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Scholarships: How do I Know if it's Worth it to Apply?

Big awards, little awards, how can you get the most out of your time?

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A student makes the most of his time by applying to the scholarships he feels best about actually winning.

A common question I get as a Scholarship Coach is, "How competitive is this scholarship?" or "Do you think it's worth it for me to apply?"

I can't answer that question for you because it's a personal decision about how you want to invest your time. Of course, if you have all the time in the world then I think you should apply for any and all awards you qualify for, even if they are competitive. For one thing, some scholarships might not be as competitive as you think. For example, sometimes the best applicants are disqualified because they didn't follow the application rules, so you don't even need to be the best candidate to win.

However, many students are busy and must prioritize their time, so here are some things to consider:

The big ones: are you in the same ballpark?

The scholarships that offer the most money in Canada (Loran, Schulich, and TD Community Leadership) are very, very competitive. This year the Loran had over 5,000 applications, and each one of those students was pretty amazing.

If you don't have a history of significant leadership experiences (not just being a member of groups, but of actually leading people and/or projects), then it's likely not worth taking the time to apply. I'd estimate it takes at least 5-7 hours (over a period of time) to complete activities sections, craft essays, request and gather references, and to put the entire package together.

These awards, and some others, have biographies of some of the past winners on their website. Read the bios from the past year or two, and if you're in the same general ballpark as some of them, then apply! And if not, you'll need to decide if it's worth investing your time (which means taking time away from something else, like other awards you're more qualified for).

The smaller ones: better odds, usually

Less money = fewer applications.
Some of the smaller awards (meaning smaller in value) can be well worth your time, especially if you win more than one. The pool of applicants tends to be smaller, too, because some students don't think it's worth spending a couple of hours to win $1,000. Bananas, but true!

Restricted access by geographic area = fewer applications.
If it's a local or even a provincial scholarship, or any award where eligibility requires the applicant to live in a certain catchment area, applicant numbers are cut down considerably.

Poorly advertised = fewer applications.
Some awards, especially local awards, are sometimes poorly advertised, which means fewer people know about them — which is better for you if you find them!

Long application = fewer applications.
Scholarships with an extensive application form tend to be less competitive because many students simply don't want to put in the time to complete a long application.

Essay contest = fewer applications.
If you like to write, essay contests might be a good place to focus some time. Many students don't enjoy writing essays, so these awards can be much less competitive. Some essay contest prizes can go up to $5,000, and many require only 500 - 750 words. (750 words is about one page single-spaced.)

Final thoughts

Grade 12 is your best opportunity to win a scholarship, so if you have time to apply — or can make time — you should apply for as many as you possibly can. I hope this information helps you prioritize your time and focus on your best bets!


Janet MacDonald is a Scholarship Coach at MycampusGPS. She teaches students how to prepare their best scholarship applications through one-to-one coaching and workshops. She also wrote the guide "How to Find Scholarships in Canada." Janet's blog is one of the top education blogs in Canada.

Modified on February 03, 2020

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