With the cost of post-secondary school education rising astronomically each year, it makes sense to pursue every avenue of financial aid. Yes, you’ve been saving in an RESP and there are student loans available, but don’t overlook scholarships, grants and bursaries. Millions of dollars are unclaimed each year because students don’t realize they exist.

Scholarships are available for all categories and interests, not just academics and financial need.

Be pro-active

Students assume there is no money available for them because they are not athletes or A-plus students. Scholarships are often hard to find and competition for many of the better-known schools can be quite fierce.

An Internet search will reveal many interesting and unusual scholarships that are not often considered by university or college bound students.

Here are a few suggestions to start you out.

1. Student Help Websites:

Visit as many as you can to maximize your opportunities to find money. Start with government site CanLearn. Student sites such as Student Awards and Scholarships Canada have extensive databases.

Register on the site and create a profile. Include such things as academic marks, desired field of study, schools you want to apply to, hobbies, artistic pursuits, community service, etc. The sites match individuals with any scholarships, bursaries and awards for which they are eligible. They will even send out reminders for scholarship deadlines.

2. Check out parent’s employment:

Many companies have tuition assistance programs, scholarships, and grants for their employees and children. The onus is on the students and their parents to ask what they may be eligible for.

Some companies even provide funds for extended family members, so students should also ask aunts and uncles and grandparents.

3. University resources:

Visit the financial aid office of the school you are thinking of attending and speak to someone about your needs. They are not solely there to rubber-stamp your student loan documents. They know what is available in the way of scholarships and bursaries at the school, and they are there to help their students.

4. Government and Other resources:

Check for federal and provincial government grants. Check groups such as Lions Club, Rotary Club, Catholic Women’s League, German-Canadian Club and other local organizations in your area.

Ask at local companies. Many of these give out small scholarships and you may be the only one applying. Often you just need to pick up an application and fill in the basic details. For example, some companies specifically encourage kids to pursue a trade, if that’s where your interest lies.

Be persistent

The application process can be lengthy and time-consuming. Applications often require you to complete a questionnaire or essay and provide school transcripts or give some sort of presentation. Apply anyway. Get some solid references (e.g. from a favourite teacher) that highlight your strengths. Develop a cover letter and resume that you can adapt for different scholarships.

Small scholarships

Consider smaller scholarships. Many smaller awards – $500 or less – go unnoticed because most students scramble to seize the larger ones. They often have less competition because there are fewer applicants, but a few hundred dollars here and there can really add up fast. Apply for as many as possible.

Check often

There isn’t a scholarship “season,” and they are not only for first year students. Scholarships are awarded every month. There is a spike in August and September, but keep looking throughout the year. You may have a better opportunity to source funds when your classmates have stopped looking.

Final thoughts

Many scholarships, especially the more lucrative ones, are awarded for academic achievement and/or leadership skills and community involvement. It’s important to be well rounded. It would not be a bad idea to start your research as early as tenth or eleventh grade.

Related: What if you’re not university material?

Check with your high school counsellor who will not only have the requirements for various fields of study, he or she will also have resources for awards available in your community and help you find what is available for volunteer work and community service.

Listing the scholarships you have won looks great on your resume or CV and can certainly gain you some advantages when applying for a jobs.

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