Scholarships in Canada

Scholarships in Canada – Get more Money for School

Students, do you need money for school? Are you having trouble finding a summer job during COVID-19? You’re not alone. Many employers that typically hire students are cutting back this year. If you’re discouraged by the job market, turn your focus to applying for scholarships. If you can earn a few thousand dollars from scholarships, that could be as much or better than you would have earned from a summer job. Find out where to apply, and how to make your application stand out from the rest.

Key Takeaways

  • Treat applying for scholarships and other awards as a job.
  • Scholarships can replace income from a student job if you can’t find work.
  • It may be easier to win many small scholarships than one big one.
  • Find scholarships and other student awards here.
  • Make your application stand out from the pack.
  • Scholarships, bursaries, and other awards are typically non-taxable income in Canada.

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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 2015. 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 university undergraduate has nearly $28,000 worth of debt, there are many with much more than this! According to the survey, nearly half of all university graduates have over $25,000 in debt when they leave school.

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, 2015
Average DebtPercent with Debt
College15,30049%
Bachelor’s Degree28,00054%
Master’s Degree28,00046%
Doctorate33,00036%
Source: Statistics Canada

What’s the Difference between Scholarship, Bursary, and Grant?

Often words like scholarship, bursary, grant or award are used interchangeably. But there are some important differences between them.

Scholarship:  Traditionally based on academic or skills merit, but modern usage is any financial prize intended to be used towards tuition and other school-related costs. 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.

Related Reading:

Myth #1: Only A+ Students or Top Athletes can get Scholarships

Scholarships are based on many qualities in addition to grades.

  • Ethnicity or cultural background
  • Financial need
  • Program of study
  • Presenting yourself as “well rounded” with extra-curricular activities and volunteer work
  • Athletic ability
  • Academic ability
  • Random draws
  • Being an employee or child/grandchild of an employee of certain companies

Here’s an inspiring story of how one average student succeeded in winning multiple scholarships. On the first day of high school, Kristina Ellis’ mom told her that she could not financially support her after graduation. Kristina made a plan and won $500,000 in scholarships that took her from undergraduate studies to a PhD.

As an average student with less-than-impressive test scores, Kristina realized she would have to sell herself to scholarship committees if she wanted to stand out.

Source: Confessions of a Scholarship Winner: The Secrets That Helped Me Win $500,000 in Free Money for College – How You Can Too!

Want to read her inspiring story and learn how to highlight your strengths in your own scholarship applications? You can get this book for free with a 30-day trial of Audible. Even when you cancel the trial, you can keep the audiobook.

Myth #2: 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 20 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.

Remember, the harder it is to apply, the fewer students will be bothered. So your odds of winning will likely go up with less competition.

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 scholarship worth more money. When you earn money by studying, it’s like getting paid to go to school! Academic scholarships from your school are especially easy to win, as you often don’t even have to apply. Just keep getting good marks each term.

Myth #3: Only High School Seniors can Apply for Scholarships

You can apply for scholarships all through your college or university years. And scholarship deadlines can be all throughout the year.

Perseverance is key, so apply to all the scholarships that you qualify for in order to increase your chances of winning.

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.

It also looks great on a resume for a job or on other scholarship applications to list the many scholarships you have won. It demonstrates that other application committees think very highly of you.

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.

Yconic Website

Another great website is Yconic, which then sends you over to Student Awards. If you subscribe to their newsletter, Yconic will send you regular updates about scholarships that you can apply for.

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 dependants, apprentices, athletes, aboriginal students pursuing law degrees, a 5-week French immersion program, and more.

More Places to Find Canadian Scholarships

Not all scholarships are listed on the major websites, though. Look on your employer’s website. Look on the websites for your parents and grandparents employers. 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 are also available for those pursuing an apprenticeship in the trades or attending vocational schools.

Types of Scholarships: for Academics and Others

Entrance Scholarships

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!

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

Some cultural awards may require membership in a club. But others may qualify by 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.

Arts Awards

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.

Employee Scholarships

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).

Financial Need

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?”

Worried woman in front of computer

How to Submit a Great Scholarship Application

Now that you have found some scholarships that you qualify for – more or less – how can you show that you’re the best student for the award?

Scholarship committees want students with initiative, so that they will make the most out of the funds they give out. In your application, display as much leadership and initiative as possible. Stand out when applying for scholarships by following these guidelines:

  1. Do your research. Find out exactly what the scholarship panel is looking for, including any rules and requirements. Some scholarships include previous winners on their websites, and even their essay submissions. This can give you a sense of what works. Then follow the instructions and give them exactly what they want. Make a checklist if that would help you.
  2. Be passionate in your essay. This is your opportunity to make your application stand out from the rest. Write with enthusiasm and conviction in your application. Elaborate on your personal experiences and clearly articulate your goals. You are selling yourself to the evaluation committee, so don’t be modest. Brag a little about your accomplishments, but of course be honest. Discuss your past experiences, but also focus on where you will go and how the scholarship will help you achieve your specific goals.
  3. Be clear and concise. If they ask for 500 words, don’t write 2,000. Edit and cut it down to the most powerful sentences. As a general rule, 250 words is 1 typed page, double-spaced.
  4. Spelling, grammar, and punctuation. Proofread your essay. Use spellcheck and Grammarly or other online writing tools if you need help. Get someone else to proofread if you can. There is likely an understanding that many applicants speak English as a second language, but do the best you can and ask for help if you need it.
  5. Use proper language. Don’t use slang words, emojis, texting shortcuts – LOL!, or swear – “I’ve worked my a$$ off…” Be professional in your writing.
  6. References. Ask your references if they are willing to vouch for you, before you put their name down. Choose teachers, employers, coaches, or your parents’ friends. They should know you well and be someone who will give you a positive reference. Try to choose references that are relevant to the award – a coach as a reference for an athletic scholarship, for example. Avoid family members as references.
  7. Submit your application on time or early. Leave yourself enough time to complete the application. Allow enough time in case you have trouble uploading the application to their website. Don’t put in all the work just to miss the deadline! Mark it in your calendar or set a reminder.
  8. Say thank you. If you have the opportunity, write a brief note of your appreciation, such as, “Thank you for this opportunity and for considering my application.”
  9. Save a copy. If you are submitting your scholarship application online, be sure to save a copy of your work. You can reuse the essay with only minor changes for future scholarships.

Check out how to write a scholarship essay for more tips, and this list of action verbs for scholarship writing if you’re struggling with writing passionately.

This may seem like a lot of work. But remember, the first application is the hardest. Once your essay is polished and complete, you will probably be able to reuse it with only a few minor changes for most of the rest of the applications. You can also use the same references (if they agree).

Beware of Scams

Beware of those who are out to scam you. No scholarship application will ask you to pay money in advance, or charge you to apply. Do not give you your personal banking information or credit card number.

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.

Winning scholarships is much easier than repaying student loans. Good luck!


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!

How to find the best scholarships in Canada, at moneyinyourtea.com
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Scholarships in Canada – Get more Money for School

1 thought on “Scholarships in Canada – Get more Money for School”

  1. Kari this is a super comprehensive post and a great resource for students. You’re right that so many scholarships go unrewarded. It can definitely be worth your time to do your research. I was fortunate enough to pay for most of my university education through scholarships and bursaries.

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