All You Need to Know about How to Apply for a Scholarship to Study Abroad -

All You Need to Know about How to Apply for a Scholarship to Study Abroad

High tuition fees can interfere with your dream of studying abroad, and you may feel discouraged to take the first step. Scholarships are a great way to make your study expenses easier to manage, and there are thousands you can apply to. Just how exactly can you find the right ones and how can you get your hands on a scholarship that can make your study abroad dream come true? 

In this guide, we will answer all the common questions about scholarships for international students:

  1. What is a scholarship?
  2. How to apply for a scholarship?
  3. How to find a scholarship?
  4. Types of scholarships

By the time you finish reading this guide, you will have all the necessary scholarship information to apply for one.

1. What is a scholarship? 

First things first, let’s understand what a scholarship is. The easiest way to describe it is money awarded by a university or other organisation to outstanding students who need help to pay for their higher education degree. 

While in most cases scholarships are a one-time monetary gift, sometimes they can be renewable and provide payment for all the semesters or school years of the degree. 

The three types of financial aid: scholarships, grants, and student loans?

The terms scholarships and grants are often used interchangeably because both are financial ‘gifts’ that don’t need to be paid back. However, there can be some differences between the two, the main one being the reason why they are awarded:

  • most scholarships are merit-based, meaning they are awarded based on previous academic results; 
  • grants are often based on financial needs, meaning they exist to encourage students from disadvantaged environments to reach their academic potential. 

A student loan is different from a scholarship or grant, mainly because loans must be paid back. They are generally offered by the state where you plan to study. 

The purpose of a student loan is to lend you money to pay for your tuition fees, accommodation, and other living expenses. Usually, you start paying back after you graduate, and sometimes it involves paying extra (some loans may include interest). 

--> Learn everything about the differences between scholarships, grants, and student loans in this article here. 

How do scholarships work?

A scholarship is given for the primary purpose of covering study costs, including tuition and enrolment fees, accommodation, study materials, and other expenses. 

In the case of receiving a scholarship, you may either get a check, or the scholarship may be paid directly to the university you will be attending. 

If the scholarship is lower than your tuition fees, student accommodation, or other study costs, you have to cover the remaining expenses yourself.

Who gives scholarships and why?

Now, why would someone give away so much money for free? Many private organisations, NGOs, higher education and state institutions seek to make studying abroad possible for more people. To do so, they offer money to support students in accessing higher education despite personal circumstances. 

For example, we at Studyportals are committed to helping students not only find the right study programme but also be able to attend it. Thus, every year, we offer 20 Studyportals Grants of €1,000 each to help our users with their study expenses. 

2. How to apply for a scholarship? 

Who can apply for a scholarship?

Anyone who meets the application requirements can apply. Yes, it’s a ‘Captain Obvious’ answer, but different types of scholarships target different students. These are called requirements or eligibility or selection criteria, and they mean your profile needs to tick certain boxes in order to compete for the money. Always check those criteria and see if a specific scholarship is the right one for you, so you don’t waste valuable time applying to the wrong one. Some of the most popular conditions are:

  • Academic Merit: A strong academic record is often a primary condition.
  • Nationality/Residency: Many scholarships are specifically designed for students from certain countries or regions.
  • Field of Study: Some scholarships are available only for students pursuing studies in specific fields, such as STEM, arts, or humanities.
  • Work Experience: Some scholarships, especially for postgraduate studies, might require applicants to have a certain amount of relevant work experience.
  • Age Limit: Some scholarships might have age restrictions.
  • Previous Degree: For scholarships targeting postgraduate students, having a relevant undergraduate degree with a certain GPA might be a requirement.

The application process 

Although it really depends on the scholarship you are applying for, most applications will have a similar process: online application, document submission, and the wait for the results to be announced.

Once you’ve found a study abroad scholarship for which you can apply, start preparing your documents. In most cases,this is what your application must include:

  • Motivation letter. This is the most important document that can get you that scholarship, so make sure you know how to write a scholarship motivation letter. Keep in mind that sometimes it may be called a scholarship essay or a personal statement.
  • Proof of your academic, athletic, or artistic achievements.
  • For some need-based scholarships, you may be asked to show official proof of your income.
  • An acceptance letter from the university. Without a document confirming that you will begin your studies, you will not be granted a scholarship.
  • In case any of these documents are written in a different language, make sure to provide an officially translated copy.

How to increase your chances of getting a scholarship?

Once you decide on the scholarship you want to apply for, all that's left is to impress the jury and win, right? Yes, this is definitely a case of ‘easier said than done’.

Start with a motivation letter

In most scholarship application processes, there's an area in which you can demonstrate your personality, life goals and aspirations and that is the motivational letter. It's an opportunity for you to fill in the blank page with words drawing a story of who you are and what you dream of. And it can't be stressed enough how important it is to let your creativity and your thoughts lead the way to writing this letter.

However, there may be a few other tips that you can consider before starting to write a motivational letter for a scholarship:

  • Take time. First, outline what you want to cover in the letter. List key topics and start writing.
  • Be original and honest. Talk about why you are choosing this particular academic career and what are your future goals.
  • Avoid using common phrases and instead, describe them in your own words.
  • Proofread your work or opt for a quick grammar check by using online tools such as Grammarly.
  • If you have a chance, ask someone who you trust to read your work and give their perspective on it.

