The most popular scholarships for international students

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Published on 2023-11-15 at 11:00
Studying abroad can come with a hefty price tag, especially in countries where tuition fees for out-of-state and international students are high or in countries with a strong local currency. Getting a scholarship can alleviate the financial stress that many international students and their families feel. What are some of the most popular scholarships for them?

The Fulbright Scholarship funds 2 years of graduate studies in the US

The prestigious Fulbright scholarship is granted by the US Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (part of the Department of State) and concerns only postgraduate international students – not undergraduates. 

It is open to the citizens of nearly all countries where the US has a diplomatic presence. The number of scholarships granted to citizens of each country varies according to its size and the strength of its relationship with the US. For instance, Indians can get over 300 Fulbright scholarships per year, while a small country like Mauritius only gets 2-3 per year. You should check the website of the US embassy in your country for more details – including details about the application period this year!

This scholarship funds up to 2 years of a degree by covering both tuition fees and basic living expenses (through a stipend). If you are applying for a 3-year master's degree, you will have to pay for the third year out of pocket or look for another source of funding. If it's a PhD, which takes 4-7 years in the US, your graduate school should provide you with its own funding in exchange for your research or work as a teaching assistant. 

There are no restrictions concerning the field of study, but it's easier to get the scholarship if your field is designated as a priority field in your country or contributes to society in some way. For instance, marine biology, microbiology and fisheries science are designated as priority fields in Seychelles because it is a small island with a marine sector, so it might be easier for Seychellois applicants in these fields to get the scholarship than ones who want to do a Master's degree in, say, English literature.

It's good to have a few years of work experience on your CV before applying, but too many years is a disadvantage, too. The program's website says that it's mainly for applicants with less than 7 years of experience in their field. Extracurricular achievements matter a lot in the application. If you have a 2:1 undergraduate degree but have years of community service, scientific research or artistic awards on your CV, you might get chosen over an applicant with a 1st class degree. 2:1 is the minimum requirement, but the program occasionally accepts exceptional applicants with a 2:2 degree. 

The acceptance rate is 20%, although this varies by country. The UK, Ireland, Australia, Kenya, South Africa, India, Bolivia and Peru, for instance, have a very low acceptance rate (3-7%) because of the sheer number of applicants. Being a Fulbright scholar is extremely prestigious, and this will stand out on your CV even many years after you've finished the program. You will be able to keep networking with members of the Fulbright Alumni Association, which counts multiple heads of states, Nobel Prize winners and Pulitzer recipients among its members.

The Chevening Scholarship funds any Master's degree in the UK

This is another very prestigious graduate scholarship. It is funded by the UK's British Foreign and Commonwealth Office and allows international students to study for a fully-funded Master's degree in any field at any British university. Like with the Fulbright scholarship, however, it's easier to get the scholarship if your field is designated as a priority one in your home country or contributes to society in some way (development studies, gender studies, law and governance, public health research, etc.). It is extremely competitive, with an acceptance rate lingering around 2%. 

It is open to applicants in nearly all countries where the UK has a diplomatic presence. However, it has one important requirement that Fulbright doesn't have: 2 years of work experience. So, fresh graduates can rarely apply. However, as 2 years of full-time work are the equivalent of 2,800 hours, if you've completed at least 2,800 hours of part-time work, voluntary work, or work as part of an internship, this also counts. For instance, if a 23-year-old applicant has worked full-time for only 1.5 years but has also accumulated volunteering hours since high school, he/she/they can still apply.

The IELTS (English language testing) requirement to just apply was removed in 2020. However, if applicants get accepted, they might still have to take the test at a later date to meet the requirements of their chosen university. 

