Applying for the Benjamin A. Gilman Scholarship

If you are a Pell Grant recipient planning to study away, you may be eligible to apply for the Gilman Scholarship. This is a competitive scholarship funded by the US Department of State.

Q: Who should I list as my Study Abroad Advisor in my application?

A: Janissa Pheann

Preparing a Competitive Application

(Prepared by Virginia Tech)

Preparing to Apply

  • Know the rules and eligibility requirements.
  • Get to know the study away program you want to apply for. Spend time reading the website to make sure your plans match the goals and mission of the scholarship program. Reviewers want to see that you have chosen a program that is going to benefit you personally, academically, professionally in line with the scholarship’s goals. You can meet with the Study Away Advisor to discuss your program options and goals.
  • Know your audience. It is important to think about it in the perspective of the people giving the scholarship. Why should they select you for the scholarship? By learning about your audience and what they want, you can better tailor your scholarship application to the prompt. This will immediately set you apart from the students who did not bother doing the preliminary research.


  • Take off: Start working on your application early. Do not procrastinate and wait till the last minute.
  • Timeline: Create one with milestones for completing different sections of the application.
  • Take time: Do not rush. Essays take time and effort to draft, edit, review, and finalize.
  • Transcripts: Order yours in time (it takes several days to process transcript requests).
  • Turn in: Submit the application a few days early (in case the website crashes due to high volume applications being submitted last minute – this is known to have happened).

Writing Compelling Essays

Reviewers read hundreds of essays from students who are all writing about study abroad. The selection panelists’ only chance to get to know you is through your essays. So, these are crucial parts of the application. You must stand out. It is not necessarily the best applicant who will be the one who wins. Instead, it is often the applicant who does the best job of presenting their application.

  • Brainstorm to generate ideas, put initial thoughts on paper – a rough draft. Then organize the answers. Come back and refine the details. In early stage do not focus on word count. In the end, it’s a lot easier to write too much and have to cut your essays down than to have to add more substance.
  • Be creative. The most competitive applications are those that have interesting and original essays. Present yourself in an interesting and compelling manner but staying true to yourself. Write what matters to you! Don’t be afraid to be funny.
  • Keep writing on target. For example, if they want you to connect your future goals to your abroad program, do exactly that. There is no room for tangents when you are dealing with a word limit. Make sure each sentence counts. Reviewers want to see that you have thoughtfully answered the prompts. An example is to explain how you meet the criteria for the scholarship: do not just give reasons why you deserve a scholarship.
  • Hook the reader from the beginning. Catch their attention with an interesting, short anecdote or quote, or start with information about why you are unique. Make your opening sentence intriguing and your opening paragraph concise like a thesis statement. Let the reader know right from the start exactly what you are about, your reasons for wanting to go abroad and what the program will be like.
  • Get Personal. This is the place to tell everything about yourself. The essay is the only representation they have of you. This is when you can tell your whole life story, and someone will actually want to hear it. Let your personality and personal history show! If there is something that makes you special, make sure to mention it. Tell your story in a captivating way. Do not be shy. Contextualize information through personal examples, and storytelling of personal background.
  • Struggles and challenges. You can provide intimate details about your life but only as much as you want. If you are not comfortable disclosing certain information, you are not obligated to do so. But it is not necessarily a disadvantage to share your special circumstances. It’s a chance to let reviewer know of the hardships and challenges that you’ve overcome or may still be dealing with. As long as you can explain how you’re dealing with your struggles, or have overcome them, then it’s okay.
  • Be specific. Instead of saying, “I follow through on things,” give specific examples of how you followed through. Describethe results of your action. Instead of writing “Study abroad will help me grow as a person,” think of specific ways in which you expect to grow. Show, don’t tell. Find details to illustrate your personal narrative. Detail is good!
  • Ask ‘why’ 5 times. If you wrote “I have always wanted to…”, ask yourself ‘why’. If your answer is “I have always wanted to…because I strongly believe…”. Then ask yourself ‘why’ again (in this case: why do you strongly believe…?). So, by asking ‘why’ five consecutive times, your answers will deepen and become more thoughtful.
  • Avoid cliches: examples are “broaden horizons”, “out of my comfort zone”, “chance of a lifetime”.
  • Writing style should be somewhat formal. Choose words and sentence structure accordingly. Seek support from the Writing Center!
  • Repetitiveness: Be careful about being repetitive across the essays.

Learn more about Gilman application essays. You can watch a video on Composing Competitive Gilman Essays here.


Set aside enough time to revise multiple times!

  • Follow all the application instructions to the letter (formatting, character limit, addressing the prompt, addressing all questions, submitting by the DEADLINE!)
  • Spelling, punctuation, capitalization, and grammar. These kinds of errors are the worst. Run a spell check. Most importantly, check for correct grammar.
  • Accuracy. Incomplete or incorrect answers to even simple questions make a bad impression. For example: are the dates correct (study abroad program, estimated graduation dates)?Work with advisors. They can help brainstorm about what you might like to talk about before you start writing. They might give you a little direction. They may be able to help with essay content and make your application more competitive.
  • Have your essay proofread. One of the most important things to remember for any essay is to have it read by an advisor or professor. Spell checks and grammar checks are fine, but a good proofreader will find things that your word processing software will not. A new set of eyes will help catch any small mistakes you miss from staring at your essay for too long. A proofreader can make suggestions on ways to clarify a point that may not make sense to someone else. As a good rule of thumb: if the proofreader does not understand what you are talking about, then neither will the scholarship committee.
  • Work with your writing center on campus. These individuals have invaluable expertise in writing essays and can be a great resource anytime you need to prepare an essay.

Follow-On Service Project

Recipients of a Gilman Scholarship will need to complete a Follow-On service project. Below you’ll find an example from a PLU student.