Every year there are millions of dollars in free money for post-secondary students that no one decides to grab.

Whether it is because many students believe they are inadequate for scholarships (also commonly called grants, awards, or bursaries), or because they require a bit of a time commitment, hundreds of scholarships go unclaimed.

Many more are awarded to students who might have thought they had very little chance, simply because there were so few applicants. I know all of this, because I was often one of these students.

But I’m Not an A+ Student or a Big Time Athlete

Many students justify their lack of interest in completing scholarship applications by believing they are not extraordinary enough to receive financial help. TV and movies often portray only one type of scholarship: an all-expenses-paid ride to a major university because someone is a genius or great at dunking a basketball.  This actually represents the very thinnest of slices when it comes to the scholarship pie – especially in Canada.

There are thousands of scholarships awarded every year for nearly as many reasons. Many take into consideration anything from ethnic background, to field of study, to community involvement, or leadership potential.

Some are huge and can pay your entire tuition. The majority however, are not so large.  I personally received several scholarships in the $500 – $2,000 range.  These smaller scholarships can be a massive help when it comes to getting out of school debt-free, and are often ignored by all but a few informed and motivated students.

Where and How

Scholarships, awards, bursaries, and grants can be found hiding in the deepest corners of a Google search, or at your school’s financial aid and awards office. Any organization that you or your family is involved in probably wants to support some bright young go-getter’s post-secondary dreams.

I’ve helped students apply for and receive post-secondary money from: banks, clubs, sports organizations, places of employment, places of parents’ employment, charities, businesses from a wide variety of sectors and post-secondary institutions.  Basically, any entity you or your family is involved in or has any relationship to – and many that you don’t!

When I went to school I tried to corner the market on a very specific kind of scholarship. My preferred target was something that was smaller scale (usually $1,000 or less) and required written content.  I reasoned that the more work that was required upfront, the less competition I would have.

Most students would see a 1,000 word essay and instantly balk. Some might think, “$500 isn’t an unbelievable sum.  I have enough writing to do already.”  However, a motivated student can find a lot of fun activities to participate in with an extra $500.  It can also mean not having to beg parents for cash at the end of a semester, or being able to eat more than just cheap pasta and “red sauce” for all of April.

How can I make my scholarship application stand out?

Most college and/or university scholarship application essays are essentially the same: tell us why you are awesome and why you deserve our money – with some small variation thrown in. Consequently, once you get the formula down, you can pound out these applications in under an hour.  Even if you only get every 5th scholarship that you apply for, that’s still a rate of $100 per hour of work in tax-free income – not too shabby!

My grades were decent, but certainly not enough to grab anyone’s attention on their own. If your grades are average-or-above, then I guarantee there is money for you somewhere.  Maybe you belong to some type of music-related club, or perhaps your parents belong to a volunteer organization of some kind – just look around.  Once you look up enough of these opportunities, it just becomes an exercise in defining what makes you special, which is a skill that will benefit you for the rest of your life.  Everyone has something noteworthy that they’ve done or believe in, just practice how to shine the best light on it.


The best time to apply for a scholarship is yesterday. The second best time is today. 

If you or someone you know is in high school, get them looking for scholarships ASAP.  By the time spring rolls around it can be too late to apply for some great opportunities.

Different scholarships become available throughout the school year, so you can always check with financial aid and awards at your school for more information, or check online.  If you’re already in university or college, many schools and faculties now list all of their scholarship opportunities online.

Finally, don’t be discouraged if you miss out on a few in the course of applying for a wide variety of scholarships. Remember that you can’t hit a homerun unless you swing, and if you hit one in three you’re doing better than most major league baseball players!

Scholarship Checklist

  1. Check with your financial aid and awards office.
  2. Google search… past the first page!
  3. Ask any groups, sports teams, unions, clubs, charities, and organizations that you or your parents are associated with if they have any scholarship or awards programs.
  4. Look into you and your parents’ employers to see if they support post-secondary education in any way.
  5. See if your school’s website has a scholarships and awards page.
  6. Set up a profile on StudentAwards.com and ScholarshipsCanada.com