You can also study our other article on how to write a scholarship motivation letter that would impress the admission committee.

Share your personal experience

Interesting personal experiences are what often catch the jury's eye. People who are involved in various activities or organisations, who practice their hobbies, travel or volunteer always have unique journeys to share. What are some of the most significant experiences in your life? Perhaps you have been practising a hobby that you enjoy. 

Maybe you have visited a new country or an area near your home that made you feel inspired. Or maybe you have been a part of a volunteering programme in your local community. Any kind of personal experience can make up a great and unique story which you can share in your motivation letter.

See examples of motivation letters written by past winners of the Studyportals Scholarship and learn from their good practice. 

3. How to find a scholarship?

Now that you understand better what a scholarship is and what you need to apply for one, you’re probably asking yourself the most important question: where do you find study-abroad scholarships for international students? 

  • The Studyportals scholarship search: An excellent place to start is our portal, where you can search for a masters scholarship that suits you best. You can select the field of study you’re interested in and/or the country where you want to study, and you’ll see all scholarships available for that selection. 

Scholarship search

  • University websites: An alternative to our scholarship search is to browse through the official web pages of the universities where you wish to study. There you will find suggested scholarships for different subject areas, levels of study, and particular aspects like domestic or international status, country of origins, and so on. 
  • If you can't find anything on the university site, consider contacting an official institution representative via email and asking them if they have any scholarships available and how (or if) you can apply for one. 
  • Another idea is to search for a scholarship depending on the country you plan to study in. You can find many opportunities on the official country's websites for higher education, such as Edu Canada or Study Australia.

Moreover, you can continue searching for options on the Internet. Make sure you read the deadlines and application dates well to avoid wasting time on expired offers. Here are some trusted sites that you can browse to find scholarships:

The Studyportals Student Grant

The Studyportals Student Grant is open to all students who found their study through our portals. It awards 20 ambitious students with €1,000 each. 

Good news! There is no essay needed, and all you need to be eligible is to have an enrollment letter from a university abroad and to have found your study through one of our portals: Bachelorsportal, Mastersportal, PhDportal, Distancelearningportal or Shortcoursesportal

4. What types of scholarships are out there?

The following are the most common types of scholarships you can apply for your studies abroad:

  1. Scholarships for excellent academic results. You need to be a top student to apply for this type of scholarship. Universities and colleges are the most common organisations offering scholarships for academic excellence, but they aren’t the only ones. To find out if a university offers this type of financial aid, check out the ‘costs and funding’ page on the official university website.
  2. Scholarships for research, artistic, or athletic achievements. If you’re into research, sports, or arts, then this scholarship category is for you. Athletic excellence scholarships are especially popular in the US, but you can find them in other countries as well. To receive financial aid, you need to showcase your skills. This might involve impressing scouts, showing research skills beyond your age, or creating a work of art that could easily impress critics. 
  3. Scholarships for students with low incomes. This type of scholarship is very similar to grants. The aim is to support students who want to study but cannot afford to pay the full tuition fees or living costs. Universities and other organisations make an excellent investment with need-based scholarships because future graduates often give back to their community and try to help others who face the same struggles.
  4. Scholarships for all international students. Not all scholarships target this or that group of students. Some private institutions or non-governmental organisations (NGOs) simply want to contribute to higher education and allow any international student to apply for their scholarships. These students still have to meet the requirements, but those are very general and broad, not focused on a specific region, minority, or ability.
  5. Scholarships for underrepresented groups. The goal is to support and encourage individuals from underrepresented groups to pursue education without worrying about costs. Examples include women students, students from developing countries, or belonging to specific ethnicities or nationalities. 

Another way you may find scholarships classified is by the following distinctions:

  • Location-specific scholarships: they offer financial support for students who wish to study in specific countries, cities or regions. 
  • Subject-specific scholarships: these are awarded to students to encourage them to do a certain degree or subject. 
  • Programme-specific scholarships: like the subject-specific financial award, these scholarships are given to students planning to study a particular programme.
  • Student-specific scholarships: to meet the criteria for these scholarships, a student must come from a particular background, such as a specific heritage, nationality, income, or gender.

--> Read a more in-depth article about the different types of scholarships

Final takeaways about scholarships

Let’s have a look at the most important takeaways from this article:

  • Scholarships are a type of gift aid — money you don’t have to pay back. They are usually merit-based, and very similar to study grants (which are mostly need-based), but different from student loans, which you need to pay pack, often with interest).
  • Depending on their type, scholarships can be open to local students, international students, all students, students from certain minorities or regions, etc.
  • The application process for a scholarship involves registering, writing a personal essay or letter, translating and sending the official study documents and proof of enrolment, etc.
  • You can use various resources to find study abroad scholarships: university websites, online scholarship databases, official study abroad pages for individual countries, and so on.
  • The most common types of scholarships are academic or merit-based, need-based, athletic-based, region or minority-based, etc.

Interesting programmes for you

Explore more than 90000 Master's programmes from all around the world with Studyportals.

All disciplines


Go to your profile page to get personalised recommendations!