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HOW WON OVER $20,000 IN SCHOLARSHIPS AND BURSARIES IN THEIR FINAL YEAR OF HIGH SCHOOL FOR POST SECONDARY EDUCATION

Today I am going to share my own story of how I helped my two kids raise funds for postsecondary education in the hopes that I can help you do the same!

Both of my children now attend university. They had always worked at summer jobs and part-time jobs throughout high school, but when it came time for postsecondary education, they still needed to raise more funds. In their final year of high school, we began to look for scholarships and bursaries.

The average tuition fees for fulltime students in undergraduate programs in 2020/21 in Canada was $6,580. However, tuition is only one part of the cost of postsecondary education. There are also other expenses such as accommodation, food, textbooks, supplies, transportation, etc.

I decided to take on the challenge of looking for scholarships and bursaries with my children.

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Where do we start??

First, we checked out private sources: national, provincial, and local companies, clubs, banks, and professional organizations. Many of the scholarships I found were based on merit – a student’s leadership activities or volunteerism and/or academic achievement. The bursaries however, were awarded based mainly on the economic circumstances of the family, although other factors such as community involvement were sometimes considered as well. Many applications required an essay as well as reference letters. Deadlines for these opportunities ran all year round with the majority from February to June.

Colleges and universities also offer scholarships and bursaries. When they apply to attend a particular school, students are automatically considered (no application necessary) for entrance scholarships, based on their academic average. Other major admissions awards, worth thousands of dollars, are generally open to high-achieving students, including leadership achievements. Some of these awards had due dates early in the academic year, even before my children had thought about applying to university. Admission bursaries for students with financial need are sometimes offered as well.

If I had the chance to do it over, I would have had my children each visit the Student Awards Office at their respective universities to gain a better understanding of what is offered at that institution, in first-year and beyond. We would have visited the Open Houses offered by universities in the fall or spring and attended their presentations on Financial Aid. Entrance scholarships aren’t the only opportunity offered by postsecondary institutions. Both my kids have continued, while at university, to apply for scholarships and bursaries that have deadlines throughout the year offered to students in second year and beyond.

Finally, we researched government loans and grants (the latter do not have to be repaid). Although I was aware that my children could likely obtain a student loan, I was unaware that in Ontario, when applying for a student loan, you are automatically considered for a grant as well. You can also decline the loan if you don’t want it. Every province has its own student aid programs.

And . . . here is where the fun begins!

Once we had compiled a list of scholarships and bursaries, we checked each one for its specific requirements. Then the work began. My kids made a running list of their extracurricular activities in school, including participation in clubs, sports, committees, and music. They noted any volunteerism in their community including church activities or service trips. They listed their leadership roles, and the jobs they had held both in summer and throughout the high school years. They recorded their achievements and awards. And then they organized and categorized the information. They recollected and documented stories of obstacles they had overcome. Their resumes were up-to-date. My children filled out applications and wrote dozens of essays, tweaking the composition to fit each scholarship application. References and transcripts were requested from their guidance counsellors, teachers, employers, and family friends.

Finally, we sent out the applications by courier, email, online, and snail mail.

Was it worth it?

And then we waited – for weeks and sometimes for months. But in the end, it was worth the wait — and the work!

My children were awarded over $20,000 (over $10,000 each) in scholarships, bursaries, and awards, each ranging from $500 to $3,000. (They also received $13,000 in government grants for their first year of university.). This money meant they did not have to take jobs during their first year of university, making it easier for them to transition into this new chapter in their lives. It meant being able to pay for four months’ rent. And it bought their books for the year. My kids (and their parents!) were grateful to have this money on hand when they needed it. It is also money that they won’t have to pay back when they finish their schooling.

And to update you: My kids have since received another $9,200+ in scholarships / bursaries. That makes the total of scholarships and bursaries received almost $30,000. (They have also received an additional $18,800+ in government grants which makes the total of money received in scholarships, bursaries, and grants for postsecondary education the amount of $53,600+). That is a lot of free money for which we are very grateful!

How did they win the scholarships and bursaries? Marks were important but not as important as you might think, so don’t be discouraged if your student isn’t top of the class. One strategy we used when looking for scholarships was to focus on smaller awards because there is less competition for those opportunities.

In terms of the application itself, there are a few elements that may have helped my children win. First, they had the bones of a good essay after writing so many of them – practice makes perfect! They did well in school and they participated in clubs, fundraising events, and in the school choir. Although my children both had held a few leadership roles, more hours – hundreds of them — had been spent volunteering at church and in their community, which gave them excellent references.

Holding down a job while going to school was a positive story to tell on their applications. Also, both of my children could speak to obstacles or challenges they had faced and managed to overcome. Any or all of these factors could have played a part in winning these awards.

I have spoken to many scholarship committees since and they have told me that a good essay – one that demonstrates your strengths as well as perseverance in overcoming a challenge – plus, consistent volunteerism and great references are key dimensions of a successful application.

As my kids head into their final years of university, we continue to look for scholarships and bursaries, but it is in those crucial last years of high school when the applications are “ripe for the picking.”

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