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How to Prioritize Your Time for Scholarships

It can be difficult for young people to see the big picture. They don’t have the life experience and perspective of adults. This is where parents can help their child understand opportunity cost.

Opportunity cost: When you say "yes" to one thing, you're saying "no" to something else.

There are only 24 hours in a day. Some teens want to do ALL THE THINGS, and that’s actually something I love about them. But on the negative side, being unfocused can result in unmet goals. Some students spend too much time on activities that don’t move the needle, and not enough time on things that do.

Allow me to illustrate with a case study from a student client I worked with a few years ago…

Carrie was a Canadian high school student entering grade 12. She and a parent contacted me in August because knew she wanted to win scholarships for university, and they wanted to do some prep work before school started. Carrie had solid grades, and a good roster of activities, including two part-time jobs. She was really busy.

Carrie understood that grade 12 is her best opportunity to win scholarships -- ever. if she wanted to get into a competitive program in university and win scholarships, something had to give. She couldn’t do all her activities, maintain her grades, complete university applications and personal statements, and find time to search and apply for scholarships.

Carrie took action. She quit one of her part-time jobs and one of her activities. These were two of her lesser favourite activities. She already had enough experience in these areas to put on her applications; she didn’t need them. Then she re-assigned the time she spent in those activities, putting more time into working towards her big goals – admission and scholarships.

She created some excellent content for her applications – an activities list, a few essays based on commonly asked questions, and a roster of a few people to call on to give her an excellent reference. This was essentially a “content bank” of materials that she could use again and again in many applications. BONUS: Some of the materials could be used on both admission personal statements and on scholarship applications.

Then she applied herself to the work of finding scholarships (her parent helped her with this part) and writing the applications. As she completed applications, she got better and faster at it.

Carrie won over $60,000 in scholarships.

She also got into her first-choice program.

It’s important to note that scholarships are not just about money. These awards are valuable not only because of the money she saved, they are also excellent credentials for her to have on her record.

Did Carrie have solid grades and good activities? Yes. Did she have someone to help her find scholarship opportunities? Yes. But many students have the same starting point as Carrie.

The difference is that Carrie prioritized her time based on her goal. She said “yes” to scholarships and “no” to things of lesser value to her.

While I realize not all students are able to give up part-time jobs, or certain activities, I do encourage you to evaluate how you are spending your time.

Ask yourself, “Is this the best use of my time based on my goals for this year?”.

Grade 12 is busy. There will be lots of things competing for your time. The first priority is to pay attention to your physical and mental health (it’s OK to take time to have fun!). Then your academics. Then make sure you’re using the rest of your time in the best way possible, saying “yes” to the important things, and no to the others.

For more information on helping teens with goal setting, prioritization, and time management, I recommend you suggest this book to your child: 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teenagers. There is a fantastic section on this topic called “Put First Things First”. You can often find this book at your local library for free.

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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