Guest post by Leah Turner 

In all honesty, I never thought I would be someone who studied abroad, much less someone applying for a Gilman scholarship. Not that it has always been this way, but my family has been hit pretty hard in these economic times, and we’ve endured many financial hardships—just in time for me to attend college. We’ve managed so far, but because study abroad is a pretty expensive endeavor, I hurriedly crossed that opportunity from my list of things “to-do” before graduating. However, I find that the old adage “Where there is a will, there is a way” rings true in this instance; after my first semester of Russian language, my professor approached me with the opportunity to study abroad for a month in Russia during the summer in order to hone my Russian language skills in the country itself. Now that I was confronted with a destination and deadline, I found myself really wanting to go, so I visited the campus study abroad site and wrote down all the scholarships I could apply for; one such scholarship was the Gilman.

Even before I had started any of the applications, I knew that the Gilman would take the most effort and time to perfect. Not only is there an extensive online application that must be completed, there are two essays that must be included as well—a statement of purpose and follow-up service project proposal. These are both  critical to the application as a whole, because the statement of purpose personalizes your submission, while the follow-up service proposal allows the committee to see how dedicated you are to the study abroad program and getting word out about your experiences. These essays can be up to 7,000 characters, which is roughly 2 pages double spaced, so there is plenty of room to work with.

I recommend that before starting anything else, be brainstorming and drafting both essays so that you will have ample time to review and edit your work with the help of advisors and staff at the Office of Scholar Development. At the least, do this no later than two months prior to deadline, and have a rough draft finished by a month prior so that other people reviewing your essay will have time to read it and offer suggestions. I sat down over my winter break and typed out a draft in a couple hours, then reviewed it time and time again before sending it to a scholarship advisor to edit several more times. Basically, the more time you give yourself to prepare and become familiar with the program, application, and process, the better. The Gilman website is chock full of information on what the scholarship is, how to apply, and great tips on essays, so it would behoove you to read it extensively. Attend information sessions on campus regarding scholarships (note: Day of Workshops, February 7, 9am-4pm in Helm 100), as well as going to visit the study abroad office. The follow-on service project requires great thought, but it also requires contacting businesses, coordinators, and others to ensure that your proposal can actually be done. It is relatively easy to come up with a plan, but harder to actually see it through and gain permission for that plan.

The most important things to keep in mind while applying are:

  • Find an advisor—you can submit the application yourself without any help from an outside source, but you will have a far greater chance of being competitive if you seek advising from someone familiar with the process;
  • Be prepared—stay on top of deadlines and pace yourself so that you aren’t overwhelming yourself all at once, but you’re giving yourself time to complete it;
  • Seek unconventional programs in nontraditional destinations—this makes your application more competitive;
  • Revise and review! Essays are crucial so make sure you put the adequate time and effort in to make them interesting and persuasive;
  • Don’t stress—if you do not end up being awarded it isn’t the end of the world. The Gilman is a highly competitive grant and all applicants are worthy. Give it your best, and that’s all you can do!

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