The Ultimate Guide to Winning a Rotary Global Grant Scholarship

May 10, 2022

By Luisa Banchoff

I was a few years out from my undergrad, had worked several short-term jobs, and was eager to embark on my graduate school education. Like so many people in my position, the most pressing question on my mind was how I would be able to fund my Master’s degree. The answer came in an unexpected place: a conversation with a friend who had just received something called the Rotary Global Grant Scholarship. I didn’t know it then, but the very same scholarship would put my dream degree within reach.

With more than 1.4 million members (known as Rotarians) in over 200 countries, Rotary International is one of the largest humanitarian service organizations in the world. In 2020-21, Rotary invested over $330 million in global service projects, from leading vaccination drives, to building schools, to empowering local communities to make positive, sustainable change. Rotary is also one of the biggest funders of graduate study, awarding over $7.5 million in scholarships every year.

Rotary Global Grant Scholarships can fund up to four years of graduate study abroad, including Master’s and doctoral level programs. They range from $30,000 to as high as $400,000. As with other aspects of the application, the scholarship amount varies depending on which Rotary district you apply to. My experience applying in northern Virginia was very different from that of two friends who applied in Indiana and Washington. Despite these differences, we shared many similar experiences throughout the application process. 

In 2020, I earned a Rotary Global Grant Scholarship to study Social Anthropology at the London School of Economics. Here are some of my top tips for applying to (and winning!) a Rotary Global Grant Scholarship, wherever in the world you may be.

Before You Apply: Making Sure a Rotary Global Grant Scholarship is Right for You 

The Rotary Global Grant Scholarship isn’t for everyone, so it’s important to ensure you meet several basic criteria before starting your application. Here are three statements to consider when deciding if this grant is right for you.

I want to earn a graduate degree abroad.

There’s a reason it’s called a global grant: Rotary funds individuals pursuing graduate education outside their home country. This international focus goes all the way back to the 1940s, as part of Rotary’s vision to build goodwill among nations following World War II. Nearly 80 years later, Rotary Global Grant Scholarships remain a key way that Rotary Clubs around the world support the organization’s global mission to build relationships across national and cultural lines.

My academic and/or professional goals align with Rotary’s mission.

Rotarians around the world are united in their commitment to Rotary’s six global causes: promoting peace; fighting disease; providing clean water, sanitation, and hygiene; saving mothers and children; supporting education; and growing local economies. Rotary Global Grant Scholarships fund students who seek to promote these causes in their academic and professional careers. So if you’re hoping to pursue a career in global health, community development, or peacebuilding, this scholarship could be an invaluable asset.

 On the other hand, don’t panic if your proposed course of study doesn’t match up with one of these areas. Just because your degree isn’t in peace studies or international development doesn’t mean this scholarship isn’t right for you. Rotarians understand that less conventional areas of study can be relevant to promoting their causes. It’s all about how you pitch your idea to them (more on that later). 

I meet other eligibility requirements.

If you meet these two requirements, you’re well on your way to beginning your application! There are just a few more caveats you should know about. First, Rotary Global Grant Scholarships are not available to members or employers of Rotary, nor to their spouses, children, or grandchildren. Before you begin your application, it may be a good idea to check with your family to make sure that this rule doesn’t disqualify you. Second, if your chosen program of study is in a country with a native language other than your own, you will need to demonstrate proficiency in that language as part of your application.

A Step-by-Step Guide to the Rotary Global Grant Scholarship Application Process

There are multiple stages to the Rotary Global Grant Scholarship application process, beginning at the local level and ending at Rotary International. The application timeline varies depending on where you’re applying from (so it’s good to start early!), but every Rotary Global Grant Scholar will have to successfully complete these four steps.

1. Build a Relationship with a Rotary Club

All Global Grant Scholars begin with the same step: finding a local Rotary Club to sponsor their application. Your sponsoring club needs to be located within the Rotary district where you live and/or work, though it need not be the club that is geographically closest to you. You can use this search tool to find a club in your area.

Most clubs will be eager to sponsor a Rotary Global Grant Scholar, as it’s an exciting opportunity for them to be a part of your academic and professional journey. Clubs aren’t responsible for covering any part of the scholarship cost, so funding isn’t a concern on their end. It’s still important to start your search early, however, since clubs can only sponsor one applicant at a time and there may be many people applying in your district. No two clubs are the same, so I suggest you get in touch with multiple clubs in your area and get to know its members. If you’re invited, take the opportunity to attend a club meeting – it’s a great way to share more about yourself and learn more about Rotary. 

And remember, clubs aren’t just there to sign off on your application. They can also be an invaluable resource in helping you build a compelling pitch while providing moral support at every step of the application process.

2. Craft a Strong Pitch

Once a club has expressed interest in sponsoring you, it’s time to complete your district application. The exact format of the application varies by district, but you’re likely to be asked about your academic and professional experience, future plans, and how your interests align with Rotary’s vision. 

