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Tips on applying for scholarships

Like your study abroad programme and visa, if applicable, researching and applying for scholarships also requires you to apply as early as possible. Many of the funds may be on a first-come first-served basis, and not on competitive merits.

When you start to go through this list, find a way to stay organised - it can be pretty overwhelming but worth it if done right. Set a goal to apply for a few scholarships every week and keep track of deadlines on a calendar. Set email reminders, too. It would be a shame to miss out on an opportunity just because you forgot to submit your application on time!

1. Apply early and often

You want to be considered for every scholarship you apply to. You also want to leave a little breathing room in case something goes wrong with the application. The U.S. Department of Education's Federal Student Aid provider suggests students should start applying for scholarships the summer after junior year1 (grade 11, or Year 12 in the UK). It doesn't stop here, though. You can apply for scholarships every year, and all year long, even while you're attending university.

Don't forget to get your banking needs sorted before your money comes in. A scholarship will be deposited straight into your local account, and your tuition fees can be directly debited out of your account. You may even be able to open an account remotely with HSBC before you leave your home country.

Learn more about opening an overseas account

2. Make sure you meet all criteria before you apply

International student scholarships can sometimes have complicated eligibility requirements. Reach out to someone offering the scholarship to make sure you actually qualify before filling out the application. Having trouble with your application? Maybe you're applying for federal aid instead of a scholarship. While both will help you pay for school, international students are not usually eligible for federal student aid.

At HSBC, we can provide you with overseas education support with our full range of international banking and educational services. This includes complimentary meetings with professional advisers and career coaching services.

3. Use databases to make your research easier

Databases and connection services - also known as "scholarship search engines" - can help you quickly find and apply for multiple scholarships. There are hundreds to choose from online. Scholarships for studying abroad may be filtered based on:

  • country
  • subject or program
  • government or organisation
  • your academic, athletic or artistic merits
  • your background (for example race, religion or gender)

Funding may also come straight from the university you want to attend. Contact them directly for more information. You may be able to submit your scholarship and college application at the same time.

4. Watch out for scholarship scams

Unfortunately, in your search for scholarship funding, you may come across fraudsters attempting to steal either your identity or your money - or both.

The best way to avoid being scammed is to fill in your scholarship applications yourself and send them directly to the university.

You should be wary if someone:

  • offers to make an application for you
  • tries to make you pay a scholarship application fee
  • calls to say you've been shortlisted for a scholarship you never applied for

You should also be suspicious if you're attending a scholarship seminar and find yourself under pressure to pay on the day or risk missing out on a "limited opportunity". A genuine scholarship will never ask you for money.

When applying to universities in the US, the most important way to get financial aid is through the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Again, fill this in yourself.

If a company promises you financial aid for a fee, they may exaggerate your personal details to score more funding. So on top of being cheated by a fraudster, you could be fined up to USD20,000 2 for submitting false information on your FAFSA application.

5. Big or small, go for them all

There's a misconception that bursaries and grants are only for those with financial needs, and that scholarships are only for the academically gifted. Programmes offering larger awards are usually much more competitive. You might have better luck if you apply for a few smaller scholarships that might otherwise slip through the net.

Are you still worried that there will be too many applicants? The Scholarship Hub, a UK-based database of more than 3,000 scholarships and bursaries, estimates that students are missing out on GBP150 million in financial aid.3

Someone needs to get that money, so why not you?

6. Where to look for scholarships

The most popular study abroad destinations for international students continue to be the US, the UK and Australia. If you're just starting your research on scholarships, get in touch directly with the schools or organisations, or visit the various government websites.

  • EducationUSA - Leveraging scholarships in the United States
  • Gov.UK - Higher education UK scholarships for overseas students
  • Study Australia - Scholarships to study in Australia

Keep in mind that any financial aid you receive and use for tuition, books and fees will usually be tax-free. However, if you're planning to use your scholarship money for any living expenses, like rent or travel, then you should include it with your gross income when filing your taxes. This will vary depending on where you're studying.

If you're leaning towards a university in North America, here are the top 5 most popular states in the US for international students.

Heading abroad for your studies?

Scholarships, visas, health insurance and bank accounts. Every country has its own requirements - it can be difficult to know where to start.

Learn more about our international services


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1 U.S. Department of Education's Federal Student Aid online
2 Importance of submitting accurate information, Federal Student Aid online
3 Students could be missing out on scholarships. The Student, Times Higher Education