How Can I Get Free Money as a Student?
Free money, you say? Bring it on!
As a soon-to-be or current university student, you should be applying for some of that free student money! Student loans are cool, but you have to pay them back at some point. Why not search for money that will just be given to you? It’s way better.
If you’re thinking “But I don’t have straight A’s,” keep reading, because there is most likely money available to you anyways! You should be looking for scholarships and awards anyways. You never know when you will be the most qualified applicant! Not all scholarships and awards have high grade requirements.
This is an umbrella term that can include all the different types of funding: scholarships, awards, bursaries, grants and loans. Your university’s student funding office can be called a funding office, or academic aid and awards, or financial aid and awards, or… any combination of these terms.
Scholarships are financial gifts for students who meet certain requirements. The requirements can vary a lot, and can include just about anything (see below in What Qualifies You for a Scholarship? for more information).
Awards are like scholarships in that they are financial gifts for students, and sometimes these terms are used interchangeably, but awards will typically have non-academic requirements. You might see awards for leadership, entrepreneurship, campus involvement, volunteering, etc. These are not academic requirements, but they are requirements for the award.
Bursaries are a financial gift typically based on financial need, so to receive one you will likely have to prove that you and your family earn below a certain threshhold of annual income.
Loans are money that you borrow to pay for education. In Canada, these are managed through your home province and each province administers them a little differently. If you go to university in a different province than you lived in previously, you have to apply through your home province (the one where you lived before going to university), not the province of your university. More information on student loans and grants in Canada is available here.
A grant is a portion of your student loan that is gifted to you or forgiven. This means that when you apply for a student loan, you’ll receive a loan and you might get some free money, too. The grants come from the federal government but are administered through your province. More information on student loans and grants in Canada is available here.
What Qualifies You for a Scholarship?
Honestly, just about anything can qualify you for a scholarship. I have made a list here, but I’m sure there are many other ways you can qualify for scholarships.
Really good grades are probably the best way to get the biggest scholarships. Universities offer thousands of dollars every year to high school students who have excelled in their studies, and then thousands of dollars to students who continue to get very high grades in university.
Each university wants to claim the smartest students as their own, and the main way they to do that is to entice students with really high grades with big scholarship packages. When you hear about “full-ride” scholarships, they refer to scholarships that pay for EVERYTHING (housing, tuition, textbooks, cost of living) or close to everything for your whole degree. These are extremely competitive and very difficult to get, but of course totally worth it.
Other Qualifications (Where to Find Scholarships)
You can find scholarships available for certain categories of students, for example international, Canadian, first generation (first generation means you are the first in your family to go to university).
You may find scholarships based on where you come from (in a very broad sense). For example, country of origin, elementary or high school, school district, municipality (city) or region, home province, etc. I know of an elementary school, for example, that has a scholarship for a student who goes on to university – but nobody knows about it so they have trouble giving that money away!
There are scholarships based on your heritage or culture. For example, there are scholarships for Black and indigenous students, Hungarian or Ukrainian heritage students, and students who are from or whose families are from specific countries.
Companies and organizations also create scholarships, so you can check your parents employers, your own employer (if you have one), and any unions you or your family members are affiliated with.
Universities, degrees and majors may also have specific scholarships, so make sure to check out your university’s financial support office and website, and also ask around in your program area (department or faculty) to see what’s there.
Who Can Help Me Find and Apply for Scholarships?
While you’re in high school, your guidance counsellor and/or teachers should be able to help you with this.
Universities all have an office dedicated to student financial support. Once you are applying to a university, you can reach out to them for more information. This office can have many different names, but searching by your university name and “financial aid” or “scholarships” should get you to their website. If you can’t find what you’re looking for, get in touch with them – don’t just give up! They probably have staff who can help you.
What is the Best Website to Apply for Scholarships?
There are a few websites that publish Canadian scholarship lists, but you have to comb through them because they will each have specific requirements, and a lot of them are for students at specific universities. Yes, you should go through these, but you should also be doing other research as well.
Use the lists above to check for specific scholarships you might qualify for based on your own unique qualifications and characteristics. This is the hard part – trying to find all the scholarships!
You should be going through your university’s website to find scholarships, and you can also look at similar programs at other universities. Some programs publish lists of scholarships students can apply for, and some do not. I have found some really good scholarships on a PDF list I got from another university’s website for a similar program to the one I am in. Perfect!
What is the Easiest Scholarship to Get?
This really depends! If you have really high grades, then you will probably qualify for more scholarships and awards. If you have middle-range grades, you are probably more likely to get an obscure scholarship with very specific requirements that not that many studetns meet. But you should be applying for everything you think you could qualify for, because you will never know who else is applying and when you could be the most qualified applicant.
How to Stay Organized and Apply for Scholarships
I use a spreadsheet to organize all the scholarships I find, so that I don’t have to search for them every year. You can get the spreadsheet template that I use here:
I organize mine by deadline, constantly shifting the next ones up to the top row so I know what to work on and when to ask for references.
How Can I Apply for Student Funding?
Each scholarship or award application is going to be a little bit different, but here are some of the commonly-requested components:
Before they give you money, they are going to want to see that you’re a decent student and that you meet any grade or GPA requirements for the funding.
They will usually ask for a specific type of transcripts: official/unofficial, paper/electronic, emailed/mailed. Make sure you send the right kind and that you leave enough time for it to meet the deadline. Sometimes universities take some time to process transcript requests.
You should also be aware that official transcripts usually cost money to request, so you are very likely to have to pay for those.
References or Letters of Recommendation
Most scholarships and awards will ask for references or letters of recommendation from your professors. This means that you want to be getting to know at least a few of your profs well enough that they can write these for you.
These might be actual letters that your professors send in, or it could just be an online form where they answer some questions. You should provide information on the type of reference to your prof when you ask for the letter.
If you want some guidance on how to ask for a reference or letter of recommendation, I have one here:
Letter or Statement of Intent
You will sometimes be asked to write a letter or statement of intent to highlight how you qualify the award or why you would be a good choice for recipient. This is fairly similar to writing a cover letter, where you will have to tailor it to that award and audience specifically and focus on the things they are evaluating you on. Your university’s financial support office may be able to help with this or provide some supports. You should also get someone to read it over – if you have a professor who is willing to do that for you, that would be ideal, but a friend or family member can also help.
Please reach out if you have further questions – you can reach me on any of my socials, or send me an email: email@example.com – I read every message!