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Applying for post-secondary education can be overwhelming for many Canadians, especially after seeing the cost of tuition. Costs vary widely across the country. According to Statistics Canada, the average annual tuition cost for an undergraduate degree in Ontario is $7,868; while Saskatchewan and Quebec come in at $6,885 and $2,799 respectively.

To offset the cost, students have many resources available including: grants, bursaries and scholarships — essentially free money to put towards education — available to students across the country.

Offered by businesses, government, schools and organizations, most resources range from $100 to $20,000.

Scholarships

Scholarships can be awarded based on a variety of criteria including: academic standing, athletics, community involvement or any combination of the mix.

For scholarships based on academic standing, it’s imperative to maintain good grades; whereas for an Athletic Financial Award Scholarship the requirements vary.

Scholarships based on community involvement are offered by a variety of community organizations, businesses and schools. Requirements for these types of scholarships vary. Remember, you’ve got to apply for a scholarship in order to be considered for one.

Grants

These are based on financial need or non-academic criteria such as volunteer experience, athletic involvement or ethnicity. In some cases, if you qualify for a Canada Student Loan, you may be automatically assessed for a Canada Student Grant. It is possible to receive more than one grant. Other grants require an application.

Bursaries

Similar to grants, as they are based on financial necessity and non-academic criteria, bursaries are also similar to scholarships as students must apply to be considered.

Unclaimed Funding

“Overall, there is over $100 million available in scholarships and bursaries across Canada,” says Chris Wilkins, president of student recruitment firm Edge Interactive, “With at least $3 million of it going unclaimed every year.”

“It’s frustrating to see so much money go to waste,” says Wilkins. “We ask scholarship administrators if they are happy with [the number of] applicants. For example, we asked, did they get enough applicants? 59% said they wanted more.”

Many times students don’t know that scholarships funds are available or where to apply for them. Sarah Rushton, 29, Vancouver took advantage of the low applicant rate during her undergraduate studies at Saint Mary’s University in Halifax. During her four years there she received the Dalton Political Science scholarship based on academic achievement. To apply for it she wrote an essay, maintained a GPA of 4.0 and filled out the application — and she got it. Rushton received many small bursaries in the amount of $500 by applying for as many as she could. “Because sometimes you’re the only one who applies,” she says.

Boost Your Chances

1. Network

Get out there. Ask friends, family and colleagues if they know of any grants, bursaries or scholarships. Does the company one of your relatives work at offer scholarships? Does your local Rotary Club offer any grants? Many times if students can’t find information online they assume it doesn’t exist. Not true. Don’t underestimate the power of networking.

2. Work for it

You may have to submit reference letters, or documents, on top of applications. But Wilkins says it’s worth the effort because many times scholarships have minimal applicants, so it is worth your while to at least try.

3. Seek Help From School

Guidance counsellors and department heads are a great resource. They know what is available and they frequently know which scholarships receive the least amount of applicants.

4. Build a Profile on Scholarships Canada

This website covers scholarships for all provinces, territories, as well as scholarships available for Canadians studying abroad. Students should build a profile to gain access to deadline email alerts for specific scholarships. As well, as utilizing the filter tool that breaks down scholarships by: name, school of study, field of study or the scholarship provider. Other helpful sites include yconic, and CanLearn.

One trend Wilkins has noticed over the past few years is that the amount of bursaries and scholarships are increasing, yet students continue to apply in the same low numbers. He would love to see more students apply and less money go to waste. “Don’t despair, get out there and try,” he says.

There is no best time to apply for a scholarship. It’s best to monitor application deadlines through Scholarships Canada, the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada, yconic or the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada (AUCC).

For additional resources and financial advice on how you can pay for school check out RBC’s Student Hub or RBC’s scholarship page.