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International Scholarships: Winning a Scholarship Is Hard but Not Impossible

Ramiar Jamal is from Iraqi Kurdistan and received an Excellence Study Scholarship to attend the University of Milan for a Master’s in International Relations. 


Winning an academic scholarship is a goal shared by numerous students. It is a profound achievement and a historically academic pursuit someone can make in their lifetime. A significant number of students are unaware of the scholarship opportunities available, but, in fact, it is quite possible to be a recipient of generous study grants. I received a scholarship to study in Europe for my Master’s degree, and I learned a lot throughout the process. In sharing my experience, I am going to reveal my tips and tricks for securing scholarships, including what to do if you’re seeking an international scholarship. Let’s dive in. 


What is a scholarship?

First, let’s make sure we understand what types of scholarships are available. A scholarship is a study grant, education fund, or financial assistance given to students, which covers a student’s tuition fees and daily living expenses. There are many different categories. For example, some grants cover half or full tuition fees, and some others cover not only one’s tuition fees but also one’s daily living expenses as well, including accommodation, transportation, and food. There are some others granted based on academic merit, family status, and ethnic group. There are a lot of options, so take time on the frontend researching and understanding the scholarships available to you. The application process takes time, and often, essays and recommendations, so ensure that the scholarships you’re applying to meet all of your needs. Note that each university is different in how you request a scholarship. Some universities will grant scholarships simultaneously during the application process. While some first give admissions and then require you to apply for a study grant in a separate application.


How did I get a scholarship?

I didn’t learn about scholarships until my undergraduate education was well underway. I was studying in France in 2015 where I met many international students who were financially assisted by their home countries to study—it was the last year of my undergraduate program. Pursuing a grant for my Master’s degree was a real dream of mine. After having finished my exchange study program at Sciences Po Paris School of International Affairs, a partnership program with the University of Kurdistan-Hewler, I made it a goal of mine to study in Europe and receive a full scholarship, including living expenses. The motivations behind it stemmed from my wonderful experience in Europe as someone coming from Iraqi Kurdistan. 

I tried so hard to get one; I read many articles, spoke to many foreign students and university professors to gain insight into the process. I was rejected by my top choice and a few programs thereafter but did not let that stop me from achieving my goal. I spent a lot of time narrowing my search (this is where research comes in) to hone in on which universities and scholarship applications I wanted to invest time into. Using Studyportals (a website that provides information on universities and fields of study) was a huge help. I had narrowed my search and looked only at universities in Europe that gave full-tuition scholarships. In the beginning, using online tools helped me find schools with the programs I was interested in and the scholarship I was looking for, and eventually helped me stay on top of admissions deadlines and scholarship requirements with reminders and timeline support. 

I didn’t stop my search until I received admission from the University of Milan with a generous scholarship. I was so excited to receive the “Excellence in Study Scholarship” and I began my studies in the fall of 2016. I paid no tuition fees, was given a meal card, and a room for half of the normal price for apartments in the tremendously expensive city of Milan. 


How to get a scholarship.

Since receiving my scholarship, many people have asked me, “Am I qualified to get a scholarship?” and my response is, “Yes, everyone has the opportunity to get one, but it requires hard work, resilience, and commitment. Here are the three things I always share with my peers:


Research as much as you can.

I know many Italian students who’ve shared that they were not able to study because they didn’t receive a scholarship, while I come from Iraqi Kurdistan and was funded by their government. So, research is a fundamentally significant step when it comes to finding scholarships. Research all of the scholarships available to you and the schools you’re applying to. Understand what all of your options are before deciding which scholarships play to your strengths as an applicant. This takes more research and time than identifying the top scholarships available—think about how you can combine a couple of smaller, less sought-after scholarships to reach your financial goals. Again, using Studyportals was helpful, especially as an international applicant, while I was searching for Master’s programs. Scholarship Positions was a huge resource while researching scholarships. Be sure to sign up for their newsletter to get tailored notifications on scholarships and financial aid opportunities depending on where you want to study. 

Use social media.

Subscribe to social media groups that share scholarship positions and sign up for emails from the universities where you would like to study and follow them on social media so that you never miss an opportunity. During my application process, I joined the Facebook group Opportunities for Youth, which shares a plethora of international opportunities, and another group focused on curating scholarships, internships, and events for students interested in human rights opportunities. I sought out groups that were tailored to what I was interested in studying and where I wanted to be. Seek out groups that are specific to you; your field of study, location, and more—narrow it down as much as possible.

Do not lose hope.

Apply to as many universities with grants as you can—at least seven to eight universities. It’s good to have options. Remember, universities have a dedicated amount of budget devoted to international students. Study grants are generally given on the basis of academic rank, academic merit, or work experience. But it should not disappoint you if you are not academically doing well. Your academic performance is one consideration, but your application is holistic, meaning your essay, recommendations, and extracurricular experiences have weight too. I have met many students who did not perform at the top of their class, but they received financial assistance. So, focus on highlighting your strengths in your application, like involvement in student organizations or internships. 

This is my experience of getting admission and scholarship for my Master’s studies. I hope I have helped. Good luck!


Applying for international scholarships? Our Ilkmade Experts are here to help your application stand out. From deciding on which programs are aligned with your goals to essay review and interview prep, we’ve got you covered. Book a free 15-minute consultation here to see how we can support you through the scholarship process.

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