How to find college scholarships

Seven tips for finding money to help pay for your college education.
Stacy Lee Kong
(Illustration by Ka Young Lee)

Finding and applying for scholarships can be tedious. Here’s how to streamline the process.

See what the schools provide

Many Canadian colleges offer entrance scholarships. These are often awarded automatically based on academic achievement, though sometimes students need to apply for them. Your school’s financial aid office will usually spell this out on its website; some colleges even allow you to apply for all their scholarships through a single online application. And some schools offer additional awards, thanks to donations from alumni, corporations and other organizations. These aren’t just for newbies, either; many scholarships are earmarked for returning students.

Broaden your search

There are several scholarships offered by individuals, organizations and companies. Eligibility for these are based on a wide range of factors: some are focused on specific areas of study; others are for students who identify as members of a certain group (women, Indigenous people, LGBTQ+ students, people with disabilities). There are also scholarships based on other types of affiliations—your part-time job might offer scholarships for employees. A union your parents belong to might have money allocated for their employees’ kids. You could even be eligible for an award based on a grandparent’s military service. Reach out to any groups you’re connected with to find out whether they offer any post-secondary awards.

What you study is more important than where

There’s a common misconception that college students aren’t eligible for the same scholarships as university students. In Canada, scholarship eligibility doesn’t usually depend on the type of institution you’re attending; it’s more often about the type of certification you’re working toward. If you’re a college student in a degree program, you can apply for awards designated for students pursuing degrees. Many scholarships—including TD Bank’s Scholarship for Community Leadership and the SGI Corporate Scholarship—are open to students pursuing either type of certification, a diploma or a degree. There are even awards like the RBC Future Launch Scholarship, which are for short-term courses, certificate programs and workshops.

Say yes to small(er) awards

The “full ride” scholarships we hear about in pop culture aren’t common in Canada. While there are some big-ticket awards here, these are often earmarked for degree programs at specific universities, and they’re super competitive. Smaller scholarships tend to have smaller pools of applicants, making it easier to stand out. This can be especially true for college students, who generally pay lower tuition than university students do.

Make applying part of your routine

Working on your applications consistently over a longer period of time will yield better results than applying for a blitz of scholarships right before the deadline. With more time, you’ll be able to track down a missing recommendation letter or transcript, and have someone proofread your application.

Say the right things in your application

When writing your application, be sure to emphasize your leadership skills, volunteer work and dedication to community service. Don’t get too hung up on numbers—scholarship administrators are less interested in how many hours you volunteered and more interested in impact. Be sure to share what you learned, how it built your character and how it helped your community. Tell your story in a way that resonates with the objective, goals and mission statement of the organization.

Stay on top of scholarship news

You can get a jump on applications (and possibly your chance of winning scholarships) by being in the know about any changes or new opportunities. Check out websites that have databases of scholarships, including ScholarshipsCanada, Student Awards and Yconic, and follow these organizations on social media—they often post information about new awards and eligibility.