Here are the types of questions you may be asked on your application.

  • What past education or experience has led you to apply to this graduate program? 
  • How does your program of study relate to one or more of Rotary’s global causes?
  • What are your educational and professional goals? How will your chosen program of study advance these goals?
  • What community need will your work address during or after completing this program? How will your work contribute to addressing this need on a long-term basis?

The application will also ask you to provide details about the graduate program you’re applying to. Some districts may ask you to specify one program, while others may allow you to discuss several. However, it’s probably best to focus on a single program in answering these questions, as it allows for a more detailed, well-researched response. Don’t worry if you haven’t been admitted to your graduate program yet: Most districts will not expect you to have completed this step at this stage.

Again, it’s okay if your graduate degree is in a subject that doesn’t match up perfectly with one of the Rotary causes. I applied to a program in Social Anthropology, which may seem like a less obvious fit for the Rotary Global Grant Scholarship than something like International Development. But in my pitch, I argued that anthropological research can contribute to better interfaith and intercultural communication in conflict mediation and peacebuilding work, which connects to Rotary’s global cause of promoting peace. When in doubt, talk to your sponsoring club for advice on how you can frame your pitch.

As previously mentioned, deadlines for the district application vary depending on your geographic location; My application was due in late November, but my friends in Indiana and Washington didn’t have to submit theirs until January. Check with your sponsoring club and/or the district officer(s) responsible for scholarships to make sure you’re on track to submit your application on time.

3. Interview with your Rotary District

If you make it through the first round of applications, you’ll be invited to an interview with your Rotary district. As with other aspects of the application, the interview process varies from district to district. My interview was conducted by a panel of six Rotarians and lasted for about twenty minutes, but a candidate in another district could have a smaller panel and a longer session, so it’s good to be prepared for multiple scenarios.

Interviews can be nerve-wracking, but the important thing to remember is that you have a network of support behind you: your club! Ask members of your club for advice on how to approach the interview – some may have conducted similar interviews in the past, as the interview panel is composed of volunteer Rotarians. If possible, conduct a mock interview with your club so they can give you practice questions and provide feedback on your answers. 

Here’s one invaluable word of advice from my club president: Do your research on Rotary! With all the scholarships available out there, the interview panel will want to know what drew you to the Rotary Global Grant Scholarship in particular. So take some time to educate yourself on the vision, mission, and history of the organization. Being able to discuss these things can leave an impression on your interviewers and help you stand out in a competitive pool of candidates.

4. Receive Approval from Rotary International

If you’re fortunate enough to be selected as your district’s Global Grant Scholar, you’ll have made it past the most difficult part of the application process! Now your application just needs final approval from Rotary International. The deadline to submit your application materials to Rotary International isn’t until summer, but your district may set an earlier internal deadline, so make sure you communicate openly with them about that. You’ll need to provide proof of acceptance to your graduate program at this stage in the process, so make sure you have the necessary documents from your institution.

Your sponsoring club and district will work with you to fill in the necessary forms on Rotary International’s online application portal. No big surprises here: You will be answering similar questions to those you answered on your district application. Once submitted, someone from Rotary International will review your application to ensure that you meet all of the requirements and that your proposed course of study aligns with Rotary’s mission and global causes. In other words, they’re double-checking that the Rotary district you applied through has done a thorough job, which is usually the case: The vast majority of applications to Rotary International are approved. If all goes well, your application will be among them, and you’ll officially be recognized as a  Rotary Global Grant Scholar! 

Though the application process may be behind you, your journey as a Global Grant Scholar truly begins when you pack your bags and board your plane to your host country. Once you arrive, you’ll have the opportunity to meet Rotarians in your host country, as well as other Rotary Global Grant Scholars. Just as your sponsoring club helped you get here, your host club will be there to support you as you settle into your new surroundings, so take the chance to get to know them and learn about their work.

Most importantly, enjoy this exciting new stage in your academic and professional career. You’ve successfully weathered a long and at times arduous application process, and you should be proud.

Originally from Arlington, Virginia, Luisa is based in London, where she studies Screenwriting at the London F ilm School. After graduating Summa Cum Laude from Princeton University with a BA in Religion in 2017, she received a Princeton in Africa Fellowship to teach History at a secondary school in Gaborone, Botswana. Upon returning to the U.S., Luisa worked as a research and report writer for the World Faiths Development Dialogue, a not-for-profit organization at the intersection of religion and development. In 2020, she received a Rotary Global Grant Scholarship to study at the London School of Economics, where she earned her Master’s in Social Anthropology. Outside of her studies, she works as a research assistant and a volunteer coordinator for a local charitable organization. 

Looking for more ways to fund your graduate education abroad? Check out our list of 21 Fellowships in Europe for Graduate Students.

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