Grade 12 is a student’s best time to win scholarships. There will never be another time where there are more opportunities and less competition.
However, to qualify for the most awards — and the biggest awards in Canada — you must prepare early. While grade 12 is the best time to apply for scholarships, the best time to prepare is before grade 12. If you’re serious about winning scholarships, you’ll need to have built your scholarship profile (or resumé) before grade 12. That’s because to qualify for bigger awards, you’ll need to have completed certain kinds of activities that take longer to carry out. Plus, some of the biggest scholarships in Canada are offered early in grade 12 and have deadlines less than 3 months into grade 12. So, when you apply, you’ll be assessed based on what you did in grade 10 and 11, not in grade 12 because grade 12 has only just started!
Understand what funders are looking for
What should you do in grades 10 and 11 to get set up for scholarship success in grade 12? To understand how to prepare, you must understand what scholarship funders are looking for. Each funder is different, and they are seeking different kinds of skills and experience.
There are basically two kinds of scholarship funders: the universities themselves, and everyone else. Everyone else includes funders like banks, community organizations, employers, and basically every organization outside of the universities. Collectively these are called “external” funders.
What are they looking for? Universities are seeking academic excellence; grades are always required for all awards. They are also seeking “well-rounded” students — ones who have leadership experience and who will come to campus, get involved, and improve campus life for others.
External funders are usually seeking to reward students for contributing to their community. These awards are generally less focused on grades, or grades may not be required at all.
How to prepare for university scholarships
Some universities offer scholarships that are based totally on grades. You are “automatically” assessed for these awards when you apply with the appropriate transcript. For these awards, obviously, you should try to get the best marks possible.
Some universities also offer awards that include not only your grades, but also other factors like involvement in extra-curricular activities. These are often larger sums of money and highly competitive. For these awards you will be assessed on your involvement in school and other activities. The best kind of experience for these awards is leadership. The university wants to recruit students who have a history of leading activities, either at school or in the community, in the hope that they will take on more leadership roles at university. For these awards, you should have some involvement in a volunteer activity with a leadership role. You don’t have to be student council president, but you should have at least one role on your resume that includes having had responsibility for leading others to achieve a goal or complete a task.
How to prepare for external scholarships
Many external scholarship funders offer awards based mainly on community involvement and volunteering. Grades may or may not be required for these scholarships.
For these kinds of awards, volunteering is often the most sought-after activity. If you don’t have at least one volunteer activity on your resume, you will not qualify for many of these awards.
So, what kind of volunteer activity is the best kind? Something that is meaningful to you. That means you chose the activity based on a personal value or a desire to make a difference. For example, you are concerned about the environment, so you sign up to do a beach cleanup. However, an even better kind of activity would be leadership in a volunteer role. So, using the same example, you sign-up for the beach cleanup, but then you invite five friends along. And, after the cleanup you, you ask your friends to join you in writing letters to your town council to ask it to increase the number or “no littering” signs and garbage cans on the beach. This experience is now a leadership role in a meaningful volunteer activity, and it will make an excellent entry on a scholarship application.
Invest your time wisely
In addition to winning scholarships, these kinds of extra-curricular activities are great for a student’s personal development. But volunteering and taking on leadership roles can be time consuming to carry out. That’s why it’s important to start now. Plan ahead and plan your activities strategically. Time and effort invested in the early stages of high school can reap big rewards later.
Learn more about mycampusGPS
Janet MacDonald is a former university admissions officer who now helps high school students prepare for scholarships through her company mycampusGPS. She offers scholarship workshops and one-to-one coaching for students and families. Janet has helped Canadian students win hundreds of thousands of dollars for university.