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Advice: Applying to Exchange and Study Abroad Programs

When you're looking into applying to the U.S., should you apply for specific sponsor programs like the Fulbright Program, or is it better to go it alone and find other sources of financial aid? If you do want to apply to one of these programs, what will it take to get accepted?

Our bloggers have had a variety of experiences. Nareg did not go through an exchange program and talks about how he found other sources of financial aid. Nick looked into a specific study abroad program but ultimately decided not to pursue it. And Sebastian was only able to afford his U.S. studies through an IIE scholarship.

Over the next few weeks, also look out for posts by Senzeni about the USAP program, which she is part of, and Rudro about why he wishes he had done more research on financial aid programs.

Nick Hoang
At the beginning of my senior year in high school, I started doing online research to figure out a plan for my college applying process. Since affordability was my top priority, my Google queries were mostly along the line of “U.S college scholarships for international students.” Eventually, there was one scholarship program that caught my interest and whose eligibility I met, namely the Wesleyan Freeman Asian Scholars Program.

The program is very prestigious with the award of basically a full-ride to a great college in America. For that reason, it is also extremely selective. Each year there are usually two Vietnamese students who are selected from many qualified applicants from all over the country. I thought I would take a chance in it, but after learning about the lengthy application rounds, I changed my plan. I decided to focus entirely on applying directly to my favorite colleges rather than investing all of my efforts into one program. Also, by looking up each school’s financial aid statistics for international students on, I knew that the colleges I was applying to all have very good financial aid programs. My strategy served me well. Here I am at St. John’s College with an amazing aid package that granted my entrance to an education I’ve always dreamed of.

Nareg Seferian
I looked into applying for a State Department program to be an exchange student in America, but, unfortunately, there was a technicality or two which disqualified me. It worked out, however, as I ended up at St. John's College, which has a very unique curriculum and consequently isn't the sort of place where one ends up as part of a sponsored program anyway. I was also very fortunate to receive an immense amount of institutional financial aid (that is, grants, scholarships, discounts from the college itself).

Some set programs limit the student's choices in where he or she ends up in the US, but many also have additional components that complement the educational experience. Of course, the big issue for most students - not only internationals - remain the finances, so one takes what one receives. At the same time, it might not be a bad idea to pursue an education on one's own terms, especially if it is something highly specific or particular. Apart from applying for institutional financial aid, there are plenty of local, community-based (ethnicity, religion, nationality), and governmental scholarship programmes. And there's always the student loan option, as well as a handful of tuition-free colleges in the country.

Sebastian Sanchez
Financial costs are a major factor when studying abroad is considered, luckily there are a lot of institutions that have that in mind and are willing to help international students with that big burden. In my personal experience I was supposed to go to The University of Arkansas in 2009, but the costs were too high so I ended up staying in Bolivia. But in 2010 I found a great opportunity that made me able to come to The University of Kansas to complete my college education.

I currently have full tuition coverage by a scholarship the Institute of International Education gave to me. In order to keep with this scholarship I have to renew it each year by having a 3.0 or more in overall GPA. But the benefits of not having to worry about most of the financial costs make up for the academic pressure. Besides, that “pressure” is only an excuse to push myself further and have better grades that in the long run are going to be beneficial for me anyway.

There are various institutions that open opportunities to international students that otherwise wouldn’t be able to study away from home. And now, with a tool as powerful as the internet, finding them is only a matter of looking for it. And this is not only in the USA; these opportunities are opened all over the world.

Doc Alex Busingye
Unfortunately, I didn't know much about programs while I was applying here. But now that I do I wish I did. Most of my fellow international students are on programs like the Washington Program. These programs cover tuition, books, and primary living expenses hence allowing you to focus on completing your degree without worrying about your finances in the future. I havent given up on the idea. I am comitted to finding one for my next semester. I've been told that getting a good program can be challenging, and even frustrating but am prepared for that because I know the rewards of getting it are worth the challenges. It's not a secret that being on a non-program is expensive and the costs of education are on the rise. Right now, finding a good program is not an option. I have to get one period.

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For those thinking about applying for Fulbrights in the future, check out these bits of quick advice: