Let’s face it, post-secondary programs are expensive. Gone are the days when you could work for the summer and cover your school costs for the year. No one wants to graduate with $30,000 or more of student loan debt. There are many ways to avoid or reduce that debt burden, and one of the most important ones are scholarships in Canada. Even if your parents diligently saved up in an RESP (kudos to them!) there’s no reason why you can’t also apply for awards.
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Student Debt in Canada
The Canadian Government does regular surveys of new graduates. Unfortunately the information is a bit dated, the most recent data is from 2010. But it clearly shows that students with all types of post-secondary education are finishing school deeply in debt.
Keep in mind that if the average doctorate grad has nearly $42,000 worth of debt, there are many with much more than this!
While the interest rates on Canada Student Loans are declining, scholarships and other awards are an essential ingredient in trying to keep this debt burden as small as possible.
|Student Debt at Graduation, 2010|
|Average Debt||Percent with Debt|
|Source: Statistics Canada|
Essential Definitions Explained
|Scholarship: Traditionally based on academic or skills merit, but modern usage is any financial prize intended to be used towards tuition. May also include non-academic criteria such as community service or leadership. Does not need to be paid back.|
|Bursary: Typically an award for students demonstrating financial need. Does not need to be paid back.|
|Grant: Typically based on financial need or other qualification. Does not need to be paid back.|
|Award: A catch-all term for any financial support or prize, chosen by random draw or by merit. Does not need to be paid back.|
|Fellowship: Generally awarded to graduate students to pursue their studies, without associated teaching or research responsibilities. Does not need to be paid back|
|Loan: Student loans are typically provided through the provincial government, but may also be obtained through banks, trust companies and credit unions. Must be paid back with interest after leaving school.|
Applying for Scholarships is too much Work!
Some scholarships are as simple as submitting your name and contact information and are won by lottery. While others try to select based on various criteria and require more effort, such as writing an essay. The hardest will be the first application you write. After that, you likely will be able to tweak the essay a bit here and there and submit it to the second and third and so on.
A few awards may require a bit of additional effort, such as opening an account at a particular credit union, or taking out a store membership card.
Yes, it will take time and effort to win scholarships, but consider the value of that time:
Let’s say you spend 20 hours applying to ten awards, and win two with funds totalling $1,000. That’s $50 per hour of effort! Even if you spend twice that time, it’s still a better return than a minimum wage job.
For awards based on grades, keep in mind that every extra hour studying means you’re more likely to get a scholarship or get a higher valued scholarship. You earn money by studying!
If this isn’t scholarship application “season”, Pin this post for later!
Remember to Apply for the Smaller Awards
Consider that thousands of students will be entering draws for the big money scholarships worth thousands of dollars. But perhaps relatively few will enter for just $250. Your odds of winning might be much higher for these smaller amounts. In fact, you might be the only applicant!
There are many awards that go unclaimed each year simply because no one applies. Even if you can’t check off all the requirement boxes, it might be worth your time to apply anyways.
How do you Find Scholarships in Canada?
Scholarships Canada Website
One of the best places to find awards is on the Scholarships Canada website. It takes a few minutes to register on their system, not only setting up a login and password, but also entering some information about yourself – your birthday, what program you’re interested in, what school you’re attending, your current grade average, and more. Parents can also set up a profile to search on behalf of their kids.
When I put in the details for Amber, my daughter in first year university, it suggested 68 current awards with a top value of $50,000, and a total value of over $200,000. Full disclosure, though, when I looked into several in detail, a few she is not actually eligible for.
Another great website is Yconic, which then sends you over to Student Awards. It seems to me this website is a little bit harder to identify which awards you are eligible for, but it’s still definitely worth your time to explore this list. And if you want, they’ll keep in touch. I just received an email about two scholarships in Canada with upcoming deadlines.
Government of Canada Website
The Government of Canada shows a number of grants and scholarships on their website. Some are based on low- or middle income families, others for students with dependents, apprentices, athletes, aboriginal students pursuing law degrees, a 5-week French immersion program, and more.
