Learn how grants may help you study abroad

By Annie Rose Stathes, edited by Valeri Boyle
Published February 19, 2014

Grants are financial aid that doesn’t have to be repaid. They may be commonly granted by the federal government, service organizations, and other institutions that set aside money to gift to qualified students for education, certain extracurricular activities, and program such as study abroad. Grants may make study abroad programs accessible and affordable, especially to those who are willing to search for them.

Students must apply for grants and meet certain criteria to be eligible. Most institutions and organizations give grants based on need rather than merit, so most students applying for grants have to demonstrate and prove need. What “need” means varies by institution, so it never hurts to apply for grants, even if you don’t consider yourself a student in “need”.

There are numerous ways to find grant information for study abroad programs:

Financial Aid Packages

Many schools in the United States offer internal (institution-sourced) financial aid packages that may include grant money for qualified students in need. Such money may typically be used to pay for study abroad programs. Grant money that is not meant to be used for study abroad and is instead meant to be used for tuition or living expenses, could at least free up other money to be used for study abroad. To determine what institution-sourced grants may be available to qualified students, talk to a financial aid counselor on campus.

The federal government may also offer grants to qualified students through school financial aid packages. Grants from the federal government, such as Pell Grants and Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants (FSEOGs), may typically be used to fund study abroad programs. To apply for financial aid through your school and the federal government, make an appointment with a financial aid counselor at your institution. He or she should direct you to complete a FAFSA and provide you with the information you need to apply for financial aid.

On-Campus Study Abroad Offices

On-campus study abroad offices typically have information about funding study abroad programs through grants. Sometimes study abroad offices offer grants to qualified students directly (funded by the school, a particular study abroad program, or another source such as a benefactor); and sometimes study abroad offices refer students to organizations that may commonly give qualified students money to study abroad. Talk to your on-campus study abroad office to see what money may be available for qualified students in need.

Department and College Money

Depending on the institution, some departments—such as history, political science, or sociology, for example—or colleges—such as a college of the liberal arts, or a business college, for example—may have grants to give to eligible students to study abroad or work on research projects. Talk to the department or college of your major or minor to see if such money may be available to you.

NAFSA and Financial Aid Databases

NAFSA is an association of international educators. It provides students with links to various sources of financial aid including grants. Visit any of the databases listed by NAFSA to explore potential funding options for study abroad programs.

Students can also search for grants at databases such as grants.gov and collegescholarships.org (to name a few).


Many study abroad programs offer special sweepstakes that students can enter to potentially “win” money to study abroad. When you find a study abroad program you like, ask about funding options and determine whether or not they have any “sweepstakes”, contests, or special offers for which you may qualify. Many of these sweepstakes are meant especially for students who demonstrate financial need.

Service Organizations

Service organizations, such as Rotary International, may sometimes offer money to eligible students to study abroad. Such money is commonly connected to service expectations (contributing to a service project in another part of the world or keeping a funding club apprised of your adventures, for example), and students who receive such money commonly become a part of a service-oriented network around the world. If you’re interested in pursuing this option, talk to service organizations in your area to ask for information about funding for studying abroad.

Annie Rose Stathes is a Colorado-based writer, teacher and political scientist. Her background is in international affairs and she holds a Master of Arts degree in Political Science.