The Gilman Scholarship: Studying Abroad for U.S. Undergraduates with Financial Need

Jan 31, 2024
Rowan Glass, Gilman Scholar, wearing a white short and khaki pants, riding a brown camel in the desert.
Rowan Glass riding a camel and exploring the sand dunes outside Saint-Louis, Senegal, as part of his Gilman Scholarship travels.

By Rowan Glass

The U.S. Department of State’s Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship Program, better known as the Gilman Scholarship, is a federal grant program that provides financial assistance to undergraduates receiving Federal Pell Grant funding to study abroad. This program allows students with limited financial resources to participate in study and intern abroad programs worldwide, gaining crucial skills relevant to U.S. national security and economic competitiveness. The award amount depends on the length of study, the host program and country, and each student’s individual needs. The program is open to U.S. citizens enrolled in a two-year or four-year college or university. 

In addition to the general Gilman Scholarship, the program also provides specific financial aid packages for students whose parents are active duty personnel, who plan to study a critical need language while abroad, or who will conduct STEM-related research as part of their study abroad or international internship program. Additionally, program alumni are invited to participate in the Gilman Scholar Network, which allows for exclusive networking, mentorship, and job opportunities between Gilman Scholarship alumni.

As a Gilman alumnus who received the Gilman Scholarship to support a two-month internship with an NGO in Senegal, as well as intensive French study, during the spring of 2023—an opportunity that I would never have had without the financial support offered by the program—I know first-hand just how important this scholarship can be for students who want to study abroad but lack the financial means. In this article, I share some of the advantages and perks offered by this unique and prestigious program, hoping that other nontraditional and low-income U.S. undergraduates can benefit from the Gilman Scholarship as much as I have.

1. What are the benefits of the Gilman Scholarship?

To be eligible for the Gilman Scholarship, applicants must be U.S. citizens currently enrolled in a two-year or four-year college or university who received the Federal Pell Grant. In other words, applicants must be current U.S. undergraduates with financial need. The Gilman Scholarship serves to help defray or entirely cover the costs of study abroad or international internship programs. Proof of enrollment in a credit-bearing study abroad or internship program is required before the disbursement of award funds. 

Annually, nearly 3,000 awards of up to $5,000 are awarded to participating students studying and interning in countries all around the world. Award recipients are selected through a competitive application process. They can use the award to cover eligible costs such as tuition, accommodation, books, local transport, insurance, airfare, passport, and visa fees.

The Gilman Scholarship also provides benefits in the form of 12 months of noncompetitive eligibility (NCE) hiring status within the federal government. NCE allows alumni of exchange programs to apply for federal government jobs outside the formal competitive job application process. Participating in the Gilman Scholarship therefore provides a great opportunity for students and aspiring young professionals interested in pursuing a career in government, policy, or international affairs.

2. Gilman-McCain Scholarship

Several supplementary scholarships and awards are available to Gilman applicants with specific backgrounds or academic pursuits. One of these is the Gilman-McCain Scholarship, which provides an award of $5,000 for the children or spousal dependents of active United States military personnel. Eligible affiliations include all branches of the U.S. military. 

An important difference between the Gilman Scholarship and the Gilman-McCain Scholarship is that whereas the former requires applicants to receive the Federal Pell Grant, the latter is open to students who receive any type of Title IV federal financial aid. In addition to the Pell Grant, Title IV financial aid also includes Direct Subsidized/Unsubsidized Loans, Direct PLUS Loans, and the Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant. Eligible applicants can apply to both programs but only receive one. The Gilman-McCain Scholarship offers 100 awards of $5,000 during each academic year.

3. Critical Need Language Award

Another supplemental award of $3,000 is the Critical Need Language Award, available for Gilman Scholars studying a language dubbed “critical need,” according to the U.S. Department of State. As of August 2023, there are 16 critical need languages eligible for this award, primarily spoken in Asia and the Middle East. Eligible languages include Arabic, Azerbaijani, Bahasa Indonesian, Bangla, Mandarin Chinese, Hebrew, Hindi, Japanese, Korean, Persian, Portuguese, Punjabi, Russian, Swahili, Turkish, and Urdu.

Students studying in countries where these languages are not predominantly spoken may still be considered for this award if they can make a strong case for their desired destination. Only a limited number of awards are available, so not all students studying eligible languages will receive one.

4. STEM Supplemental Award

An additional source of supplemental funding is available through the STEM Supplemental Award, which is offered to Gilman Scholars intending to conduct STEM-related research during their study abroad or international internship program. Students applying to this award must provide an additional short essay in their Gilman application contextualizing their STEM-related research plans in their host country. Eligible expenses include lab fees, equipment or software purchases, research fees, and transportation costs.

5. Gilman Scholar Network

One of the lasting advantages of the Gilman Scholarship, beyond the study abroad experience or international internship program, is alumni participation in the Gilman Scholar Network. The Gilman Scholar Network is an excellent resource for Scholars to network with each other, provide or receive mentorship, and learn about other opportunities and grants available for U.S. international exchange alumni. 

For instance, as a Gilman Scholar, I was recently informed through the Gilman Scholar Network that I can apply for the U.S. Department of State’s 2024 Citizen Diplomacy Action Fund, open only to U.S. federal exchange program alumni. Without the Gilman Scholar Network and the resources it offers, I and over 40,000 other Gilman alumni might not have heard about this great opportunity! 

For all these reasons and more, the Gilman Scholarship is one of the most important and impactful resources available to U.S. undergraduates with financial need who want to study or intern abroad. Had I not tried my luck by applying to the Gilman Scholarship, enabling me to spend two incredible months interning and learning French in Senegal, my academic and professional trajectory would have looked very different. Will you be part of the next cohort to achieve great things through the Gilman Scholarship?

Interested in applying to the Gilman Scholarship? Be sure to bookmark it to your ProFellow account!

Rowan Glass is an anthropologist, multimedia journalist, writer, and filmmaker from Oregon. His research, reporting, and travels have taken him from Indigenous territories in Colombia and Mexico to primary schools in Senegal, Kurdish restaurants in Greece, and music festivals in Morocco. In all his work, Rowan endeavors to help tell engaging stories about underreported people and places through incisive research and creative endeavors. Whether at a keyboard or behind a camera, at home or in the field, Rowan is always looking for the next chance to apply his skills to both creative and socially impactful ends. Rowan holds a BA in cultural anthropology from the University of Oregon and is currently applying to PhD programs in anthropology.

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