Scholarships & Essay Contests for International Students

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By Deshan Mendis
Last updated on September 15, 2023

As an international student, you may be eligible for a variety of scholarships and essay contests that can reduce the cost of studying in the US. Learn more in this guide!

Female international student in a gray woolen sweater and red headband writing sticky notes with her laptop open at a table

Studying in the US gives you many opportunities to work toward your personal and professional goals. However, your tuition and cost of living can be costly without financial aid. Fortunately, there are ways to reduce this cost, such as essay contests for international students that can award you with a scholarship!

Read on to learn more about writing contests for college students, essay-based scholarships, international contests for students, scholarship essay websites, and more!

Writing Contests for International College Students

There are many types of international contests for students that award scholarships, and international essay competitions for university students are just one option! Writing contests for college students require you to write and submit an essay or report on a specific topic. Your submission — along with other students’ — will then be reviewed and evaluated. Depending on the number of applicants, quality of submissions, and available funding, you have the chance to earn a scholarship or even a cash award. 

Topics for scholarship essay contests depend on the sponsoring organization and may cover history, foreign affairs, STEM, business, and even creative writing. 

The first step toward applying to essay writing contests for scholarships is to find opportunities where you are eligible and qualified. Here is where to look. 

Where to Find Scholarships and Essay Opportunities

A variety of institutions offer scholarships, and each will have their own eligibility requirements, funding amounts, and due dates. Research specific foundations, nonprofit organizations, corporations, and even your school itself, as many may have scholarships and/or essay writing contests for scholarships. You may find many opportunities in your home country as well, or even through Shorelight!

Shorelight Universities that Have Essay Contests for International Students

Shorelight universities give you opportunities to access a variety of scholarships, including essay-based scholarships, both through the school itself and through local organizations in the US. Speak with your Shorelight advisor to explore options at these universities and find the right opportunity that suits your academic and professional goals for studying in the US!

Your advisor can also provide a variety of exclusive student services, such as essay-writing tips, campus transition programs, and academic support, in addition to offering guidance for English programs

Beyond funding through Shorelight universities, you may also be able to access a variety of scholarships funded by the US government, international organizations, or even private institutions. 

US Government Sponsored Scholarships

The US government provides multiple scholarship opportunities for university students that can reduce the cost of tuition at their university. While many opportunities are mainly available to American students, the US government also helps in funding several international-focused scholarship opportunities. Let’s take a closer look.

Fulbright Foreign Student Program

The Fulbright Foreign Student Program aims to help graduate students, young professionals, and artists study and conduct research in the US, and nearly 4,000 students from around the world receive this scholarship every year. The scholarship is available to a variety of study fields, including interdisciplinary fields.


Student eligibility for the Fulbright Foreign Student Program varies from country to country, so it is important to check your local requirements for application guidelines and eligibility criteria. Usually, eligible students are required to apply through specific Fulbright commissions, the Fulbright Foundation, or through the US Embassy in the applicant’s home country. Check your eligibility via the program’s website.  

Due Date

For 2022, applications may be submitted from February to October. Exact timelines may vary depending on your country’s requirements.

Scholarship Amount

Fulbright funding covers tuition, airfare, health insurance, and a living stipend for the duration of your study program. The exact value of the scholarship will depend on your country, so be sure to check with your local US Embassy or Fulbright Commission and/or Foundation. 

Humphrey Fellowship

The Humphrey Fellowship program gives international students the opportunity to participate in an exchange of knowledge between your home country and the US. It is important to note that eligible students cannot choose which university they will attend; recipients will be placed at a participating university based on the institution most appropriate for their interests.


To be eligible for a Humphrey Fellowship, you must have:

  • An undergraduate degree

  • At least five years of full-time work experience

  • Limited or no prior experience in the United States

  • Demonstrable leadership qualities 

  • A record of public service 

  • Proficiency with English 

Keep in mind that only certain fields of study are eligible for this scholarship, including: 

  • Agricultural and Rural Development

  • Communications/Journalism

  • Economic Development

  • Educational Administration, Planning and Policy

  • Finance and Banking

For a full list of eligible fields, please visit the Humphrey Fellowship website.

Due Date

Applications for 2022 are accepted between April and September, and all applications must be submitted before October 1, 2022.

Scholarship Amount

While the exact value of a Humphrey Fellowship varies based on the institution and field of study, the program covers a wide range of student costs, including:

  • Payment of tuition and fees at the assigned host university

  • Pre-academic English-language training, if required

  • A maintenance (living) allowance, including a one-time settling-in allowance

  • Accident and sickness coverage

  • A book allowance

  • A one-time computer subsidy

  • Air travel (international travel to and from the US for the program and domestic travel to required program events)

  • A professional development allowance for professional activities, such as field trips, professional visits, and conferences

If you want to take a broader look at available funding for international students, many other global institutions also support international education through exclusive scholarships. 

