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How do I Get a Rotary Scholarship?

Rotary has a long history of supporting exchanges and scholarships around the world. Since 1947, a total of $532 million has been awarded to 41,000 men and women. However, it is not always clear to non-Rotarians what opportunities exist. The purpose of the blog is to briefly explain the exchanges and scholarships Rotary supports and how to pursue them.

Many young people take advantage of the Rotary Youth Exchange program to travel, live, and study abroad for the first time. The program is intended for youth (ages 15-19) who are able to spend a few weeks to a year in another country. Typically, a local rotary club in the partner country will facilitate logistics including arranging a host family. Room, board, and a small monthly stipend are provided. Students cover the airfare, insurance, and any expenses beyond the monthly stipend. Selection and orientation can take 6-12 months so plan accordingly.

The Rotary Group Study Exchange (GSE) program makes possible cultural and vocational exchanges for professionals (ages 25-40) who are in the early stages of their careers. The program provides travel grants for teams to exchange visits in paired areas of different countries. Exchanges are typically four to six weeks and are full of visits to Rotary Clubs, other organizations, presentations, and cultural events. Rotary covers round trip airfare while Rotarians in the host area arrange for meals, lodging, and group travel.

While the +34,000 Rotary Clubs around the world have much in common, the extent to which they prioritize scholarships varies. For some clubs, it will be a very important activity and for other less so. Many clubs do fund scholarships for undergraduate and/or graduate students. There are a large number of people who participated in the Rotary Foundation Ambassadorial Scholar Program over the years although it was discontinued in 2013. Today, Rotary supports scholarships opportunities through District Grants and Global Grants. District Grants are very flexible – they can be used to sponsor secondary school, undergraduate, or graduate students studying any subject, either locally or abroad, for anything from language training to a year or more of university study. Scholarships supported by Global Grants must be for graduate study in one of Rotary’s six areas of focus: 1) Peace and Conflict Prevention/Resolution; (2) Disease Prevention and Treatment; (3) Water and Sanitation; (4) Maternal and Child Health; (5) Basic Education and Literacy; and (6) Economic and Community Development. Scholarships supported with Global Grants can be from one to four years – so in theory could cover an entire degree program. Prospective students must show proof of admission to the university before the grant will be approved. Global Grant Scholars are expected to be an active participant in club and district activities before, during, and after the scholarship. For planning purposes, Global Grants must be for at least $30,000, are accepted on a rolling basis by the Rotary Foundation, and any grants involving travel or vocational training must be received at least three months prior to the study start date.

Rotary also offers specialized scholarships. Through the Peace Fellows program, Rotary funds professionals to study at Rotary Peace Centers which are located at: (1) Duke University and University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (USA); (2) International Christian University (Japan); (3) University of Bradford (England); (4)University of Queensland (Australia); and (5) Uppsala University (Sweden). The experience is intended to help Peace Fellows become leaders in peace and conflict resolution. Program typically last 15-24 months and require a practical internship that lasts two to three months. There is an additional opportunity available for experienced professionals already working in peace-related fields who want to enhance their skills though participation in a three month peace and conflict resolution program at Chulalongkorn University (Bangkok).

Rotary also partners with the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) to offer a limited number of scholarships annually for water and sanitation professionals to study at theUNESCO-IHE Institute for Water Education in Delft (Netherlands). Rotary Clubs and Districts interview promising applicants and refer them for consideration. Participating scholars are expected to provide monthly reports on their educational and cultural experiences, give at least one presentation to a Rotary Club or District in the Netherlands as well as one in a Rotary Club or District in the home country, and upon return, develop a project to improve local water and sanitation.

The first step to accessing any of these opportunities is to find local Rotary Clubs, which is easy to do with the Rotary Club Finder application. Research the opportunities, visit local clubs, and give them a chance to know you and why you would be a good candidate. Securing funding for scholarships can entail effort and paperwork on behalf of the Club, so it is important that they believe in you and your professional goals. Network with alumni of the scholarship programs of most interest. Some clubs and districts have alumni associations of former Rotary Peace Fellows, Ambassadorial Scholars, Group Study Exchange participants, Global and District Grant scholars, Vocational Training Team members, and others.

If a club in your area can’t provide a scholarship, don’t get frustrated. Think of it as a chance to build your network, don’t give up, and visit some of the other clubs. If you have participated in a Rotary-funded exchange or scholarship, please feel free to share your advice at @bryan_schaaf.

This article first appeared on and is used with permission from author Bryan Schaaf, past president of Dupont Rotary.

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