15,600,000,000 EUR. That’s the approximate value of scholarships available for international students each year – in Europe alone! These scholarships – needless to say – come in different sizes and shapes, but comparing that to the 6 out of 10 students who abandon their aspirations of studying abroad due to not finding the appropriate funding, one must say that the financial aspect of studying abroad becomes more important than ever.

In fact, many students are each eligible for a whole spectrum of scholarships but miss the opportunity to secure funding due to three primary reasons: 1. Not knowing where to look (The Needle-in-a-Haystack Problem), 2. Not believing enough in oneself (The Self-Doubt Problem), 3. Not planning properly (The Mare’s Nest Problem).

The Needle-in-a-Haystack Problem

Often when aspiring students begin to plan their studies abroad, they hit the wall – some harder than others, but you will hit the wall. Finding an education abroad is toilsome and wildering, but also an investment and experience for life. The wall of strenuousness often revolves around financing the “abroadness” of your studies. You may have experienced this yourself:

  1. An astounding university abroad: check
  2. The perfect fit programme: check
  3. Nice travel plans (Including Instagrammable spots secured): check
  4. A Duolingo-signup on the language spoken: check
  5. Shatterproof mood: check
  6. Funding: Uhm no? How do I get this funded…?

You need to find which scholarships are right for you and how to get them. Scholarships are scattered on national, regional, municipal, institutional and private levels. One of the largest centralised platforms for scholarships in Europe (Funded by the European Commission) – ScholarshipPortal.eu – provides a database containing over 700+ scholarships. Here it is possible to filter and compare relevant scholarships based on nationality, background, studies, etc. Another useful source is the  MastersPortal.eu (Same concept, but for Master’s students). If the fit were right, you could make use of the Erasmus+ programme or the Nordplus programme.

On a national level, one is often able to discover several nation-specific centralised databases of both institutional and private scholarships. As an example, one would in Denmark find LegatBogen and in Sweden find Studier.se. In this case – to quote an old saying – Google is your best friend. Scholarships are to be found, they are just one internet search away.

On another note, students in Denmark are more than privileged. If you are eligible for the danish “SU” (“State Educational Support”, A.K.A. “Free money from the government”), you can – in most cases – bring your SU with you abroad. If you are studying a Master’s programme abroad, you can also apply for the “Udlandsstipendium”, which is a government-backed scholarship to pay part of the tuition fee. Lastly, it is also possible for danish students to apply for an “Udlandsstudielån” (A loan for studying abroad). The loan is competitive and – as of writing – fixed to 4% per annum during your studies and 1% per annum afterwards. When evaluating if a loan is necessary, always weigh the pros and cons. My advice would be to use non-binding funds (Similarly to equity when thinking in terms of business), before using binding funds (Similarly to liabilities when thinking in terms of business). Non-binding funds are savings, family-help, non-binding scholarships, donations etc., while binding funds are capital that needs to be repaid, such as loans.

Even if you are not from the lovely, small country of Denmark, the possibilities are endless. Funding your studies is hard and demanding, but once it all settles into place, the effort put into finding, filtering, and applying for scholarships rewards tenfold – if not more. Remember, studying abroad is one of the most remarkable experiences in your lifetime (Read Signe Jensen’s blog post “The invaluable experience of studying your bachelor’s abroad” here or Amalie Dam’s blog post “An unexpected exchange experience” here).

The Self-Doubt Problem

Now you know where to find scholarships – at least some of them. One step closer to entering the doors of the foreign, spectacular university, experiencing a new sense of culture, standing on the shoulders of giants and meeting new companions from all over the world. Nice huh? Studying abroad is great – a lot of students follow that. According to the Institute of International Education, 5.6 million students went overseas away from the home country to study in 2020. If so many students go abroad, all needing to finance it some way or another, why should any of the scholarships choose me? Am I clever enough, special enough and/or lucky enough?

The short answer is yes.

Simply having thoughts about going abroad differentiates you from students staying at home. Studying abroad is not a trouble-free path, compared to enrolling domestically. It shows courage, persistence and an international mindset. In today’s society, we often follow the tracks laid by others, rather than charting a course ourselves. Rooting up, moving away and studying abroad is in some sense the road – to paraphrase Robert Frost – less travelled by. And this makes all the difference.

So if you ever in doubt whether or not you are able to obtain any scholarships, please remember that it is possible – you just need to go out there and apply. As we say in the Nordics, break the Law of Jante. Don’t follow the path of the everyman, create your own path, don’t let a funding-problem be a life-problem.

The Mare’s Nest Problem

I hope by now, you know where to find fitting scholarships and to never doubt if you can get any scholarships. Throughout the article, I have kept noting that studying abroad is time-consuming and exigent. Studying abroad comes with its plannings. It is not a one-day project, but often entails several months of research and preparation. Students often make a mare’s nest of planning for studies abroad, thinking that the planning, registration, and logistical processes bear resemblance to studying domestically – this, in most cases, couldn’t be farther from the truth.

Studying abroad often requires a bit more planning. I recommend going over this short list as a guiding light:

  1. Why study abroad? (Meeting new people, exploring another culture, education system, independent living, enhancing your skills, etc.)
  2. When should I study abroad? (Undergraduate, exchange, Masters, PhD, but also seasons summer/winter etc.)
  3. Where to study abroad?
  4. Does the country have an adaptable lifestyle? (Find the expenses category, climate, modes of transportation, cost of housing etc.)
  5. What are the prerequisites for pursuing the course? (List down their prerequisites, such as IELTS or TOEFL, visa etc.)
  6. What are my options for funding?

When thinking about the why, how, and what (Unbelievable that a Simon Sinek reference made it here), you are able to budget much more correctly and hence have a better approximation of your funding needs. Planning funding this way also allows you to compare whether or not studying abroad is something for you. Going abroad costs a lot of money, these funds could be placed better in starting a family, starting a business or something third. It all relates to your situation and how much you want to invest/spend. Just remember studying abroad is a one-in-lifetime experience and cannot genuinely be compared to anything else – a bold statement I know, but a statement I stand by.

Summing up

I aspire that through this short article, you have gotten a bit closer to studying abroad. Choosing to study abroad is a major decision, with a lot of necessary groundwork. Both in terms of financing the trip, but also in finding your why, how, and what.

All that is missing now is up to you. Go out, find your dream studies and obtain that needed financing. I would be more than happy to hear your success-story.

Jacob has helped secure funding (~60.000 EUR) for several student organisations through scholarships and secured funding for his own exchange program also through both institutional and private scholarships. If you need help, you are always welcome to mail info@nordic-sac.org or contact members of the Nordic Study Abroad Community. You can also reach out to Jacob directly on LinkedIn here.

Written by Jacob H. Poulsen