International Institutions that Fund Scholarships for Study in the US

Many types of international institutions administer scholarships that help international students study in the US, and can range from international governing bodies to private companies and organizations. This variety means you can access a much wider variety of scholarships that may match your personal goals and objectives once enrolled at university. Here are a few of international scholarships that may be worth a closer look.

World Bank Scholarship

The Joint Japan/World Bank Graduate Scholarship Program (JJ/WBGSP) is available to students from developing countries who are applying for a master’s degree program in a development-related field of study. This scholarship is primarily meant for individuals who have developed relevant professional experience and have previously participated in supporting the development efforts of their home country. 


The JJ/WBGSP offers scholarships for 26 participating programs, giving you the chance to study at universities around the world, including in the US. To be eligible to apply to JJ/WBGSP, you must:

  • Be a national of a World Bank member country

  • Not hold dual citizenship in any developed country

  • Be in good health

  • Have a bachelor’s (or equivalent) degree at least three years before the application deadline

  • Have three or more years of development-related work experience after earning a bachelor’s (or equivalent) degree

  • Be employed in development-related work in a paid full-time position when submitting your scholarship application

Additionally, to be eligible for the JJ/WBGSP, you cannot be a staff member of the World Bank Group or a close relative of a staff member. 

When you apply, keep in mind that you must have received unconditional admittance (except for your tuition cost) for an upcoming academic year at an institution, located outside your home country, participating in the JJ/WBGSP. You are required to upload your letter of admission before submitting your scholarship application. 

Due Date

Usually, the JJ/WBGSP has two windows for application submission every year, with specific participating programs available during each period. For 2022, the windows are as follows: 

  • Application Window #1 — January 17 to February 28, 2022, at noon Washington time. Participating programs can be viewed here.

  • Application Window #2 — March 29 to May 27, 2022, at noon Washington time. Participating programs can be viewed here.

Scholarship Amount

The exact JJ/WBGSP amount depends on the participating program. The scholarship provides tuition, a monthly living stipend, round-trip airfare, health insurance, and travel allowance.

AAUW International Fellowship

The American Association of University Women (AAUW) International Fellowship aims to support women around the world who want to pursue research or full-time study opportunities in the US. With the fellowship, you can pursue your degree at an accredited US institution with a large part of your tuition funded by the AAUW. 


Before you apply for the AAUW International Fellowship, check your eligibility by confirming that you:

  • Are a citizen of a country other than the US or possess a non-immigrant visa if you live in the US. (If you are currently, or are expecting to be during your fellowship year, a US citizen, US permanent resident, or dual citizen with the US, you are not eligible.)

  • Have earned a bachelor’s degree (or equivalent) before the application deadline. 

  • Plan to study full time during the fellowship year.

  • Intend to return to your home country to work toward a professional career after completing your program.

  • Are proficient in English with the necessary test scores, such as a TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) score or an equivalent.

It is important to note that if you are a postdoctoral applicant, you must provide proof of your doctorate degree, have a doctorate classified as a research degree (e.g., PhD, EdD, DBA, DM) by the application deadline, and specify where you plan to conduct your research. Additionally, if you are a master’s, professional degree, or doctoral applicant, you need to be enrolled in an accredited US institution during your fellowship year.

If you have previously received a AAUW national fellowship or grant, you may not be eligible to apply for future AAUW international fellowships. 

Due Date

The AAUW International Fellowship accepts applications annually, with the next cohort beginning July 1, 2022. You can visit the AAUW website for the latest updates on the next application period and more information about the International Fellowship.

Scholarship Amount

With the International Fellowship from the AAUW, you can access three opportunities depending on your program:

  • Master’s/first professional degree: $18,000

  • Doctoral: $20,000

  • Postdoctoral: $30,000

Aga Khan Foundation Scholarship

Through the Aga Khan Foundation International Scholarship Programme, students from developing countries can access scholarship opportunities for specific postgraduate programs. Scholarships apply to any university except for institutions in Austria, Denmark, Germany, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, and the UK.

While the foundation does prioritize requests for master’s-level programs, applications for PhD programs are also considered if your professors highly recommend you for a doctoral program and a PhD is required to meet your career goals.


As the Aga Khan Foundation scholarships aim to support students from developing countries, applications will only be accepted if the applicant is a national of one of the following countries:

  • Afghanistan

  • Bangladesh

  • Egypt

  • India

  • Kenya

  • Kyrgyztan

  • Madagascar

  • Mozambique

  • Pakistan

  • Syria

  • Tajikistan

  • Tanzania

  • Uganda

Applications from Canada, France, Portugal, UK, and the US are also accepted if you are originally from the above list of developing countries.

