Scholarships aren’t just for brainiacs: organization and efforts pay off
Higher education in Canada is getting more expensive every year, but tuition costs (which average $5,400 in Canada) are not the only drain on savings accounts and education funds – it’s everything else. Add in the essentials – books, rent, food, transportation, clothing and cleaning supplies (sometimes debated as an ‘essential’) – and the not-so-essentials like cellphones, entertainment, cable and alcohol – and students can find themselves digging for change in no time.
Students can expect to pay between $10,000 and $20,000 for each year of their higher education, yet almost 80 per cent of the students surveyed annually since 2008 by Studentawards.com report that they arrive on campus in September with less than $5,000. The gap is filled by parents, government assistance, student loans or part-time work.
But there is another option, one often overlooked: There are thousands of scholarships, awards and bursaries out there, many unconsidered. Here’s the real deal on how to win some of the free money (as in, you don’t have to pay it back!) up for grabs each year.
On the Web
To help you find money for school, Maclean’s has created a free online Scholarship Finder database of major entrance awards. Go to macleans.ca/oncampus and click on “Scholarship Finder.” You can search for awards at one, several or all schools, including searching by a keyword, such as “business” or “engineering” in several disciplines.
Myth: There is a ‘scholarship season’ and once that passes, all the money is gone.
Nope. Scholarships and awards are available throughout the year and new ones pop up all the time. Start looking for awards in Grade 10 and keep looking for them until you graduate.
Myth: My parents are paying for everything, so I don’t need to apply for a scholarship.
First of all, go give your parents a hug for being so generous. Then give your head a shake. Don’t you think they’d want you to do everything you can to help with the tab? And aside from the buffer of cash, applying for scholarships allows you to hone your personal ‘elevator pitch’ (imagine being in an elevator with a potential admissions director or employer and you’ve got two minutes to grab their attention) and to tap into your network for referrals. You’re going to need those skills and references sooner or later to get into your desired program or grad school and to find a job. And nothing says “pick me!” better than a scholarship win on your résumé.
Myth: Scholarships are only for top students or those in financial need.
Uh-uh. You can win money just for being nice (the June Callwood Harmony Scholarship rewards youth who promote harmony and diversity). You can win money for loving music (MuchMusic asked 15- to 24-year-old students to suggest creative ways to put more music on the channel, and to name one song that could serve as the soundtrack to their life. Five participants each won $1,000). There are also awards for playing minor hockey or ringette as a kid, for cheerleaders, for tall people and for new Canadians. You’ve just got to look for them.
Myth: Finding scholarships is hard work.
Finding them is actually the easy part. Search for awards that fit your personal profile, interests and strengths, maximizing your chances of success. Here’s how:
- Search the financial aid website at the university you plan to attend (also, Macleans.ca/oncampus has a great one-stop scholarship finder for scholarships available at Canadian institutions). If you’re already at university, go into the financial aid office regularly and ask if there are awards that suit your profile. Then (and we call this ‘dumpster diving’), ask them if there are any awards with deadlines approaching for which there are few applicants; companies want to give their scholarship money away and, if you are eligible and can write a compelling application under the gun, you can capitalize on low applicant turnout.
- Register at Studentawards.com and take your time filling out the profile questions. Each data point is tagged to an award or opportunity that could land you some cash. Schedule a monthly visit to your personalized mailbox at the site to see what’s new.
- Visit government websites like Canlearn.ca to find out about province- and territory-specific grants, bursaries and scholarships.
- Ask your parents to find out if their employer offers scholarships to children of employees; lots do, but few know about it. Or apply for a job at a company that offers scholarships or tuition reimbursement. If they don’t do it now, ask them to and you might be surprised. Educating employees is good business practice.
Once you do find an award that interests you, the important thing is to apply for it.
FIRST, REMEMBER TO APPLY
Top tips for easy money
- Prioritize all the scholarships you are eligible for, in order of personal interest, and apply for the top ones first. If you have passion for the subject matter, it will be reflected in your writing.
