Youth Canada

Scholarships: An Applicant’s Perspective

8-10-2008 by Matthew Ho

Scholarships: An Applicant’s Perspective

If you’re reading this, it’s highly likely that you already know the importance of scholarships. They say money doesn’t grow on trees, but scholarship season is the next best thing. There are hundreds thousands of dollars out there just waiting to be collected by astute, accomplished, high-potential teens—all we need to do is to tell them why we deserve that money.

However, this is more easily said than done; one thing I’ve learned from my scholarship travails is that a good application is an art form. You and I aren’t the only ones who have realized the massive amounts of opportunity that scholarships present—we’ll be competing against the best and brightest in Canada for these awards. If you don’t consider yourself one of Canada’s best and brightest, fear not: the key to winning scholarships is not so much how amazing you are, but how good you are at telling people how amazing you are. Although I haven’t been at it very long, I’ve put a lot of effort so far into my applications and I’ve learned a couple of lessons that might help you put your best foot forward in the coming months:

Get help. Now.

No application is perfect. There are always little holes, things that can be improved or fixed, that you often don’t see yourself. Find people who can give you a second opinion. I personally have four people that I go to on a semi-regular basis for essay evaluation, and it really, really helps. I don’t know about you, but when I started out, I was bad at writing scholarship essays. The ironic thing is that, back then, I did not know how terrible they really were. My scholarship “coaches”, if you will, quickly pointed this out to me. As I went through different drafts of my essays, they would give me suggestions and help me improve. I now consider myself a relatively proficient scholarship essay-writer, but if not for my “coaches”, I would never have recognized how poor my essays were.

In terms of who you should recruit as your advisors, I recommend finding people who are know you well and/or have had success with the scholarship process. Try to find friends who have won big scholarship money before. They’re the ones who will know what judges are looking for, and who can advise you best. Parents work very well, because, being your parents, they know you best. They can tell you if you’re presenting yourself well in the application.

Essays are extremely important

It may seem obvious to some, but essays are the most important part of your application. They are your chance to really convince the judges that you are more qualified than the other thousands of candidates. Often, listing activities or awards you’ve received on the application form itself is not enough to persuade the judges. You have to talk about the how and why; you have to really sell the significance of your accomplishments. I won’t go into too much detail about how to do this, because there are far better articles about this out there already. One that comes to mind is Joshua Liu’s “How to Write a Winning Scholarship Essay” series, which can be found here at Youth Canada, as well as on his blog, These contain excellent advice; they are my scholarship bibles. I highly suggest reading them.

But, if I were to impart to you some advice from the viewpoint of a fellow student, I would tell you not to overthink your essay. You want your essay to inspire, to capture the imaginations of your reader. An overly-intellectual essay runs the risk of sounding like a soulless advertisement. The best essay I’ve written so far came when I thought I had writer’s block. It was late at night, and I was out of ideas as to how I could portray myself positively. So, I gave up on trying to dress up my achievements and simply wrote the truth. I thought it was going to turn out to be a train wreck, but all my “coaches” told me that it was fantastic. I had finally managed to make my essays feel genuine, and I had done so by opening my heart and, without intellectualizing anything, just writing about what I felt. Nevertheless, there has to be a balance. An essay that can tug on the judges’ heartstrings but has no substance to it probably won’t win you anything either.

MATTHEW HO (his friends call him Matt) is a Project Manager for Youth Canada. Outside of his life with Impact, and in addition to saving the world by night, he is a grade 12 student at Sir Winston Churchill Secondary in Vancouver, taking IB (which is and always will be much better in all aspects than AP ;). His other interests (when he has time to indulge in them) include sports, music, student government. He also is a Shad Carleton 2008 alumus.