Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship Program: Information for Students

About the Scholarship

The U.S. Department of State’s Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship Program enables students of limited financial means to study or intern abroad, providing them with skills critical to our national security and economic prosperity. The Institute of International Education has administered the program since its inception in 2001.

  • For students at 2 and 4 year academic institutions
  • Open to all academic majors
  • Summer & Fall online applications are due March
  • Summer Early Cycle and Spring online applications are due in October

Scholarship Encourages


  • from diverse backgrounds
  • going to non-traditional study abroad destinations, especially those outside of Western Europe, Australia, and New Zealand
  • with disabilities
  • in fields of study underrepresented in study abroad (such as STEM & Engineering)
  • studying abroad for longer periods of time
Photo of a silhouette of a person holding a suitcase handle with their right hand looking out a window at an airplane, by Yousef Alfuhigi

Eligibility Requirements

Must be:

  • Enrolled as an undergraduate student at a two or four-year U.S. institution.
  • A United States citizen.
  • Receiving a Federal Pell Grant at the time of application or provide proof of receiving a Pell Grant during the term of the study abroad program or internship.
  • Participating in a credit bearing, University approved study abroad or internship program. 
  • Applying to a program in a country or area with an overall Travel Advisory Level 1 or 2, according to the U.S. Department of State’s Travel Advisory System. If a recipient of a Gilman award, the destination must be at a Travel Advisory Level 1 or 2 before the program starts or recipient will be required to change their program location.

Application Tips

General Essay Tips

  • Answer all parts of the essay question/prompt
  • Acknowledge who will be reading/reviewing your essay (Study Abroad Advisors, Fellowship Advisors across the USA, Language Faculty, US Higher Education Administrators) and speak to your audience
  • Proof your essay and utilize your resources: previous scholarship applications, Hacherl Research & Writing Studio, Scholarship Center, Education Abroad advisors
  • Use an active voice, write what you will do versus what you could or might do
  • Statement of Purpose Tips
    • Highlight the program you have chosen, the university you are attending, specific courses you plan to take, and how they fulfill degree requirements or impact your academics.
    • List how the program and region impact your short-term and long-term goals. (career interests, personal interests) 
    • Research your host university or country, and its strengths for your major or professional interests. 
    • Talk about how you stay organized and what planning tools you use (balancing work and school, clubs, using your planner, scheduling tools, Google calendar, etc.  
    • Identify any challenges or difficulties/hardships you have experienced, and give examples of how you have mitigated or navigated this. 
  • Tips for the Building Mutual Understanding prompt: 
    • This is the ideal space to share about your identity, and how you represent being an American.

    • You might share a story from your childhood to give the reviewers a sense of your lived experience, and how this contributes to your identity or contributes to who you are.  

    • The other part is sharing HOW you plan to engage and interact with others or become more culturally engaged during your program.  

    • Try to go beyond just being in the country and traveling, and instead highlight specifics of joining clubs, joining sports teams, or sharing your artwork, home cooked meals and culture, or creating talking points. Other ideas may include volunteering, or connecting with family or your heritage while abroad.

Transcript & Academic History

  • You can provide an unofficial transcript when you apply.
  • There is no minimum GPA requirement
  • It is encouraged that you address any challenges with your academics or grades in your essays:
    • If you have not been in full-time status, or have re-taken some courses, it may be good to speak about your study habits and skills for being successful academically abroad.
    • Maybe you are half-time because of struggles with online learning, or for medical/health reasons, or to work part-time?
    • If you feel comfortable to address these things, it may help panelists understand and empathize with your situation.

Bonus Essay Tips

Align your Goals to the Mission of the Organization or Scholarship Foundation: Articulate how you can help to further their mission and goals. This will show you have done your research and that you will be a good advocate for the program and scholarship.

Be Specific: The more specific you can be about your long and short-term goals, including courses you plan to take and projects you plan to fulfill, the better you will stand out. 

Utilize the Power of Storytelling: Scholarship reviewers often hear a similar narrative, "My name is x, I am applying for x program, in x location." If you can lead with a personal story, and share aspects of who you are, your identity, journey, and your impact, this will be memorable, and the reviewers will want to invest in you. A willingness to share your unique story can have huge impact!

Address Urgency and Why now? Making the case for this opportunity right now, as the most urgent time for you to be awarded can make a difference in prioritizing your application. Perhaps there is a conference, experience, a summit, or a project happening in your destination that you want to take part in, or you are graduating soon, and this is your only opportunity. This urgency can move you to the top of the list over others that don't make this case.

Speak to Alumni: Connect with alumni from your program, those who studied in that destination, or who have been awarded the scholarship. Alumni can provide insights into the program and experience. They may also have good tips and strategies for involvement pre-departure, onsite, and upon return for the Follow-on Service Project.

Photo of various currencies of paper money by Jason Leung

Award Information

Semester/Year Awards:

  • Fall/Academic Year/Early Summer cycle: One in four students are awarded
  • Fall and Academic Year award notifications in Mid-July
  • Winter/Spring/Summer cycle: One in five students are awarded
  • Spring award notifications in November
  • Award: up to $5000, award amounts vary based on the length of study and student need.

Summer Awards:

  • Early Summer award notifications in February, Summer award notifications in late April
  • Limited number of summer scholarships so Early Summer applications are recommended!
  • Award offered: Up to $5000. Awards vary based on applications.

