Finding scholarships for international students may seem next to impossible, but they do exist. As prospective undergraduate students research their options for studying in the U.S., they should be aware of what might land them a coveted scholarship award.

International student studying at a coffee shop

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“A strong applicant will have demonstrated leadership and teamwork, strong letters of recommendation from teachers who know them and a consistently strong academic record which includes writing but also demonstrates follow-through and discipline,” says Meredith Twombly, vice president of admissions and financial aid at Clark University in Massachusetts.

Here are some things to know about scholarships for international students.

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Skills Can Boost Scholarship Chances
Strong leadership skills can make international students more competitive scholarship applicants, experts say.

“Being the head boy or captain of your school, leading the school paper or even setting up your own entrepreneurship club shows your leadership potential. In the end universities want to look at students who are going to be future leaders of the world and they want to see evidence of that from an early age,” Karan Gupta, CEO of Karan Gupta Consulting in India, wrote in an email.

Strong writing skills also help. Pakistani national Fareha Abid is a recipient of the Emerging Global Leader Scholarship offered by American University in Washington, D.C., where she is majoring in international studies with a double minor in Arabic and economics. She says she sharpened her skills through writing-intensive, advanced-level courses as well as launching and running her high school’s magazine.

The most critical part of a scholarship application, she says, is the personal statement, which allows admissions officers and scholarship committees to really get to know a student.

“That is where a certain degree of self-awareness and the skill of knowing how to tell your story comes in handy. My identity as a Pakistani girl, life experiences and being true to myself were a few of the things I highlighted,” Abid says.

Scholarship essays level the playing field, experts say, giving students from various backgrounds and with different accomplishments an opportunity to win an award.

“If you have good writing skills you will be able to communicate strengths about your profile with ease,” Gupta says. “This in turn will enhance your chances for scholarship.”

Mistakes Can Work Against You
Not writing your own essay and waiting until the last minute to apply for scholarships are mistakes international students should avoid, experts say.

“Students should avoid the temptation of plagiarizing essays or even full sentences from the Internet or from past submitted essays,” Gupta says.

He advises that international students be honest in what they write, especially about their achievements and extracurricular activities, and adds that scholarship committees “can very easily tell if an essay actually depicts a student’s potential.”

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Evelyn Levinson, director of international admissions at American University, says students should carefully review, reread and edit scholarship essays and use spellcheck before submitting their essays to a university. International students should ask their school counselor, English teacher or EducationUSA adviser to read and review their essays before submission, she says. EducationUSA is a U.S. Department of State-supported network of advising centers that assist students interested in studying in the U.S.

Ceasing to apply for additional scholarships after being awarded one or two is not a good idea, experts add, as students should maximize opportunities to get more money for college.

“Scholarships are highly competitive. Give yourself enough time to prepare a strong application and be able to communicate your goals for university study, your career aspirations, and why you chose a specific university to apply to. Do not wait until the last minute to ask school counselors for a letter of recommendation,” says Lynn A. Mosesso, director of graduate and international recruitment and admissions at the University of Arkansas.

Schools Can Be Scholarship Gold Mines

Experts recommend international students contact a school’s financial aid office and use scholarship search tools like to find out about scholarships awarded by colleges and universities in the U.S.

Applicants should look for scholarships open to all students rather than just U.S. citizens and permanent residents, as well as carefully review requirements, such as test scores, essays and additional materials like videos or letters of recommendation.

[ READ: 10 Universities That Offer International Students the Most Financial Aid. ]
There are numerous university-based scholarships open to international undergraduate applicants. The Wien International Scholarship Program, for example, was established in 1958 at Brandeis University in Massachusetts and has brought over 890 scholars from 115 countries to the school, says Julie Jette, a Brandeis spokeswoman. She says Wien Scholars “are committed leaders with a proven record of academic excellence and desire to effect positive change in their communities.”

The Presidential LEEP Scholarship offered by Clark University covers full tuition and on-campus room and board for all four years, regardless of financial need. Twombly says the school awards approximately five scholarships annually.

“Not all scholarships are listed on Common Application as many require a separate application, so do your research,” says LEEP recipient Maha Akbar. The Pakistani national is studying political science with a concentration in international relations at Clark.

Mosesso says the University of Arkansas offers five scholarships to undergraduate international students, such as the New Arkansan Non-Resident Tuition Award Scholarship that provides an annual award of $11,525 to $14,825 per year based on 30 hours of enrollment. The school also offers several college and departmental scholarships.

“If you do not meet the academic requirements for a new freshman scholarship, don’t fret. We offer scholarships to currently enrolled students who have excelled in their academic program or have financial need. Monies may range from $150 to over $5,000,” Mosesso says.

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