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Finding Support for International Study: A Guide to Prestigious National Scholarships for Psychology Students
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by Susan Krauss Whitbourne, PhD - University of Massachusetts Amherst
Categories: International Focus
Would you like to travel abroad for a year after graduation, all expenses paid
plus a stipend? How about completing a master’s or a doctorate at a prestigious
British university? Sound too good to be true? Believe it or not, thousands of
students each year receive scholarships that allow them to explore the world and
expand their undergraduate degrees. In this column, I’d like to take you through
the basics of these exciting scholarship opportunities. You’ll learn that, as a
psychology student, you have skills and knowledge that translate well into the
world of international scholarship competition.
Fulbright Student Program
The Fulbright Student Program allows bachelor’s and graduatelevel American
students to study or teach abroad for one year at one of 155 countries.
Approximately 1700 awards are granted each year. You can apply for a Fulbright
scholarship to complete research or take courses in your area of specialty.
However, even if you don’t have specific research plans right now, you can apply
to be an English Teaching Assistant. The Fulbright isn’t just one
scholarship—it’s really a collection of many scholarships offered through the
U.S. Department of State or the Fulbright Commission of a particular country.
The Fulbright Student Program provides the gateway to these many scholarships. A
Fulbright scholarship lasts for up to one year, depending on the specifics of
the country’s program.
Psychology students are ideal candidates for the Fulbright scholarship,
particularly the teaching assistantship. In addition to the psychology
curriculum, psychology majors typically gain extensive internship, practicum,
and teaching experience. Also, many countries seek students who can do more than
teach. In fact, the typical Fulbright teaching assistantship is for no more than
20 hours a week of classroom work. Applicants are encouraged to propose
additional activities from volunteering to informal research projects; these are
also strengths of psychology students.
The Fulbright application itself is not difficult to complete, but it does take
attention to detail, and all instructions must be followed to the letter. The
good news is that the entire application is online— even the transcripts are
uploaded. Your main job is to describe why you want to go to the country you’ve
selected and what you want to do when you’re there. If you’re applying for a
teaching assistantship, obviously you want to teach! However, you also have to
say why you want to go to that particular country. A good reason is that the
country interests you or has relevance to your future career; a bad reason is
that you like the food, your grandparents grew up there, or you will have a good
time at its beaches or ski slopes. You must also submit a brief autobiographical
statement. In this statement, you should show why you fit the criteria of a good
Fulbright scholar. Read the purpose and mission of the scholarship in depth and
be sure that you do, in fact, fit these criteria. You will also need three
letters of reference, and you may need a language evaluation.
Your first step in applying for a Fulbright scholarship is to look thoroughly at
the Fulbright Student Program website:
Use the information on this website to decide which country offers the most
appeal to you personally. If your campus has a Fulbright Program Advisor (and
most do), then you should schedule an appointment to visit the office, where you
can get personal help in finding the right match.
The description of the scholarship for a given country is generally very
accurate. If the country wants to award Fulbright scholarships only to students
holding a master’s level or above, then that’s the degree you need to have.
However, many Fulbright scholarships are designed with the BA or BS-level
student in mind, so don’t get discouraged about your need for a graduate degree.
You can apply for a Fulbright even after you’ve graduated. Check with your
institution to find out if you can be helped by the office there; if not, you
can apply as an “at-large” candidate and complete everything on your own.
The Fulbright Student Program is a wonderful way to experience another country
and to bring your experiences back to the U.S. as a “cultural ambassador.” It’s
also a great opportunity to incorporate international work into your future
studies in psychology.
If you’re interested in graduate study in the United Kingdom, then the Marshall
Scholarship is a fantastic way to secure funding. There are excellent master’s
and doctorate programs throughout the U.K.—some of which you’ve probably heard
of and some of which you probably haven’t. Psychology programs at the U.K.
schools tend to focus heavily on neuroscience, but not exclusively by any means.
Also, these schools often have interdisciplinary programs that are unmatched in
scope or quality in the U.S. The British higher educational system, though
suffering from financial problems in the current economy, nevertheless has a
large number of high quality programs in fields ranging from international
relations to high tech science. Do a little digging, and you’ll find that
world-renowned professors at institutions from the University of Manchester to
Queens College Belfast (to name just two) offer opportunities for research and
training that you would never encounter in the U.S.
The basics of the Marshall Scholarship are described in detail on their
outstanding website (www.marshallscholarship.org/). This site is not only an
excellent guide to the scholarship itself but also provides links to information
about studying at a U.K. institution of higher education. The scholarship
consists of a graduate fellowship to study at any university in the United
Kingdom for 2-3 years in any field of study. Approximately 30-35 are given each
year. In addition to getting the funding for your education, you’ll also be part
of a community of Marshall scholars. These are valuable connections that you
will carry throughout your entire career.
A psychology degree is an excellent preparation for the Marshall Scholarship. In
addition to giving you useful interpersonal skills (needed if you are selected
for a finalist interview), psychology provides an ideal background for
continuing in a field such as international relations, behavioral economics, or
The Marshall application involves several brief essays, including a statement of
interest regarding why you want to study in the U.K., why you want to study in a
particular graduate program (you must name two), and several brief summaries of
your interests and experience. The major essay is a 1000-word personal statement
that can be about anything. You also must provide four letters of
recommendation. The entire application, except the transcript, is completed
online. To be able to apply for the Marshall, you must be endorsed by your
institution (undergraduate or graduate), so it is essential that you contact the
faculty representative as early as possible in the process—typically during the
spring semester before you intend to apply.