Critical Need Language Award:

  • Up to $3,000 additional funds for combined award of up to $8,000
  • Languages Include: Arabic, Azerbaijani, Bahasa Indonesian, Bangla, Chinese (Mandarin), Hebrew, Hindi, Japanese, Korean, Persian, Portuguese, Punjabi, Russian, Swahili, Turkish, Urdu

Programs with Pell Grant/Gilman Funds Match

  • API: Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship Awards: $1000 semester, $500 summer
  • AIFS/Global Experiences
    • Study Abroad Pell match - $500 in person/onsite programs, and $200 for Virtual Programs.
    • Gilman Scholarship recipient Match: $500 semester, $250 summer, $200 Virtual
  • Semester at Sea: Pell Grant Match
  • SIT Study Abroad: Pell Grant Match
  • CIEE: Pell Grant recipients, and non-Pell students with an EFC under $10K can automatically qualify for
    • GAIN Travel Grant: $1500 semester/$500 summer toward airfare,
    • Gilman applicants qualify for Go Global Grant:
      • If not selected for Gilman: $2500 semester/$1500 quarter/$1000 summer/ single block.
      • If selected as a Gilman recipient: $500 semester/$300 quarter/$250 summer/single block.
Photo of various currencies of paper money by John McArthur

Essay Do's

Make a outline for your essay: 

  • Introduction: personal story about you and your chosen program
    • Lead with a story, rather than the traditional, “My name is X, studying X, in X country”
    • Highlight what makes you unique and how you have overcome any struggles related to your diversity or membership of a non-traditional study abroad category: Ethnic Minority, First Generation College Student, Student with a Disability, LGBTQ, Veteran, STEM major, older than 24, Married, Parent, Adopted, Religious Minority, Mix-Race Family, come from a small community, etc.
  • Main point: why you chose your program and how it will impact degree progress 
  • Supporting paragraphs to address application questions/prompts:
    • How your program fulfills degree requirements, meets academic and personal goals, fits your budget
    • List the class titles you intend to take
    • How your program may lead to future career or educational opportunities
    • Connect your goals with the location you are going to, include research and statistics if possible on your location, program, and host school
    • Include any knowledge or study (independently or for credit) of the host language
    • Express your financial situation, why you need money and if you work part time
  • Closing: Re-state your elevator pitch and thank the reviewers for consideration of your application
  • Explain any poor academic performance or low GPA, but don’t dwell on it

Essay Don'ts

  • Don’t talk about being excited about travelling, feature program excursions, or additional travel during your study abroad. Remember, this is an academic experience, not a travel opportunity.
  • Disclose former travel opportunities extensively
  • Ignore the questions/prompts or only partially answer them
  • Ignore your conclusion
  • Over-explain things. Stick to your point (better to have a short essay that is well-written than a long essay where the main points are lost)
  • Disclose or feature other significant scholarships you may have received. Panel readers to want to “spread the wealth” and award money to students who haven’t been as fortunate with funding.
  • Avoid lengthy descriptions or flowery language. Reviewers read hundreds of essays, what will make them remember you in a positive way?

Tips for the Critical Language Supplement Essay

  • It is important to talk about your initial language proficiency level, and the next levels of courses you plan to take prior to your program, and while abroad.

    • Are they intensive in nature? List how many credits you will earn.

    • Will they assist in fulfilling requirements for a major or minor?

  • It is really important to talk about the intensive nature of your program, and specific courses and/or credits you will earn.
  • How will the CLS award prepare you for advancing and using the language after you return? 

  • How will you leverage the classroom learning with outside learning opportunities?

    • Highlight examples like joining clubs, using Duolingo, conversation groups, a buddy house for living, using public transportation in the city, volunteering, watching tv shows or music for improved grammar and vocab.

  • Highlight how you plan to continue with language courses upon your return. This shows the panelists a commitment to language learning. 

  • If your program is short (one week or one month) really highlight how the credits and language immersion are built into the program. List the courses so this is clear.  

Person writing on sticky notes on a corkboard by Jo Szczepanska

Follow-on Service Project

Follow-on Service Project Tips

  • Share information about international education and The Gilman International Scholarship
  • Choose a target audience: ideally clubs/organizations/students you have connections with, and communities that could benefit from the Gilman
  • Providing statistics or demographics can add value here – of your department or classes or high school or city, or even your college for example. 
  • Be creative: Target community organizations and future outreach rather than campus communities. Target ideal populations not just language classes on campus. How will you pay it forward?
  • Make project realistic and feasible
  • List organizations or people that you have spoken to about getting involved with your projects
  • Connect with the Education Abroad office - they may have ideas or projects for a follow on that they feel would really help education abroad as a field. Collaborating with existing offices on projects could add strength to your proposal
  • Use an active voice: write what you will do versus what you could or might do
  • Create a timeline for your project
  • Upon completion of your project you will be required to submit a two-page final report summarizing your experience abroad and the impact of your Follow-on project.

Follow-on Service Project Ideas

  • Think about your networks, your on-campus job, extracurricular organizations and how can you promote study abroad within those groups
  • Collaborate with your academic department or club to make a resource about study abroad
  • Art exhibition with other students that studied abroad  
  • Consider presentation types like Canva, Digital Storytelling, movies, music videos, etc.
  • Create Vlogs, Podcasts, short films, blogs, articles for a school newspaper, journalism topic, public or school radio
  • Present at regional and national student club organization conferences
  • Return to your former community college or high school and work with clubs/departments to present on your experience and the scholarship
  • Work with related offices to put on Scholarship Workshops and feature the Gilman International Scholarship, how to apply, be successful
  • Organize scholarship ceremonies to highlight study abroad scholarship winners 
  • Work with departments to conduct research and polls on interest for study abroad, how to make study abroad more accessible, identify barriers, consider focus groups to gain feedback
  • Host an open mic night, create a cookbook from abroad, or an art piece for public galleries
  • Communicate with the Education Abroad office to work as a Peer Advisor, or identify projects within your academic department to better make study abroad and scholarships more accessible


Visit the Gilman Scholarship website for updated information and to start the application process!

Scrabble tiles that spell out, "GO FOR IT" photo by Brett Jordan