This whole year I’ve been either talking about my experiences abroad or babbling about the random nonsense that floats through my head. Now it’s time for something else.
This is the scholarship I was awarded for my semester abroad in Argentina and it basically paid for my entire semester. I most certainly wouldn’t have been able to do all the things I did without this scholarship and I’m incredibly grateful for the generosity of the Gilman Foundation. This is a fantastic scholarship, and I’m going to go through the application process so that other students will consider applying.
The first thing I want to say about the Gilman is this: APPLY FOR IT. You have to qualify for the Pell Grant in order to get the Gilman, so if you’re getting the Pell Grant and want to study abroad, APPLY. The application can feel a bit lengthy, but it’s definitely worth the effort. Don’t be intimidated. Most of the written part is about you and why you want to go where you want to go, which is much easier to write about than some random topic that you don’t really care about. This is one scholarship that you definitely want to apply for.
I come from a single parent home and we’ve always been considered middle class income. When I first decided to study abroad, people on both sides of my family started telling me how wonderful it was, that this was a once in a lifetime opportunity.
I disagree. While traveling and studying abroad is a wonderful experience, it’s not a fairy tale. If you want it to happen, you have to MAKE it happen.
The Gilman is one of the ways to make it happen.
On the first part of the application, you need to upload your current university transcript and transcripts from any other university you’ve attended (this usually applies to transfer students). Here are the instructions for how to send your transcripts. Unfortunately it has to be the official transcript, which most universities charge for. This can be aggravating, especially if you’ve transferred universities a few times and have a limited budget (as most college students do), but this is what’s required.
To alleviate some of the frustration you may be feeling, here’s an adorable kangaroo rat:
Make you sure have the transcripts mailed to YOU, not the Gilman foundation, because you have to submit a digital copy of your transcripts with the online application. This might sound scary, but the instructions for how to do this are on the transcript page that I linked to. My study abroad advisor helped me a lot with this part; I took my transcripts to her office and she scanned them and emailed them to me as PDFs, which I uploaded for my application. I don’t know if all study abroad offices will do this, but my advisor was absolutely phenomenal with how much she supported me whenever I needed help (Hi Angel!). Even if you’re not familiar with the study abroad office at your university, it can’t hurt to ask.
Another thing, make sure to apply well before the deadline because the servers on the application site get really backed up during the last few days. I applied about ten days before the deadline and everything uploaded smoothly, but I’ve heard horror stories from other students whose transcripts took hours to upload. This can be a problem if you’re using the computer lab to submit your application. I’m a notorious procrastinator and I feel like a hypocrite for saying this, but DON’T PROCRASTINATE. At least not for the Gilman application.
After the transcripts section, there are two essay parts to the application: statement of purpose and the follow on service project. Here’s the link for the guidelines and requirements for each essay.
For me, the statement of purpose was the hardest. On the website it says this is where you tell them who you are and why you want to study abroad, but it’s more than that. This is your chance to convince them that you, out of all the other applicants, should get this scholarship. This type of writing tends to be hard because it can feel like a lot of pointless bragging, but you can’t think about it that way. You can’t think about your odds or that you don’t have much to say or how much better all the other applicants are than you. In essence, you want to fill this essay with as much “I’m worth your money” propaganda as possible. This is NOT the time to be humble.
If you write, “I want to study abroad because I’ve always wanted to travel,” the people reading your essay will probably think, “Well duh.” This is a scholarship exclusively for students planning to study abroad. Be more specific.
Is it the culture that drew you to the country you want to study in? What about the culture do you want to experience? Will learning the language help you with your career after college? Are you trying to get closer to your heritage?
One thing that the essay page doesn’t really address is diversity, but it’s worth mentioning because it will help them get to know you and see you as a person instead of just a faceless application.
Wooden ships aside, diversity is a huge part of why this scholarship exists. They say so right there on the home page:
If this seems vague to you, I’ll clarify. When I studied abroad, I noticed that most of the other students came from pretty wealthy families. These were students whose parents had enough money to pay their tuition, and most of them were visited by their families during the semester. These students are blessed to come from such good families and for them, traveling wasn’t a big deal. Most of them had traveled before and knew that they would again, which is the complete opposite of the “once in a lifetime” speech that people in my family kept giving me.
