According to Paula Warrick, director of the Office of Merit Awards, a study abroad scholarship is truly a passport to the world. The following are Warrick’s keys to landing an award that will enable you to take your education on the road:
- Practice good time management skills: The application process averages three to four months, but can stretch as long as six to ten months. “It’s like adding another class to your schedule,” says Warrick. The Office of Merit Awards is busiest in September, October, January, and February, so students should begin gathering information early: from March to August.
- Do undergraduate research: “Committees look for demonstrated rigor in research,” explains Warrick. “They want to know that you have a road map to take advantage of the opportunity they’re presenting.” Research is a great way to solidify your interests and convey your commitment.
- Cultivate relationships with faculty: Even if you’re making As in your classes, you should still go to office hours. “It’s important that you get to know your professors—and that they get to know you,” says Warrick. The more face time you get with your professors, the stronger their letters of recommendation will be—letters, Warrick points out, “that can be used for other purposes, like job or grad school applications.”
- Be well rounded: Since academic achievement among applicants is high—the average scholarship winner boasts a 3.8 GPA—students need to stand out in other ways. Language skills can give students an edge, as will a commitment to volunteerism and public service. Diversity can also be important. Warrick says her office is working closely with Multicultural Affairs to increase applications among first generation college students and students of color.
- Focus, focus, focus: A study abroad scholarship is an opportunity to advance your goals—not a time to define them. “Students are trying to persuade a committee to invest in them,” Warrick explains. “They should have a clear sense of purpose, and it should be reflected in their transcripts.” She encourages students to craft an “academic road map” to ensure that each course, internship, and extracurricular activity helps them hone their professional passions.
- Practice patience and humility: Successful applicants must be open to criticism. Essays and statements of purpose often go through five or six drafts before students get the words just right, says Warrick. As it can be a stressful and challenging process, she recommends students only apply for one or two scholarships at a time. “Better to focus very intently on two rather than spread yourself too thin with four or five.”