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The 3 VERY FIRST things you should do to start the scholarship season (might not be what you think)

If you have a child in high school, you’ve probably thought about scholarships, and plan for your student to apply for some when the time comes. This is a great plan, but the road to scholarships is not always a smooth one. However, there are some things you can do now to minimize bumps along the way later.

While it’s true that not everyone who applies for a scholarship will get one, there are a lot of opportunities for free money from post-secondary institutions, community groups, businesses and other organizations.

Winning a scholarship is a proud moment for both student and parent; it rewards students for hard work, and it helps to ease the financial burden of post-secondary.

One of the biggest regrets of many graduating students is that they didn’t apply for more scholarships.

For students in Grade 12 in Canada, the scholarship "season" starts before many students are ready to apply for them. However, there are ways to get prepared even before the scholarships start to come out.

Here are 3 things to help you and your student get into the mindset of applying for post-secondary scholarships:

1. Have “the talk” with your student. No, not that talk -- the financial expectations talk.

Show your child the costs you’ve calculated for their university educations so they are aware of the overall expense. If you’re not sure of all of the costs, many universities have a “how much will it cost” calculator on their website that will calculate tuition based on program, residence fees, meal plans, estimation of the cost of books, etc. For example, here’s a great cost calculator from UBC:

Tell your student you expect them to fund some of their post-secondary education, and part of that means applying for scholarships. Let them know you intend to help them with this process but, ultimately, it is they who will need to do the actual applying (completing forms, writing essays, asking for references, etc.).

They need to be aware that this process will require time and energy. Make it clear that you will help them as much as possible, and support them through the scholarship process, but their part of the bargain is to put in their best effort and apply for any scholarships they are eligible for.

The goal is to lessen your and their financial burden, and winning a scholarship means less money they--and probably you--have to pay, or borrow (and pay back with interest).

2. Instill confidence in your child’s ability to apply for, and win, a scholarship.

Many students think they’re not smart enough or not involved enough to win a scholarship. This is one of myths about scholarships, and a reason why every year qualified students don’t apply for scholarships they could potentially win.

Here’s the real deal: you don’t need to be a 90s student and student council president to win scholarships. There are many different kinds of scholarships, and they reward students for a variety of reasons. It's important for students to get past the mindset that they aren't "scholarship material".

You don’t have to be a top student, but you do need to be on top of the process and, most importantly, you must apply.

Some students don't apply at all because they don't think they'll win. Some start the application but don't finish it. Some students will finish the application and submit it but are disqualified because they did something wrong, or missed a piece. There are lots of reasons why some students (even top students) don't win scholarships, and sometimes it simply comes down to actually applying.

But finding and completing scholarship application means making time for it in your schedule, being organized, and actively seeking out opportunities.

3. Gather your supplies and get organized. Once you make your intentions clear that you expect your student to apply for scholarships—and presumably they have agreed to do their part—you and he or she can begin to gather supplies and get organized.

Here are four ways to get started:

a) Gather all the paper documents and information they’ll need to apply for scholarships, for example: copies of transcripts/grade reports, certificates or awards from sports, music or other activities; resume; letters/emails from coaches, employer or community leaders commenting on your child’s behavior or giving them a compliment; certificates of completion for courses, etc.

b) Put the documents in a paper file folder that will be used specifically and only for scholarship information. Don’t worry if you don’t have much at first. The idea is to gather anything that might be used for scholarship so it can be put in one central place.

c) Create a cloud based folder (Google Docs, Dropbox) specifically and only for scholarship information. Put all electronic scholarship information (any electronic info. from supplies, saved applications, etc.) in the folder. Make sure it’s shared with your student (they can access it as well). Both of you should put everything in that one place so you can access it quickly and easily when ready to use it.

d) Create a new email address your student will use specifically and only for scholarships correspondence (inquiries, requesting a reference, signing up for email notifications, etc.). Make sure it’s easily identifiable and professional, e.g. Once the email is set up, create folders (References, Applications Pending, Applications Sent, etc.) so the information stays organized throughout the months ahead.

Again, the idea is to set-up central systems specifically and only to house all information related to scholarships, so the information is easily accessible when you’re ready to use it.

You’re Now Ready to Go Forward

It's normal to feel a little overwhelmed by the process of applying for scholarships. But by having an open and frank conversation about expectations, instilling confidence, and by starting to get things organized, you’ll feel more confident, in control, and ready to go forward.

So that’s it. You’re ready to get started!

I hope you find my tips useful to get your scholarship journey started!

Need help with scholarships? Contact me to discuss my services.

About the author

Janet MacDonald is a Scholarship Coach with mycampusGPS Education Consulting. She is a former Canadian university admissions officer. For seven years, she was the coordinator of a scholarship program at a major Canadian university. Janet has helped her student clients win hundreds of thousands of dollars in scholarships.

You can find her online at, and on LinkedIn.

Learn more about Janet MacDonald by visiting the About Page.

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