and work to make your application and essay really shine.

Write an Essay that’s Outstanding and Stands Out

Simply from the application form, you’re not likely to stand out from the other hundreds of applicants with similar grades, extracurricular activities, and volunteer experience. This is where the essay is so important. It’s your chance to show the review committee the person behind the application—why you’re passionate about this study abroad program and why it’s vital that you receive the scholarship.

To do this, answer the essay completely and try to show how their investment in you will be compounded because of your study abroad experience. How will it affect your outlook, your future and, more importantly, your community at large?

Make sure you review your application meticulously before sending it.  Your professionalism, attention to detail, and overall effort can be the difference between being the recipient of an award and being second best.  I usually ask my family, esteemed peers or professors to read over my essay for both grammar and content before pressing “Send”.

Apply, apply, apply!

You probably won’t obtain a scholarship for every application you send in, but the more scholarships you apply for the higher your probability of attaining money and financing your experience.

Generally, I try to apply for as many local applications as I am eligible for, because there are usually fewer applicants and therefore less competition.  There are also thousands of national/international study abroad scholarships you can find by searching online search engines or scholarship websites.

Here are some of my favorites:

I’m getting ready to pack my bags this month and head to Spain—an experience that I had originally thought was out of reach. My radical shift in thought—from not thinking I could afford this experience to paying for nearly all of it through scholarships—is due to the persuasion and support of the study abroad advisors.  I hope that what I have written can be the encouragement you need to realize that study abroad is totally attainable! As the Spanish say, “Si se puedes” (you can do it!).