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5 scholarship myths BUSTED

In all of my years of experience in university admission and helping families with scholarship applications, I’ve heard a lot of misinformation about scholarships. While all of them have a kernel of truth, it’s often not the whole story.

So, in an effort to clarify information, here are 5 scholarship myths, busted:

1. Only top students win scholarships.

Not true.

While many top students win scholarships, not all scholarships are won by top students. Grades are important for some scholarships (namely, most of the ones awarded by universities), but there are many, many others that do not base eligibility on high grades.

The minimum for many external scholarships (those awarded by non-university affiliated funders) is usually around 70%.

Some may not require a certain academic average at all. For these kinds of scholarships, grades may be only one factor, and more emphasis is placed on the student’s involvement in, and contribution to, their community.

And others may be more like essay contests, where the story is more important than grades, or even extra-curricular activities.

2. You must have financial need to win scholarships.


While some scholarships require the student to demonstrate financial need (for example by checking a box on the application, or by submitting a copy of parents’ most recent tax returns), some scholarships don’t have a financial need component at all.

And if there is a financial need requirement, it’s important to know exactly what that means, because the term” financial need” is relative, and varies from scholarship to scholarship. Often the student qualifies for financial need if they intend to apply for (qualify for) a student loan.

Key takeaway: If the application doesn’t specify exactly what the requirement is, don’t assume you don’t qualify. Contact the organization directly and ask.

3. There’s too much competition. I’ll never win.

Some scholarships are competitive, some aren’t.

While the larger university entrance and the national scholarships can be competitive, there are many that don't have that level same of competition. Of course, the competition depends on who applies that particular year, so some years may be more competitive than others. (Just this past year I noticed two very nice scholarships--one for $20,000!--extended their deadlines because not enough students applied.)

The simple fact that many students don't apply because they assume the competition is stiff and/or they think they won't win, tells you that there may not be as many people applying as you think!

There are lots of reasons why scholarships might not be as competitive as you think:

  • Some scholarships are not advertised well, or they are advertised late and the time to apply is short so fewer students apply.

  • Some students don’t complete the application properly, and are disqualified.

  • Scholarships that require an essay, especially a long one, tend to be less competitive because many students don’t want to write an essay, or they don’t finish it, or don’t submit it in time.

  • Community based or regional scholarships are less competitive because fewer people are eligible to apply.

  • Scholarships with smaller value are often less competitive because students can’t be bothered doing the work for a small amount of money.

So, again, don't assume you're not competitive.

Which brings me to my next myth…

4. Those little scholarships aren’t worth my time.

Whoa, Nelly!

So, as I mentioned above, smaller scholarships can often be less competitive. That’s because students (mistakenly) think they don’t make much of a difference.

Let’s think about the return on investment (ROI) of winning a small scholarship. Let’s say $1000.

Many students will work a part-time minimum wage job during university. The average minimum wage in Canada is about $11.00. So, if your student won a $1000 scholarship, that’s the equivalent of working about 90 hours in a part-time minimum wage job. If they were to win that little $1000 scholarship, that’s 90 fewer hours they need to work to pay for university. And, if they work approximately 16 hours/week while at university, it equates to working approximately 5.5 fewer weeks.

Aren’t a few hours spent applying for that “little” scholarship worth 90 fewer hours (or 5.5 fewer weeks) of work?

Here’s another way to look at it: even if you spend 10 hours searching for and applying for scholarships, and even if you only win one $1000 scholarship, that’s $100/hour you just earned.

Either way, it’s a great return on investment!

5. You need to have, like, 100 different activities to get a scholarship. I don’t have enough experience.

Not necessarily.

While it’s true you normally must have some involvement in extra-curricular activities, you don’t have to have a lot for some scholarships.

In fact, often a few, more robust experiences are better than several one time activities. Quality over quantity.

Plus, the way you present the information can increase your chances of winning.

Let’s say your student works a part-time job as a cashier at a grocery store. On the application form, in the responsibilities section, they might be tempted to put “serve customers, ring in groceries, make change.”

Hold on now, surely they did a bit more than that? We can do better.

How about, “provided quality customer service, handled cash transactions, cleaned and stocked work area, made recommendations to manager based on customer feedback”. Break down the duties and use action words to describe them, making them sound more, well, active.

Add anything they did that was perhaps a little extra, like make recommendations to the manager, which demonstrates initiative.

Here’s another example: if your student assisted a coach with a junior team, instead of just putting, “helped coach with training and team events”, perhaps that can be expanded?

Maybe something like, “assisted coach with team training, led half of team in skills drills at weekly practices, assisted with player rotation during games, co-led team in yearly fundraising events (raised $2145), represented team at functions and charity events, won division playoffs 2016-2017”.

Of course, all of this information must be true, but you get the point. Your student should expand on the activity whenever possible to let the scholarship committee/reader know their real level of responsibility and commitment.

So, while there is a scrap of truth in these 5 myths, for the most part it's a bunch of hooey.

Moral of the story: don't let these myths hold you back from applying for and winning scholarships!

I hope you find this information useful!

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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