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Scholarships: bonuses and limitations

Scholarships vary in how they are advertised, processed, evaluated, and when they open and close. They also vary in how the scholarship money is disbursed to the winner(s).

Each kind of scholarship scholarship—both university awarded ones, and ones offered by organizations other than universities—will have their own set of rules in how the money is disbursed, and when.

It’s worthwhile to read the information on funds disbursement when applying for each scholarship, so you are aware of the policies and how it applies to your future goals. This information is usually in the fine print.

While I don’t believe there are any real disadvantages to winning a scholarship (heck, it’s free money you don’t have to pay back!), it’s useful to know the bonuses and limitations of different scholarships.

So here are a few of the “pros” and “cons” of university awarded scholarships vs. external scholarships (meaning those offered by organizations other than universities, e.g. community organizations, foundations, employers, etc.)

University Awarded Scholarships


  • Can be large sums of money, e.g. $60 - $80,000

  • Some awarded "automatically" based on grades, don't have to fill out a separate applications, or write an essay, etc.

  • Scholarship is noted on transcript (university admissions can see this and they instantly recognize the quality of the award, and it can make a positive difference towards admission to graduate/professional programs, and when assessing student for other awards...remember: scholarships beget scholarships!)


  • Marks almost always a factor in consideration

  • Scholarship is tenable at that institution only -- if student doesn't attend that institution they don't get it, or, if student attends, but then wishes to transfer to another institution, he/she will lose the award

  • If the award is renewable, student must maintain a certain grade point average (GPA) to renew it; usually GPA is around an A- or 80%, which can be challenging, especially in the first year

  • funds disbursed directly to the institution itself (money not given to student)

External Scholarships


  • Marks only sometimes required, generally more emphasis on extra-curricular activities, while some applications only require an essay (no grades or list of activities)

  • Range from a few hundred dollars to $100,000

  • Often tenable at any accredited post-secondary institution (which encompasses most universities and colleges in Canada), so student can use it at whatever institution they decide to attend

  • Most don’t have as restrictive policies for renewing your award as do university awarded scholarships; there may be some general requirements but there are fewer requirements for renewing on external awards are there are on university awards

  • some external awards, like the Loran Scholarship, offer recipients internships, mentorship, and have a tight network of recipients, or "alumni", who offer networking opportunities and other kinds of support to each other, which can be as valuable (or more so) in the long run than the money itself

  • like universities, most external grantors will usually disburse the funds directly to the institution the student is attending; however, some will disburse the money directly to the student


  • award is not noted on the recipient's transcript

Restriction of funds if recipient wins more than one award

Is there such a thing as too many awards? Well, not really (I mean, it’s a pretty good problem to have, right?), but winning more than one award can sometimes affect the amount of money you get overall.

Some scholarship grantors will restrict the amount of money disbursed to one recipient, if the recipient has won more than one award. For example, if a student wins another award that covers all of their fixed expenses (essentially tuition and residence), the grantor may not award all (or any) of the money to that same recipient. Rather, it may choose not to disburse the award at all that year, or it may choose another recipient. Sometimes they will offer the award in name only, and withhold the funds. See the Terry Fox Humanitarian Award under “Value” as an example.

Do you know of any pros and cons I didn’t mention that you’d like to add? Let me know!

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

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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