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Navigating scholarships and funding options for your study abroad

For most prospective international students, the most daunting aspect of studying abroad is financial – both the tuition and cost of living can seem astronomical, especially for students coming from a developing economy.

However, that is where exploring your scholarship and funding options comes in. Finding the right scholarship or funding options could make your dreams of an international education become a reality.

Landing a scholarship or funding opportunity is usually subject to meeting certain requirements, so it’s important to understand your options – just because you don’t fulfill the checklist for one doesn’t mean you aren’t eligible for others!

As with most things, doing the research will help you understand the financial contributions for the different scholarships and improve your chances of identifying the right funding options for yourself, so let’s get started!


Talk to the officials

Discussing your study options with university officials or authorized education agents (if applicable to you) should be your first starting point.

This of course means that you would ideally have a shortlist of universities or courses sorted, or at least a reasonable idea of where you want to study.

University officials will be able to point you towards the scholarships and programs their universities are affiliated with, or at the very least they can advise you on where to find out more information about scholarships relevant to you and your university of choice.

Universities in the UK, New Zealand and Australia, for instance, are generally eligible for various Commonwealth scholarship programs.

While these programs don’t encompass every type of study, they do cater to a wide range of fields and industries so there is a good chance your degree may be on that list.

Best thing? These scholarships can help you whether you’re looking to study at an undergraduate or postgraduate level!

Certain countries require that your admissions processes or any communication happen through registered education agents, generally located in your home country.

With agents, your conversations can discuss and explore all your potential scholarship options rather than those limited to a single university or course.

I know there are people who prefer doing their own research and that is perfectly fine too! However, my recommendation is with communicating with agents and university officials.

Scholarship requirements can be very tricky to understand and navigate, and you may often not be aware of the importance of any paperwork or supplementary evidence. In these situations, agents and university officials can help you avoid such issues!


Leverage the international alumni network

In my experience, making the most out of your professional networks and university alumni community is something that may end up helping you a lot.

Social media is an excellent starting point for locating alumni groups and making introductions. International alumni, particularly those from your own country, have already been through what you will experience abroad.

They understand the planning phase, the financial considerations and what you will face during your study period so they can provide the most relevant information to you so you can learn from their experiences.

This information can range from scholarship and funding guides to even more practical knowledge about finding work opportunities to help you manage the cost of living. One thing that isn’t talked about as often, but is vitally critical, is the support networks formed by some alumni groups.

These are people who are at very advanced stages in their careers, who can provide support for students from their home countries to pursue their academic and professional dreams.

Such alumni-led programs unfortunately do not get the spotlight they deserve; however I personally know a few people who were supported through their postgraduate and doctoral study by a network created by alumni from their university.

Even if you are unable to find such funding programs, alumni have a wealth of lived experience about international study, especially when it comes to living and working as an international student. It was such advice that helped me make the best choices to support myself during my study abroad.


Look to your home country

This may seem strange, but you may be surprised to learn that many countries have financial programs in place to fund students who wish to study abroad.

These sort of funding programs are often structured more as loans rather than scholarships.

Due to that, you may find that such programs might favour study in the STEM areas such as sciences, engineering, medicine and policy-making, and often exclude arts and humanities.

The idea of a loan may not appeal to everyone, but I recommend reaching out to the relevant government body for details first before ruling it out as an option.

Some of these programs may not require you to pay back the loan in upfront and regular payments but may instead require you to return home and undertake specific work activities for a certain amount of time after you complete your overseas studies. The Fulbright scholarship program to the US, famously, has a similar rule in place as well.

Even if that is not the case and you are required to repay the loan, these programs are thoughtfully put together, and the loan repayment is something easily manageable due to the career boost you receive due to your international studies.

This type of funding option is most helpful for students whose personal finances don’t fully cover their foreign study, so supplementing it with a loan scheme may let you undertake your studies immediately without relying completely on personal savings.

As an international student, the financial aspects of studying abroad is something that will often be the toughest to navigate.

That’s why ensuring you are taking advantage of all your networks and resources to research all possible funding options will help you increase your chances of lowering the financial burden for the period of your study, and help you rapidly achieve stability during and after your studies.

Hassaan Ahmed

Writer, serial procrastinator. Wild-haired, tired-eyed purveyor of words like purveyor. Academic-in-training, Master of Communication at Deakin. @ancienthydra

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