Gates Cambridge Scholarship
If you’re sure you’d like to study at the University of Cambridge (and who
wouldn’t?), you should consider the Gates Cambridge Scholarship. You can receive
funding for your entire period of graduate study and, as with the Marshall
Scholarship, be part of an exciting community of scholars from all fields. You
can also enjoy the incomparable “punting” on the Cam River as part of your
graduate school experience.
Unlike the Marshall or Rhodes Scholarship (below), the Gates Cambridge
Scholarship requires that you first apply to Cambridge. You separately apply for
the scholarship; however, in the process of doing this, you can also apply for
other funding sources from Cambridge. The website (www.gatesscholar.org/)
provides helpful details to guide you in your decision of whether to apply and,
if so, which program to consider applying for. Approximately 60 scholars from
the U.S. are chosen each year (additional scholars are selected from other
One step that would be very helpful to your application is to write to a
professor in the program to which you want to apply. Prior to doing so, make
sure you understand how Cambridge “works.” The colleges and departments of this
large university have sprouted up over the centuries of Cambridge’s history and
the result can seem a bit confusing, especially compared with U.S. departments.
Psychology and psychologists could be located in one of many different settings.
Before you write to anyone whose program interests you, and especially before
you actually apply, make sure that you would qualify for admission as listed in
the program’s website.
I’ve left the most famous scholarship for last. The Rhodes is probably a
scholarship you’ve heard of but it is also one of the most challenging for which
to apply. The Rhodes is specifically intended for study at the University of
Oxford for 2–3 years in any field of study. Exactly 32 are given each year, as
specified in the will of Cecil Rhodes, for whom the scholarship is named. You
can obtain more information about the scholarship from the website
As the oldest institution of higher education in the U.K., Oxford has an
incredible reputation, though not necessarily the highest rank in all
departments. Unlike Cambridge, it is located in a city, and the buildings are
mixed along those of the city of Oxford. But like Cambridge, Oxford has a
complicated system of colleges and departments. Before you apply, it’s important
to know which department exactly suits your plans for graduate study.
In some ways, the application is the simplest of all of these international
scholarships because it consists essentially of a personal statement (1000
words) and questions on an online form about experiences, awards, and honors.
However, the application requires the largest number of letters of
recommendation (5–8). Due to the highly competitive nature of the scholarship,
before you apply, make sure you have the support of your campus’s endorser
because this person’s letter will be very important in making your application
as strong as possible. If selected as a finalist, you will be asked to attend an
interview that includes a social gathering. Preparation for the interview,
should you make it to this stage, is essential so that you can put your best
Terms like “Rhodes Scholar” or “Fulbright Scholar” or names of places like
“Cambridge” may sound imposing, and you may think you don’t have a chance of
qualifying for one of these terrific opportunities. However, depending on your
grades, interests, writing ability, knowledge about the world, language skills,
and future plans, you may be exactly the type of candidate that the scholarship
organization is seeking. Good luck in your application and happy travels!
Here are five “do’s” to get you started:
- Begin as early in your college career as possible to think about these
scholarships and thoroughly investigate their websites. At a minimum, leave
yourself one semester prior to your campus due date to begin your preparations.
- Apply for as many scholarships as you can during your undergraduate years,
including small local scholarships, campus awards, and others for which you
- Be prepared to work on many drafts of your application and seek as much feedback
- Get to know your faculty so that you can easily secure letters of
recommendation. Check out your campus representative should that person’s
endorsement be required.
- Become involved in campus groups, research labs, student government, study
abroad, sports, and honor societies to make yourself as competitive as possible.
Finally, check out whether your school belongs to the National Association of
Fellowship Advisors (NAFA). Faculty and staff who belong to NAFA are
knowledgeable and eager to help you: www.nafadvisors.org/
Whitbourne received her PhD from Columbia University. Professor of
psychology at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, she also directs the
Office of National Scholarship Advisement. Author of over 130 refereed articles
and book chapters and 15 books (many in multiple editions and translations), her
most recent work is The Search for Fulfillment. Her research focuses on
gerontology, including most recently videogaming and cognition. Recipient of a
2011 Presidential Citation from the American Psychological Association, she has
won national and campus teaching and advising awards. She serves on the American
Psychological Association Council of Representatives and Membership Board, and
the executive boards of the Eastern Psychological Association, Gerontological
Society, National Association of Fellowship Advisors, and numerous task forces
and advisory panels at the national, regional, state, and campus levels. Her
blog, “Fulfillment at Any Age,” can be found at
http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/fulfillment-any-age. Her psychology news
is posted daily on Twitter (@swhitbo).
Summer 2011 issue of Eye on Psi Chi (Vol. 15, No. 4, p. 8), published
by Psi Chi, The International Honor Society in Psychology (Chattanooga, TN). Copyright,
2011, Psi Chi, The International Honor Society in Psychology. All rights reserved.