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The 4 biggest mistakes with finding scholarships

Scholarships are a great way to get money to help fund the looming costs of post-secondary.

Although winning a scholarship isn’t usually “easy” money, there are a lot more opportunities for scholarships than most people realize. Plus, your student may qualify for more scholarships than think, and their chances of getting one may be better than you think, too!

However, there is also a lot of confusion, misinformation and even a few tired, old myths still around about scholarships. Since scholarship “season” is upon us, I want you to understand the opportunities that exist for your student, and the common mistakes people make.

Here are the 4 biggest mistakes students and parents make with scholarships.

Mistake #1: Starting too late

The biggest mistake I see with students and parents is missing out on them altogether.

Scholarships start to be announced in September of Grade 12. That's right, the VERY FIRST month of Grade 12 is when scholarships start. In fact, one of the biggest and most prestigious ones in Canada (The Loran which awards more than 30 scholarships at $100,000 each) opens in September with a deadline of mid-October. Another major award, the TD Community Leadership Scholarship with 10 awards at $70,000 each, has a November deadline.

If you’re not on your game, they will pass you by, and your opportunity will be gone. That’s because there is a finite window of opportunity for the majority of scholarships; the window opens around October, and it closes around April. I call this time "scholarship season". This time is also a very busy one for Grade 12 students, so they need to be aware of the window of opportunity and plan for it.

For example, several students who applied for the Loran Scholarship contacted me in mid-August to begin working on the application. They had most of it done before Labour Day. Once school started and they got really busy, they sure were relieved they had started working on the application in advance!

If you’re just starting to think about scholarships around Christmas or March Break, you’ll have already missed many opportunities.

Mistake #2: Thinking there will be other opportunities later

If you think your student will have other opportunities for scholarships once they are attending university, then that’s a mistake, as well. While there are some scholarships for students currently attending university, the majority of scholarships - and most of the largest ones - are entrance awards, meaning they are only for students entering post-secondary for the first time. Also, the competition for scholarships in university is much tougher than it is for entrance awards.

Simply put, Grade 12 is your child's best opportunity for scholarships.

There will never be another time with more opportunities and less competition.

Mistake #3: Not being organized

To be successful at finding and applying for scholarships, you need to have a strategy, a system and be organized. You don’t have to be certified in project management, but a little thought and planning are required. Otherwise, you’re playing a game of hit or miss, and you won’t get far.

For example, you should schedule a time every week or every 2 weeks to look for scholarships (check Guidance Office,, etc.). Keep all scholarship information in one, easily accessible place. For example, set up a Google folder (shared between parent and student) to save ones your student intends to apply for. Have your student schedule a time to work on the applications. You and/or your student should put the scholarship deadlines into your electronic calendar with a reminder for 1-2 weeks before.

In the long run, being organized will save you, and your student, time (not to mention a lot of frustration and stress!). And, it'll also increase the chances of winning a scholarship.

Mistake #4: Assuming you’re not eligible

I’ve heard students and parents assume the student won’t qualify because of various reasons, e.g. they don’t have the required financial need, they aren’t a 90s student, they aren't student council president. These are all myths.

There are lots of different kinds of scholarships, and many don’t require the applicant to be the stereotypical top student. Plus, you should always read the fine print. Does it say exactly what the requirements for financial need are? Unless the requirements are very specific, don’t assume you don’t qualify. If you have a question about requirements, contact the funding organization and ask.

I hope you can avoid making these 4 mistakes when you start your scholarship search. And while I don't want to discourage people from searching for scholarships at any point in time, there's no denying the fact that earlier is better.


OK, I'm ready to start with scholarships. Now what do I do?

Schedule it.

If you're serious about scholarships, you need to devote some time to it. You and your child should schedule regular time in your week/month to find and apply for scholarships. This might require cutting down on another activity.

For example, two of the students I worked with this fall decided to cut down on their hours at their part-time job for a few weeks. They figured the potential to win thousands of dollars of free money is worth more than an extra $35.00 per week they'd make in their job.

Start looking today.

Start your scholarship search by checking with the Guidance Office and signing up for the scholarship search engines and Also check the scholarship pages of the universities your child is considering. Note the deadlines; some university scholarship applications are due BEFORE admission deadlines.

If you want step-by-step instructions on how and where to look for scholarships, plus how to write your best applications, get my guidebook How to Find and Win Scholarships.

You can also follow me on Twitter and Facebook, where I post scholarships regularly. And, of course, read my blog for lots of great FREE information.

Get personal, professional help

Planning can start as early as Grade 10. For Grade 12 students, I help them to plan and write their best possible scholarship applications.

Want to learn more about how I can help you win scholarships? Please visit my services page.

I hope this information is helpful.

Happy scholarship searching!

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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