Not all scholarships are listed on the major websites, though, so look on your employer’s website as well as for your parents and grandparents jobs. Search for scholarships based on your ethnic heritage. Check out the website for your university or college and see what else they have available.
While financial awards are often associated with university and college programs, scholarships in Canada are also available for those pursuing an apprenticeship in the trades or attending vocational schools.
Most post-secondary schools have entrance scholarships for those with a range of academic standings coming out of high school. Many of these are paid over the length of the program, as long as you keep up your grades. And if you improve your average, you may even be eligible for a higher amount going into second year!
For example, when Amber was accepted at university last year, she received an entrance scholarship of $2,000, paid out as $500 each year of her four year program.
Check the schools you are interested in attending and see what their entrance scholarship rates are. If your grades are close to the cut-off for the next level, work a bit harder! Study more for exams and ask your teachers if you can redo any assignments that are graded lower than you’d hoped. Consider this your “job” for the last year of high school. If the payoff is an extra $2,000, that’s not a bad hourly return for your efforts!
Entrance scholarships are generally the simplest ones to get, because all you need is to be accepted to the program of your choice, and have decent grades. No separate application or essay is needed.
Academic Based Prizes
In addition to entrance scholarships, there are other academic prizes with various requirements in addition to grades, such as community service, leadership, or extracurricular activities.
Some of these awards can have high payouts and come with a certain amount of prestige.
Generally these require you to fill out an application, and possibly complete an essay or other fulfill other requirements.
Awards Based on your Culture or Situation
Our family has been involved in the Icelandic Canadian Club of Toronto for many years. Since before any of our Gen Z kids were born, actually. When Amber was applying for university, she also applied for an award from the ICCT, which gave her an additional $1,000.
Other cultural awards don’t require membership in a club, but simply being of that particular heritage, native group, or visible minority.
Some fields have been long dominated by men, and there are a few scholarships designed specifically to bring more women into those programs.
Others are specifically for people with physical or learning challenges (see particularly Disability Awards), students with dependent children, and more.
Applicants to performing arts and fine arts programs may be eligible for additional awards based on their talent. These may require submission of a portfolio of artwork or photographs, or audition by video or in person.
Some employers provide financial assistance to their employees or close relatives. For instance, McDonalds Canada is a large employer of teenagers, and in the past 25 years they have awarded more than $2 million to 4,000+ employees.
Tim Hortons awards at least 200 scholarships each year valued at $1,000 apiece to employees, their children, or their grandchildren (including step and adopted).
Students from low-income backgrounds can be eligible for additional scholarships, grants and bursaries based on demonstrating financial need.
Field of Study
Many scholarships are specifically for students applying to specific programs, such as business studies, law, nursing, and more.
Miscellaneous and Sometimes Random Scholarships
Lastly, is a group of scholarships that just don’t fit anywhere else. One from the Ayn Rand Institute Canada awards US$2,000 as the first prize for best essay on the novel “Anthem”, with entrants from grades 8 through 12. Another example, Top Baby Gears offers $500 to the student with the best article on the topic “What Do Babies Really Want?”
My personal favourite, donated by CIBC and provided by Student Life Network, is called “Thank You Mom and Dad”. Write a letter thanking your parents to be eligible for a $20,000 prize.
Two Final Notes about Scholarships in Canada
Scholarships are non-taxable income for full-time students up to the amount that is required to support you in the program. For part-time students, it is non-taxable up to the tuition paid plus the costs of program-related materials. That is, when you receive a financial award, you do not have to claim it as income on your taxes, and the government does not claw back any of it. 100% of it is yours to keep. That said, it’s always a good idea to consult the Government of Canada website for current policies.
Lastly, remember to list your scholarships on your resume! It’s another indicator to potential employees about the responsible and intelligent person you are.
Do you know of other great sources for awards and scholarships in Canada? Let me know in the comments! And share this post with your friends to help them graduate debt-free too!