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Do this one thing to increase your chance of winning a scholarship

I’m going to cut to the chase.

Here’s the one thing your child needs to do to increase their chance of winning a scholarship: do something extraordinary.


I know what you’re thinking, “My kid is busy pretty much 24/7, and now she’s telling me they have to do something like find a cure for the common cold or do brain surgery in Grade 10 to get a scholarship???”

No, no no…nothing like that.

When I say they need to do something extraordinary, I mean something literally extra-ordinary, meaning not ordinary, or not like everyone else.

They need to separate themselves from the group in some way.

Not be just a member of the team, or a member of a group, but a person who does something a little bit more than that. I’m not even talking about being the team captain, or the student council president. Just anything that’s a little different, or a little more than the average student.

Here’s how this topic came up for me this week:

I had a call this week from a mom who was looking for ways to help her daughter, who is in Grade 11, increase her chances of getting a scholarship.

Mom had been through the process twice before with her older children, and despite them having good grades and a roster of activities, and applying for lots of scholarships, they didn’t win a whole lot, and she couldn’t understand why. She was really frustrated.

But as we got talking it became clear to me why – her children were doing good things, and had good grades, but they didn’t do anything extra-ordinary. They didn’t separate themselves from the pack at all.

Now, I am definitely NOT SAYING that these kids aren’t great kids who did some great stuff, and they did win a couple of scholarships, but not nearly as many as she thought they should have.

And so she called me, because I know how to increase their chances of winning a scholarship.

So that’s what I did.

I told this frustrated mom about the idea of doing something extra-ordinary, and she totally got it. I could almost hear the lightbulb going on over the phone.

She got why her other 2 kids didn’t get more scholarships, and she got how her younger child can just tweak a few things (things she is already doing) to increase her chances of getting more scholarships.

And luckily, she’s in Grade 11 so she has time to do it properly before she starts applying for scholarships in Grade 12.

So then we brainstormed some ways she could do something extra-ordinary to stand out from the crowd.


You can watch the video version of this blog here:


Do something extra-ordinary in an activity they’re already involved in, and enjoy doing

So I know the big question on your mind is how does your student fit in this extra stuff, because I know they’re busy and has a lot on the go already.

You don’t want to have them take on another big thing. I get it. But that’s not necessarily what I’m talking about.

Instead of going out and doing something random, I suggest your student does this something extra-ordinary within an activity they are already doing, and just upping it a bit or tweaking it a bit.

I’m talking about doing something a little bit more with what they are already doing and in an activity they will enjoy doing.

Example 1:

So, for example, maybe they’re involved with an environmental club at school, and they’re really into climate change awareness. Maybe they could volunteer to organize a speaker panel where they get 3 or 4 local experts come into the school, or at a local community centre or coffee shop, and talk about how climate change will affect people their age (high school student’s) lives in the future.

That’s doing something more than just attending the meetings along with the rest of the group. It’s taking leadership or ownership for an event.

Example 2:

Or maybe your student volunteers in a nursing home, and your child and her friends are also musical. Maybe your child could see if she could set up a few little concerts for the residents, where she and her friends play instruments and sing. Maybe do it once per month for 6 months.

Again this is something that goes a bit above and beyond what most students do, so she is separating herself from the crowd.

Do something separate, and different, than others

Here’s the thing -- most students who apply for scholarships are going to be involved with activities. And in their essay, they will talk about these activities.

Many will play on a team sports – they will all talk about how team sports builds character, how they learned sportsmanship, how they learned that each member of a team is important, and so on. This is all true, and it’s all important. But every student who plays a team sport is going to say that.

What’s your student going to say that’s different?

Maybe your student plays music and has their Grade 8 Royal Conservatory credential. That’s great, and it’s a wonderful accomplishment, but on their essay everyone who has done something similar will talk about how playing music developed their discipline, how it helped teach them about culture, and helps teach them time management, etc.

What’s your student going to say that’s different? Do something that sets you apart from the crowd.

Now, if you didn’t do anything different, you can still win a scholarship. It’s not as easy to find ways to do it, though. I have a few different kinds of tricks to increase your chances that I use with my clients (see my services page for more info.). But if you want to really up the ante, then the best way to do it is through this method in Grade 11.

Your student doesn’t have to do something extra-ordinary in every activity they take part in. One or two times is great, unless they want to do more.

Use time you already have to do your extra-ordinary activity

And here’s another thing to consider: your student doesn’t have to add on a whole lot of time to their week to do this.

I know students only have so much time, so how can your student maximize the time they have, and still do something extra-ordinary?

The answer is to look for ways they can fit it in during a regular activity.


For example, last year, I read about a high school student who travelled by bus to school. Her bus ride, and many others on her route, was about 1.5 hours long each way.

Students on the bus were bored and got into some negative behaviour because of it, causing the bus driver and other passengers to be bothered and even intimidated. She also noticed sometimes students were being bullied.

This student liked to play games and she liked children, so she started to organize different kinds of games the students could play on the bus ride.

Once the students started playing the games every day, the negative behaviours stopped, and the students started having fun on the bus. Students looked forward to getting onto the bus and the bus driver was elated with the change, as you can imagine.

This student went on to win a $100,000 Loran scholarship.

Now the bus game wasn’t the only reason why she won, but you can see how she took the initiative to use time she’d normally just be sitting on the bus in a totally negative atmosphere, and she turned it around to something positive for others. The bonus is that it helped her win one of the top scholarships in Canada!

So, is there a way your student can fit in something like this into their normal routine?

Do it in Grade 11 to put on early Grade 12 applications

As I mentioned before in my previous FB live episodes, the best time to plan for scholarships is in Grade 11, or even Grade 10. Taking on an extra-ordinary task is a great reason why this is true.

Your student can start to plan and even do an extra-ordinary activity in Grade 11, so they can use it on scholarship applications in Grade 12.

Because, remember, scholarships start to come out as early as October of Grade 12, and many will have deadlines BEFORE Christmas, which means your student won’t have a lot of time in Grade 12 to do an extra-ordinary activity.

Students are soooo busy in Grade 12. If they can do this in Grade 11 it will help them immensely.


Here are the 3 takeaways from this blog:

1. Do something extra-ordinary to increase your chance of winning a scholarship.

2. It sometimes doesn’t take a whole lot of extra time or effort to be extra-ordinary.

3. Don’t wait until Grade 12 to be extra-ordinary!

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

Best wishes,

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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