- Do some background work and find out exactly what the scholarship panel is looking for. Read the rules and regulations for each award carefully before you start your application, as there may be conditions excluding you from eligibility.
- Be clear and concise. How you communicate is just as important as what you communicate. Answer any essay questions and only provide information relevant to the question being asked. Do not go over the word limit, or some of your best work may be disqualified.
- Your scholarship application essay is not a substitute for your résumé, so don’t just regurgitate your résumé in essay form. Don’t just list accomplishments, discuss them. Expand on your personal experience and clearly articulate what your goals are.
- Be aware of proper essay structure. Double-check your spelling and grammar and have someone proofread your work.
- Let your references know that you will be using them in your application and confirm their contact information. References should be professionals at your school or other organizations that can vouch for the claims you have made in your application. Be assured that scholarship administrators will check your references, especially if you make it to the finalist pool. They’ll also google you, so keep it clean on social media.
- Follow the instructions and make sure that you have provided all the requested information and any required documentation. Making a checklist of all the elements will help.
- Don’t miss the application deadline and apply early. Don’t procrastinate. Give yourself plenty of time to fill out the application and to gather required documents (reference letters and transcripts can take longer to secure than you expect).
Where the Big Bucks Are
TD Scholarships for Community Leadership
Up to $70,000 over four years (includes paid summer jobs, mentorship and networking opportunities)
Number of awards: up to 20
Candidates must show outstanding leadership and have a 75 per cent average in their most recently completed year of school. Personal circumstances and challenges will be considered in the selection process. Among last year’s winners were students who advocated for Aboriginal education, started a sustainability committee at school, and founded an anti-bullying group.
Canadian Merit Scholarship Foundation Loran Award
$32,000 plus tuition, over four years (available at 24 participating universities; includes mentoring and a summer program)
Number of awards: 30
Applicants must demonstrate character, service, and leadership, as well as independence, entrepreneurship, and a wide variety of interests. One-time entrance awards and summer grants of $7,500 are also available.
Terry Fox Humanitarian Award
$28,000 over four years (paid directly to the winner’s university for tuition costs)
Number of awards: 20
Candidates are evaluated on their dedication to humanitarian ideals, volunteer experience, courage in overcoming obstacles, academics, and participation in sports, fitness, and community service. Winners may not receive more than $8,000 per year from other scholarships. (Any amount exceeding $8,000 will be deducted from the Terry Fox award.) Winners must maintain their academic, voluntary and career performance at a satisfactory level during their post-secondary career.
RBC Royal Bank Scholarships for Undergraduates
Number of awards: six (two reserved for RBC clients)
Candidates must have a minimum cumulative average of 70 per cent and provide information about extra-curricular activities and volunteering or work experience. Two short essay questions ask candidates about one change they would like to see, and how they would influence that change.
Toyota Earth Day Scholarship
$5,000 (out of 20 regional winners, one national winner will also receive a laptop)
Number of awards: 20
Candidates must distinguish themselves through environmental community service or leadership, as well as through extracurricular and volunteer activities, and academic excellence. Award winners may pursue any discipline.
Miller Thomson Foundation National Scholarship
Number of awards: 100
Students must have high academic achievement, have contributed positively to their school through extracurricular activities and demonstrate significant commitment to community service. A minimum average of 87 per cent in Grades 9 to 12 is required.
Sears Canadian High School Design Competition
$500 top prize (second place $300, third place $200) • Number of awards: 24
A design challenge is issued in each of four categories: Industrial Design, Fashion Design, Architecture/Interior Design, and Graphic Design. Prizes are awarded at the junior (Grade 10 and below) and senior (Grade 11 and above) levels. Students can enter individually or in teams, and can submit one entry per category.
By Suzanne Tyson, President of Studentawards.com
Republished with permission from:
Maclean’s Guide to Canadian Universities 2012