Are you or your kids applying for scholarships? Getting a great scholarship is your best way to get a sustainable source of income while in school. It takes a relatively small investment of time on your part, and if you play your cards right, can provide you with income throughout your entire scholastic career.
I speak from experience. When I started my undergraduate degree, I had already secured an entrance scholarship that would be renewed every year, provided I maintained an 80% average. Did I keep the average up? For all that cash, you bet I did. The total worth of this scholarship was $10,000 (this seems less valuable now with the cost of inflation, but the point is you can get a sizable chunk of money.)
When I was in graduate school, I turned out to be the only Masters student in my department to win a SSHRC grant (the big guns, worth $27,500). Turns out many people didn’t even bother applying!
Whether you (or your kids) are planning on attending school for the first time in the fall, are currently in school or are thinking about graduate school, here are some tips that helped me fund my 6 years in school.
1. Plan Ahead.
If you are a high school student, plan ahead! What does this mean? Get your grades up, but don’t ignore all the other capital you have to increase your scholarship potential. For example:
Show leadership. Don’t just volunteer – show leadership in your volunteer work. Get other students involved. Take initiative to fundraise, start a group or club, or draw attention to an important cause. Do something above and beyond putting in your mandatory volunteer hours.
Foster relationships. You need your teachers to know who you are and why you are special. Stay after class to ask questions and inquire about what you can do to raise your grades or get extra credit. Inquire about better study techniques. Volunteer information during class, raise your hand and participate. The more involved you get in the classroom, the better your teachers will get to know who you really are. This may not seem important now, but when you ask for a reference letter, believe me, it will be. You want a knock-out reference letter from your teachers and the only way to get this is to show your teachers that you are enthusiastic, dedicated, and ambitious. If you want until the last minute, it will be too late.
Be creative. Everyone has special skills and it just takes some creativity to figure out what you can do that’s different. If you are interested in broadcasting, volunteer at your university’s radio station. Interested in journalism? Write a blog, or volunteer to write articles for the school or community paper. Want to become an artist? Look for places in the community, like new restaurants or the public library, that will hang your artwork. Essentially, you want to find ways to do things a little differently. They don’t have to be big things, or wildly successful, but they should show that your passions drive you to take initiative that others may not.
2. Use the right words
When you are writing the scholarship application, the important thing is to highlight your involvement in your school or community. This means using the right language for maximum impact. Squawkfox wrote on how to write a great resume – this is worth a read because many of the same principles apply.
Here is an example. A friend of ours used to have punk rock, straight-edge shows in his basement. In reality this meant that we gather on weekends to hear bands play music so loud and obnoxious it was a miracle the cops weren’t called on a regular basis. But the musicians promoted drug-free living and raised awareness on issues like racism and poverty. On his application this turned into something like:
“Promoted drug-free living and social consciousness amongst my peers by organizing and hosting regular concerts by drug-free musicians.”
It was entirely true!
Another example: In graduate school, having published work is very important. But even if you have not published in academic journals, make a note of everything you have published in grey literature or even the popular media. I had published work in a national nonprofit magazine and advocacy newsletters, for example. Did these publications go on my application? Absolutely.
The bottom line:
Don’t forget about the “alternative” things you have done that might not fit the conventional bill. The point is to spin your extra-curricular activities in a way that highlights your best features. Don’t dismiss them.
When I was in highschool I started an animal rights club, wrote a punk straight-edge zine, and attended punk shows. At the time it seemed very unconventional but on my application, my club “promoting animal welfare and ecological awareness” and my series of “independently published magazines promoting a healthy, drug-free lifestyle”, became great assets on my resume.
3. Do your research.
Find and apply for as many scholarships as you can. If there is tough competition, apply anyway – just do your very best to make your work outstanding. Check out the websites of corporations, banks, the government, and of course, the schools you are interested in. A good place to start is Scholarships Canada, a search engine for Canadian scholarships.
Unfortunately, many students assume that the only students who get scholarships are those who are those who are all-stars with perfect grades, so they don’t bother applying. Others figure it’s too much work and just don’t bother. But if you can spin your extra-curricular involvement the right way, and put a little upfront effort into your application, you may find yourself with thousands of dollars towards your tuition.
Have a question? Ask away! On the flip-side, please share if you have a tip for getting great scholarships.