With rising tuition costs and living expenses, paying for post-secondary education can seem daunting. However, many colleges and universities in Canada offer generous scholarships to attract top students. We’ll be digging into the various scholarship programs available and how you can enhance your prospects of securing financial support for your educational pursuits.
Major Types of Scholarships in Canada
There are several main categories of scholarships offered by Canadian schools. Understanding the differences can help you target the right opportunities.
Merit scholarships reward academic achievement, usually based on your high school grades. The top criteria considered are your grade point average (GPA) and performance on standardized admission tests like the SAT or ACT. Many schools automatically consider all admitted students for merit scholarships—no separate application is required. Award amounts typically range from $1,000 to $10,000 or more per year.
Similar to merit scholarships, entrance scholarships are granted based on academic excellence, usually your transcripts and test scores. However, entrance scholarships often require a separate application where you have the chance to highlight your extracurricular activities, leadership roles, and personal achievements. Award amounts tend to be higher than standard merit scholarships, from $2,000 up to full tuition in some cases.
If you have a special skill or talent in athletics, fine arts, music, drama, or other areas, you may qualify for a talent scholarship. These are rewarded based on your portfolio, audition, or tryouts showcasing your abilities. Talent scholarships can cover a substantial portion of your education costs and are becoming increasingly competitive to receive.
Need-based awards look strictly at your financial need—the difference between the estimated cost of your education and your family’s ability to pay based on income. To qualify, you’ll need to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) in the U.S. or financial needs assessment for the Canada Student Loans Program. Award amounts vary widely depending on your financial profile and the school’s funding resources.
Individual academic departments at colleges and universities often offer scholarship money specifically for high-achieving students in their programs. Examples include scholarships for studying science, technology, engineering, mathematics, business, languages, arts, and more. Department awards may have specific GPA or other criteria for your intended major.
Top Scholarship Programs by Province
Now that we’ve covered the major scholarship categories, let’s look more specifically at the top opportunities available through schools in each Canadian province:
- UBC Chancellor’s Entrance Scholarship (University of British Columbia): Full tuition worth up to $30,000 for outstanding BC high school students.
- George and Irene Bau Scholarships (SFU): Covers full tuition for high-achieving domestic and international students at Simon Fraser University.
- NSERC Alexander Graham Bell Canada Graduate Scholarships (National): Prestigious $35,000 annual award for master’s or PhD students in science and engineering fields.
- Alberta Graduate Excellence Scholarship (Government): $18,000 yearly stipend for top Alberta master’s or PhD students pursuing research-based programs.
- Presidential Scholarships (U of A): Full tuition awards at the University of Alberta worth over $20,000 annually.
- Schulich Leader Scholarships (Various): $100,000+ scholarships for studying science, technology, engineering, or mathematics at select universities.
- Saskatchewan Innovation and Opportunity Scholarship (Government): Annual $5,000 non-renewable award for Saskatchewan residents pursuing post-secondary education.
- University of Saskatchewan Entrance Scholarships: Automatic consideration for scholarships up to $12,000 upon admission based on grades.
- Johnson-Shoyama Graduate Scholarships (JSGSI): $20,000 per year for two years to complete a master’s degree in public administration.
- Manitoba Student Aid Bursary: Need-based bursaries of up to $2,500 per year for Manitoba residents attending eligible post-secondary programs.
- University of Manitoba Entrance Scholarships: Automatic merit-based awards ranging from $1,000 to $12,000.
- RBC Aboriginal Student Awards: Need and merit-based awards of up to $4,000 each for Indigenous students at Canadian universities.
- Ontario Graduate Scholarship (Government): Annual $15,000 tax-free award for outstanding master’s and PhD students at Ontario institutions.
- Schulich Leader Scholarships (Various): Over $100 million in scholarships available for study in STEM fields.
- Laurier Academic Excellence Scholarship (Wilfrid Laurier): Tuition-amount awards for grades of 90% or higher and other criteria.
- Fonds de recherche du Québec (Government): Master’s and doctoral fellowships valued at $20,000 per year for research projects in Quebec.
- McGill Major Entrance Scholarship: Covers 30-100% tuition at McGill University for top incoming freshmen or transfers.
- Alain Bédard Scholarships (UQAM): Annual $5,000 grants awarded based on academic excellence for undergraduate or graduate study.
- New Brunswick Graduate Scholarship (Government): Up to $20,000 each year for master’s students and $25,000 for Ph.D. candidates doing research-based programs.
- UNB Centennial Scholarships: Tuition waiver scholarships awarded to top New Brunswick high school graduates attending the University of New Brunswick.
- New Brunswick Community College Entrance Scholarships: Automatic consideration for $1,000 merit-based scholarships.
- Killam Scholarships (Dalhousie): Covers tuition and stipend for four years of undergraduate study or two years for a master’s degree. Considered Canada’s most prestigious undergraduate award.
- Innovacorp Nova Scotia Innovation Scholarship: $10,000 annually for Nova Scotia undergrads pursuing studies related to innovation and entrepreneurship.