Traveling is expensive, so it makes sense that most of the people who travel have money to spend. In America, most of the people who have money to spend are white, as were most of the other American exchange students at my school. Students like me, just like students here in the States, were a minority. This is part of what the Gilman hopes to change, so if you have any other heritage, it would be worth mentioning. Are you of mixed ethnicity? Were your parents or grandparents born in another country? How did that affect your upbringing? Are you more open-minded to other cultures because of it? Did it affect how you interact with the world? Did it affect your decision to study abroad? Why?
Please don’t write, “Hey guys, I’m Mexican!” and expect to win. You need to show them how your diversity makes you worth their money, which means you have to show them that the qualities that define you will allow you to not only survive, but learn and thrive in a new country.
This may sound like bad news if you’re white and come a family that has been in the US for a couple generations, since a huge chunk of scholarships aim for diversity, but don’t be discouraged. If you qualify for the Pell Grant, chances are your parents aren’t paying your tuition. Have you had to work while going to school? How has juggling work and school affected you? How can this work ethic be applied to living in another country? What about extra-curricular activities? Things that you’ve done outside of school can still be applied to why you want to study abroad.
Another important thing to do is research the country you want to go to. For example, I had taken a few Spanish literature classes before my semester in Argentina. While researching this country, I realized that a lot of my favorite stories in these classes were written by Argentine authors (I’m a huge Borges fan, and it turns out that he was from Buenos Aires). Argentina is also famous for the tango and the program I chose offered tango lessons to the international students, which added to the appeal. If the tango comes from Argentina, then I would much rather learn it there than in, say, Russia. Learning things in their country of origin makes a HUGE difference in how they’re portrayed because you get to see how it fits into the culture as well.
These may not seem as goal-oriented as “I want to study in South America because learning Spanish will help my career after college,” but it adds a personal touch that deepens the superficial career oriented goals. Are there places you want to visit or things that you want to do outside of taking classes? Will this deepen your understanding of the culture you’re visiting? If you were giving out a scholarship, you wouldn’t want your student to go abroad because of their degree plan, have a horrible time because it wasn’t what they expected, and then come back to tell everyone how awful it is to study abroad.
Again, the point of this is to convince them that you’re worth their money, so if you show them that you learned as much about your destination as you could, it will look like you’re informed about what you want and that you have the drive to succeed in a study abroad program.
The other essay is the follow on service project proposal, which is basically a description of how you will promote this scholarship after you return home and why you think it will make an impact on students who want to study abroad. This may seem easier than the statement of purpose, but you should put a lot of thought into it because this is a serious commitment. This is a condition of accepting their money, and if you don’t follow through on it you’ll have to pay them back what they gave you.
You’ll have six months from the date you come home to turn it in, but keep in mind that it’s something you have to put time and effort into. After you come home you’ll probably have another semester to prepare for, a new job to find, and homework and classes on top of getting used to being home again. Those six months will go by quick, so make sure you leave yourself enough time to fulfill your promise to the Gilman Foundation. I said this earlier and I’ll say it again: DON’T PROCRASTINATE.
Once you’re written your essays, GET THEM PROOFREAD! It would be best to get more than one person to proofread them because you’ll get different kinds of feedback, but also be mindful of who you ask for feedback. Anyone can check your spelling and punctuation, but not everyone can tell you what scholarship foundations look for. The best thing to do is to get an advisor or professor to read them. Your roommate might be an English major, but they probably don’t have the experience that an advisor does.
After you submit your essays and transcripts, there’s a part of the application that your financial aid advisor and your study abroad advisor will have to fill out, which has a separate deadline. After you submit your documents, make sure to email your advisors to let them know so they can do their part. Keep in mind that you’re not their only student, so if you ask them to do anything for you make sure you give them plenty of notice. They probably have a thousand other things to do, and it’s not their fault if you procrastinated and might miss the deadline. Be nice to your advisors; they’re there to help you.
It will take a few months for them to notify you of the status of your application, but the nice thing about the Gilman is that they notify all the applicants, not just the ones who are chosen. Once you’ve submitted your application and your advisors have certified it, there’s nothing else you can do but wait.
Try not to stress out too much. While you’re waiting, here’s a video of an adorable tiny birthday party:
Good luck with your application!