Additionally, the Aga Khan Foundation specifies the following conditions must be met before applications are submitted:

  1. The student consistently achieves excellent academic results

  2. There is a genuine financial need with no other options available

  3. The desired admission is to a highly reputable university or program

  4. The field of study must be relevant to the Aga Khan Development Network’s focus areas

As part of the eligibility evaluation process, applicants must take part in an interview with the foundation’s local Scholarship Committees. This committee will inquire about your financial situation, academic performance, extracurricular achievements, and your career plan.

Due Date

The Aga Khan Foundation International Scholarship Programme accepts applications annually. The 2022-2023 application deadline is March 31, 2022.

Scholarship Amount

Note that these scholarships are 50% grants, 50% loans, which means half of the funding must be paid back over five years with an annual 5% service charge. Funding specifically covers recipients’ tuition fees and living expenses; cost of travel is not included. 

Additionally, for PhD programs, students will receive funding for only two years of study. If there are additional years for your program, alternative funding sources will be needed. 

The Civil Society Leadership Awards

Students looking for scholarships that fully fund their master’s program may want to apply for the Civil Society Leadership Awards. Since the 1980s, Civil Society Leadership Awards have funded more than 20,000 international students in the US studying fields such as:

  • Culture, History, and Society

  • Communications, Journalism, and Media

  • Development Studies

  • Education Management and Leadership

  • Economics

  • Human Rights

  • Politics and International Studies


To be eligible for a Civil Society Leadership Award, you may have to:

  • Hold citizenship from an eligible country 

  • Have a bachelor’s degree 

  • Show professional experience in your chosen field

  • Demonstrate flexibility, maturity, and leadership skills

  • Be proficient in English 

  • Hold the appropriate US student or work visa

Due Date

The annual application deadline is May 15, but this may vary depending on your home country. 

Scholarship Amount

Civil Society Leadership Awards provide a monthly stipend covering living expenses, tuition and mandatory university fees, program-related travel, and other required educational materials. The exact amount can vary depending on your program.

Scholarship Websites Online

Want to find even more scholarships and funding sources? Go online! Researching essay contests for international students, scholarship essay contests, and other writing contests for college students can be done on an ongoing basis with just your computer or smartphone. Look for the latest opportunities on scholarship essay websites and carefully review your options. If you have flexibility in your study plans, knowing when ongoing opportunities are available (e.g., annual scholarships) can give you time to prepare your applications well in advance.

International Student Scholarships

The International Student Scholarship website is a collection of scholarship programs offered around the world to students planning to study abroad. Opportunities include:

  • MPOWER Global Citizen scholarship — Scholarships for female students in STEM programs

  • Bonner Scholarship — Scholarships for students studying finance 

  • Rector’s Scholarship — Academic excellence scholarships

Create a free account to search for scholarships based on location, subjects, award name, or country of origin. Once your account is set up, you can contact the awarding organizations directly and apply for scholarships.


While the exact requirements for each scholarship depend on the programs you choose, the website highlights key requirements to help you prepare your applications. 

Due Date

Application deadlines will vary by program. It’s a good idea to contact each scholarship organization to confirm the latest due dates.

Scholarship Amount

Scholarship amounts and coverage details are listed under each award’s specification details. Other information related to repayment fees, loans, living expenses, and air travel cost may also be included. Scholarship amounts awarded may vary on a case-by-case basis or even depending on country of origin, so having a conversation with the relevant advisors can provide greater clarity about requirements, eligibility, and more.

With any scholarship program, make sure you are well aware of the expenses covered. You may speak to representatives from the scholarship organization or you can get in touch with Shorelight advisors to get more details.

As an international student, you may have several questions regarding essay contests for international students, scholarship essay contests, or any other scholarship opportunities. Here is how to get the answers you need!

Questions About Essay Scholarships for International Students?

If you need support finding essay contests for international students, essay scholarships for international students, or scholarship essay contests, Shorelight advisors are always ready to help. Your advisor can help you explore scholarships for international students so that you can choose the most appropriate scholarship that meets your personal goals.

There may be particular scholarships that interest you. To find out more about these programs, the best source is a spokesperson or contact from the institute offering the scholarship. This allows you to access first-hand information from the source and get the most accurate, up-to-date information. As each scholarship opportunity is likely offered by a different organization or institute, it is important to be aware that points of contact and preferred outreach methods (e.g., phone, email, etc.) will vary. 

Remember, your advisor can always guide you toward the information you are looking for and is ready to support you. With the right scholarship opportunity, you can work toward your dreams of studying in the US!

Reach out to a Shorelight advisor today >