How Scholarships Work

Tips for taking advantage of this financial resource.


Image(s) licensed by Ingram Publishing


With the rising costs of post-secondary education, many parents worry about how their children can afford to go to university or college. Often, summer jobs, RESPs and grandparents’ gifts don’t cover the full cost of tuition and living expenses over the typical three to four years of study. And parents don’t want to see their children burdened with high student loans upon graduation.

Scholarships and bursaries can be a godsend; they allow students to access funding to help pay for their education. But at least one in ten scholarships goes unawarded every year due to lack of applications. Students and parents need to know what’s available and how to best take advantage of this opportunity.

Plan ahead

In grades 9 and 10, students should already be looking at scholarship requirements – they may be based on academic standing, extracurricular activities, volunteerism, or community involvement – and start building up their resumes.

Many scholarship applications are due in the first semester of Grade 12. Students can start preparing for them in Grade 11 by writing down their interests, school and extracurricular involvements, and issues that are meaningful to them. This information can go into a cover letter for a scholarship. They can also create a resume or portfolio, listing their skills and part-time jobs, and what they’ve learned from their experiences to help them answer questions on a scholarship application.

What’s available

There are many national, provincial and 
local scholarships and bursaries available to 
secondary school students.(Bursaries consider the student’s financial need). In addition, there are university entrance scholarships which are awarded based on academic achievement.

National awards, such as the TD Scholarships for Community Leadership, the Canadian Association of Principals Student Leadership Award, and the Loran Scholars Program, are based on evidence of school and community leadership, character, service, and academic achievement. The provincial Lincoln M. Alexander Award is given to young people 
who have worked against racial discrimination.

Sometimes scholarships require an essay or creative project. For instance, for the Colonel Douglas H. Gunter History Awards from the Canadian War Museum, students need to submit an original work in text, visual art, web design, audio or video production.

Some bursaries are available to students who are registered with the Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP). An example is the Royal Canadian Legion (RCL) bursary, which is available to children and grandchildren of Canadian and Commonwealth War vets.

Get organized

Deadlines for scholarships vary. Check with the guidance department or register online with sites like Scholarship Canada to stay on top of due dates. University entrance scholarships are due in late fall, at a time when students may not have decided which university to attend. Students should apply anyway – receiving a scholarship to a certain university might help them decide.

Educators recommend that students treat researching and applying for scholarships like a part-time job, for instance, by working on it one night a week, and creating a table listing the name of the scholarship, deadline, and qualifications. Parents can encourage students to keep organized, remind them of deadlines and proofread their submissions.

For More Info

Check out these websites to find out more:

Author: Joanne Culley

Joanne Culley is a writer and documentary producer with two sons; or

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