One limitation that's still in place is that Chevening scholars cannot apply for the Graduate Work Visa that allows most international students to work in the UK for 2 years after their degree. This is because one of the scholarship's conditions is that they will work in their home country and contribute directly to its development for at least 2 years after graduating. In contrast, Fulbright scholars have the right to apply for an Optional Practical Training (OPT) permit to work there for 1-2 years after their degree – like any other international graduate. In any case, Chevening Scholars will still join the Chevening Alumni Network, which is as prestigious and well-connected as the Fulbright Alumni Association. 

The Australia Awards Scholarship funds both undergraduate and postgraduate studies for students from some developing countries

The Australia Awards Scholarship is quite similar to Fulbright and Chevening in many respects. First of all, it's granted by the state, more specifically by the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. And like the Chevening, it requires its alums to return to their home country to work for at least two years – they cannot apply for a work visa in Australia after graduating. If they take that risk, they will incur a debt for the total cost of their scholarship.

Two major differences from the previously mentioned scholarships are that the Australia Awards Scholarship is only open to international students from developing countries and can also fund undergraduate degrees. As such, only students from designated African, Asian and Pacific countries can apply. Unfortunately, developing countries from Central and South America are not eligible. In the Middle East, only Palestinian students can apply. Even in Asia, students from more economically powerful developing countries like India and China cannot apply.

Australia is notoriously known to be the most expensive country to study abroad in, so this kind of full scholarship must provide huge financial relief to many international students. Apart from tuition fees and a cost-of-living stipend, the scholarship also covers a two-way flight, health insurance, supplementary academic support, and any compulsory fieldwork in the student's degree program.

The Commonwealth Scholarship funds graduate degrees in the UK for students from developing Commonwealth countries

Chevening isn't the only prestigious scholarship offered by the UK government. The country also offers Commonwealth scholarships to students from developing members of the Commonwealth, i.e., the association of 56 countries that were formerly part of the British Empire. 

Some highly-developed countries like Canada and New Zealand are part of the Commonwealth; students from there are not eligible for this scholarship. The eligible countries must be low- or middle-income (upper-middle-income countries also count!). The scholarship primarily funds Master's degrees, but it might also fund PhD studies if the applicant is from a country classified as a “fragile state” by the OECD's Development Assistance Committee (DAC).

Unlike the Chevening Scholarship, the fields of study are restricted. The funding comes from the UK's Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO), so these fields must align with FCDO's development goals. The applicant's degree must be classifiable under one of these six development themes:

  1. Science and technology for development
  2. Strengthening health systems and capacity
  3. Promoting global prosperity
  4. Strengthening global peace, security and governance
  5. Strengthening resilience and response to crises
  6. Access, inclusion and opportunity

Examples of degrees that are eligible are law, politics, public policy, economics, human rights, diplomacy, education, intercultural communication, gender studies, agriculture, development studies (including sustainable development), environmental engineering, energy, public health policy, social work, security/intelligence studies, and conflict studies.

The Mastercard Foundation Scholars Program offers scholarships to African students at prestigious universities

The Mastercard Foundation is a non-governmental organization owned by the eponymous payment processing corporation. This program is relatively young; it has existed since only 2012, and it funds the undergraduate and graduate studies of young students from the African continent. There is an age restriction: under 29 for undergraduate degrees and under 35 for graduate degrees. The program offers up to 60,000 scholarships a year in collaboration with its academic partners.

Its academic partners are the only universities to which the students can apply in order to get this scholarship. At the undergraduate level, the universities are mostly in Africa or the Middle East: the American University in Beirut (Lebanon), the University of Western Cape (South Africa), the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (Ghana) are some of them. The choice of academic partners is more diverse and international for graduate degrees, and they include some of the top universities around the world like Oxford, Cambridge, the University of Edinburgh, UC Berkeley, McGill, the University of Toronto and Science Po.

Like many of the other aforementioned scholarships, this program looks at not only applicants' academic achievements but also their leadership potential as a changemaker in their respective African countries. So, even someone with average grades but a great track record of community engagement, research or artistic achievement has a solid chance of getting a Mastercard Scholarship.