- President’s Award of Distinction (Saint Mary’s): $28,000 over four years for high-achieving NS students attending Saint Mary’s University.
Prince Edward Island
- PEI Graduate Scholarship (Government): $15,000 annual stipend for full-time Island residents pursuing graduate degrees at accredited institutions outside PEI.
- Holland College Merit Scholarships: Automatic top-up awards worth $1,000-$5,000 for an admission average of 80% or greater.
- University of PEI Academic Excellence Scholarship: Full or partial tuition scholarships worth up to $5,000 annually for Island students with high grades.
Newfoundland and Labrador
- Research & Development Corporation Scholarship (Government): $20,000 one-time award supporting master’s or PhD studies directly related to the economy of Newfoundland and Labrador.
- Genevieve Coady Opportunity Scholarship: Annual $2,500 non-renewable bursaries for NL residents enrolled in certificate, diploma, or undergraduate programs.
- Harris Centre Graduate Student Scholarships: $5,000 stipends for thesis-based master’s students conducting research within Newfoundland and Labrador.
Targeting Specific Scholarship Programs
Now that you have an overview of top scholarships across Canada, it’s time to identify programs that match your academic strengths, interests, and background:
- Review the eligibility criteria closely to see if you qualify based on intended major, home province, financial need, or other factors.
- Check application deadlines—many are in the fall prior to starting the following academic year. Mark your calendar!
- Investigate requirements thoroughly, such as GPA cut-offs, essay questions, auditions/portfolios, and reference letters needed.
- Contact the university financial aid office of your prospective schools for insider tips on their application process and selection committee priorities.
- Consult scholarship search engines like ScholarshipsCanada and Fastweb to uncover additional potential funding sources.
- Ask your guidance counselor for advice on strengthening your candidacy based on your skills and background. Consider taking on leadership roles.
With strategic targeting and a polished application, you can significantly boost your odds of receiving a generous scholarship to help fund your Canadian post-secondary education dreams. Commit to applying for multiple relevant awards to maximize your financial support opportunities.
Writing Effective Scholarship Essays
Crafting compelling essays is often the deciding factor for competitive scholarships. Devote serious time and effort to stand out from other top-notch applicants. Here are some tips:
- Answer the question fully by directly addressing what is being asked in a clear, organized way.
- Share vivid anecdotes that reveal your character, values, interests, and long-term goals. Show, don’t just tell.
- Draft and refine multiple times with feedback from teachers, advisors, or writing center tutors. Polish is key.
- Provide concrete examples and statistics to back up your experiences and frame them in context.
- Make your unique story and qualities come across naturally without sounding like a resume.
- Proofread meticulously for typos, grammar mistakes, or inconsistent punctuation/formatting.
- Stay within stated length limits rigidly—essays that ramble will lose readers.
- Express your true authentic self with an engaging, personable tone rather than stuffy formality.
Paying close attention to essay details and taking multiple drafts to refine your personal narrative can make a major difference. Scholarship committees want to award motivated individuals they feel represent their institution well. With practice and revision, your written application can showcase why you’d be an excellent candidate deserving of financial support.
Maintaining Eligibility and Thanking Donors
Receiving a scholarship is an honor that also carries responsibilities. Be sure to:
- Understand and meet all of the scholarship terms, including GPA requirements, course load minimums, or other stipulations for keeping awarded funds.
- Promptly notify the school if you defer admission, transfer to another program, or withdraw so funds can be redistributed if needed.
- Send a handwritten thank you note to the scholarship donor or sponsoring organization. This important step shows gratitude.
- Consider offering to meet the donor in person if opportunities arise or keeping them updated on your progress in a major through additional letters.
- Give back through future donations yourself after graduation to continue the cycle of support for future students.
Maintaining strong academic performance and expressing appreciation for financial assistance helps foster goodwill and may even lead to renewed scholarships down the road. Being a responsible recipient reflects well.
Frequently Asked Questions
Here are answers to some commonly asked questions about scholarships in Canada:
Do I need to be a Canadian citizen to apply?
While most programs prioritize domestic students, some consider international applicants as well. Be sure to check individual award eligibility. Permanent residents may qualify.
When should I start the application process?
Most deadlines are in the fall/winter for the following academic year. However, you can prepare ahead of time by researching options, strengthening your candidacy profile, and drafting essays over the summer.
What if I don’t meet a scholarship’s GPA cutoff?
Don’t get discouraged—apply anyway and emphasize other strengths. Slightly below thresholds are sometimes considered. You never know until you try, and your profile may impress.
Are there scholarships just for specific ethnicities or backgrounds?
Yes, some aim to promote access for underrepresented groups like Indigenous, Black, Hispanic/Latinx students. Be on the lookout for diversity-focused awards matching your identity.
How can I find lesser-known scholarship resources?
In addition to main university pages, explore professional association websites, service clubs, religious organizations, employer links, and niche interests. Think creatively!