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  • Alexis McGillivray

How I Financed my Degree Through Scholarships

Like most students, I had a lot of anxiety about how I was going to finance my undergraduate degree and beyond. I couldn't get much more than a part-time job if I wanted to attend school full-time. I was always pushed to apply for scholarships but had no idea where to find them, what to say about them, and how to gauge my odds of even getting any funding at the end of the process. Over time, I have worked out my own steps to successfully get scholarships. So, I am going to take you on a tour of how I have been awarded over $10,000 over my four-year undergrad.


Step 1: Beef-Up Resume


Scholarships are often rewarded in three major categories: based on academic grades, based on community involvement, and for Indigenous students. However, the scholarships for Indigenous students often require a secondary element, mostly relating to giving back to the Indigenous community. Academic grades refer to cumulative GPAs and are often set at a minimum of a 3.5 GPA. Gaining community service hours is easy and can be done within the school or an external community.


Within the school context, involvement in any extracurricular events is applicable. This could include joining a club or movement on campus where you attend at least a few meetings or help out in another capacity, like at events. A great example is joining the CSA, where you can enter a role based on availability. If you only want to dedicate a minimum of ten hours a semester, you can join as a general member, and if you want to commit more, there are many other options. Even if you can't commit ten hours, there is also the option of committing in smaller instances, like submitting a blog post (like what I'm doing right now). Ever gotten an email from CAL asking for note-takers? That counts as well. Any time you commit to a community that you are not obligated to be by the school or social standards, it counts and can be put on a scholarship application.

When handing in your scholarship application documents, try to stand out from the crowd by submitting something unique. Not necessarily content-wise, but try using a template that amps up these documents without taking away from the professionalism of the document. Templates can be found with a quick Google search and downloaded for free in many formats. My preferred method is Canva which has hundreds of unique templates for various media and documents. Each time I apply for a new award, I use a resume or cover letter I have already completed and change the information to fit the scholarship at hand.


Step 2: Finding Suitable Matches


There are two main ways I use to select scholarships. Firstly, avoid any website or server that is created for scholarship applications. For example, Scholarship Canada or any other vague portals. For scholarships, the more specific and personal an application, the more likely you will hear back from the organization. Applying directly on the website indicates that you will hear back from the application. For example, places like Scotiabank on their website will have a student section with different scholarship opportunities - banks are good places to look for scholarships.


Compiling a list of eligible organizations and reliable applications is time-consuming and is often my second go-to. Through SFU’s portal, I have applied and received the most funding. Every semester the school publishes a list of eligible scholarships internally and externally.


These lists are sorted based on the three main categories I mentioned at the beginning: academics, community, and Indigenous scholarships. And further is sorted by faculty. I read through all the available scholarships for the semester and recorded the description and requirements of each scholarship, as well as its unique code. When putting my application together, I refer back to the description of the award, ensuring I include all necessary material and prep my material based on the logistics of the award. Under ‘Financial Aid and Awards’ via gosfu, you can select ‘Apply for Scholarships/Awards’, which will take you to a portal.




In the portal, you can apply for the scholarship via the code and check in on the status of your application.


Step 3: Preparation and Post-Acceptance


As previously mentioned, having documents pre-created, like a resume and cover letter makes the application process much quicker and smoother. Every time you apply for a new award, instead of creating all the documents from scratch, you only have to update your pre-made templates. Most awards will also ask for a personalized paper on various topics, mostly relating to how your actions at school affect the community around you or even yourself. So, when writing these documents, be confident in everything you say. Talk about yourself like you’re the coolest, most capable person, and add some personal information that makes the reader feel like they know a little bit more about you and possibly like you more. I like to begin my application process when SFU releases their semesterly awards and slowly work on them for a few weeks. Usually, applications are due within a few months of its announcement, and the sooner you get them in, the increase of your chances of hearing back.


Unfortunately, it is not a process you can do right before it's due, as it tends to read much like it was written before it's due. Take your time on it. Make it personal, but don't worry about it like it were an exam. It's not about the most creative and elegant language and grammar, but how relevant your answer is to the question and how your experience makes you the unique best choice.


After you have received the award, don't feel weird about sending a thank you email. Warning that many of the foundations and organizations that donate to SFU’s scholarships are either private or unknown, sometimes getting in contact with these individuals is tricky. But if you have the information, sending over a few sentence emails thanking them for the award, and showing common courtesy goes a long way. Remember to be confident in yourself, give your application time, and be proud of yourself, whether you win or not, for putting in the effort anyways :)


Happy applying!

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