Scholarships are all over the place. To some estimates, a ridiculous $15 million in scholarship money goes unclaimed every year. In the following Students with Stories, we’re highlighting winners of large scholarships for their insight on how they won the scholarship and their tips and tricks for you.
Tell us about yourself, Connor.
I traded a view of the Rockies in my hometown of Cochrane, Alberta for a view of the condo building next door in Toronto, where I manage fundraising & alumni relations for the Loran Scholars Foundation. In between, I earned a BA in economics and history at McGill University where I spent many happy hours running in circles as a member of the varsity track team. After graduating, I worked for a year in politics both on Parliament Hill and at the Ontario legislature before starting my current role at the foundation. I have come to terms with being an unapologetic city-dweller and know I can survive the apocalypse because I kept riding my bike through two Montreal winters.
“I can survive the apocalypse because I kept riding my bike through two Montreal winters.”
How did you discover the Loran Awards and why did you apply?
I learned about the scholarship from my older brother who applied a few years before me. Although he was not ultimately selected as a Loran Scholar, he was interviewed at the provincial level and found it a thought-provoking and inspiring experience. The encouragement and support of my family, teachers and friends were also a big reason why I applied. It can be very intimidating when you are considering applying for a scholarship to read about the incredible talents of past recipients and think you could never measure up. When I focused instead on the selection criteria—rather than who else had received the award—I started to think “Hey, that might describe me.” Another reason to apply was that, although only 30 Loran Scholars are selected each year, there are also 80 one-time provincial and national finalist awards worth $2,000 or $3,000 each.
Where did you look for scholarships?
I started with an internet search and browsed some of the websites that aggregate big lists of awards. My high school’s guidance office also had some useful advice about what scholarships were out there for which I might be eligible. Lastly, I found my peer network to be a great resource: I heard about several promising scholarships from older students who had applied a year or two before me.
What tips and tricks do you have for students applying to scholarships?
My first tip is that, for the most important aspects of applying, there are no tips or tricks.
The extensive application, interview and selection process of a major scholarship like Loran is about finding alignment between the funder/institution and who you authentically are. Being anything other than authentic is a quick way to thwart your candidacy from the outset. It is usually painfully obvious when a candidate is trying to massage their application into a form that better fits what they think the selection committee is looking for. Similarly, trying to cram your CV with “scholarship-friendly” activities—beyond filling a few lines on your application form—will detract from the real, meaningful aspects of who you are. In contrast, presenting yourself in a clear, genuine—and therefore inevitably unique—manner gives you the best shot at matching yourself to a great scholarship.
Besides that first crucial point, here are a few more pieces of advice:
- When in doubt (which you will be), apply anyway.
Here is one tip that applies in particular when applying for major scholarships like Loran: do not underestimate yourself. I am always blown away by the number of outstanding Loran Scholars who never thought they had any chance of being selected. They were wrong. Fortunately they had people push them to apply.
Even if you think you are a hopeless long-shot (again: you are likely not), applying to a major, effort-intensive award with early deadlines like Loran can help you better tackle subsequent applications. Putting in some upfront work—e.g. writing thoughtful essays, reflecting on your goals, asking for references and the like—means you will be well-prepared when applications for university programs and other scholarships roll around.
- There is more money out there than you might think.
There are thousands of lesser-known scholarships in Canada, and every year many of them are not even awarded for want of qualified applicants. Beyond the major programs like Loran and university entrance awards, it can pay to look for scholarships whose criteria are more specific to your circumstances. For example, many companies, unions and professional associations offer scholarships specifically for children of their employees, customers or members. Search widely!
- Don’t stop looking for scholarships once you get to university.
Every faculty usually has its own in-course awards, and your university will offer money for academic achievement, research, exchange travel and more. Check your faculty webpage and ask your professors about what is available.
How did your Loran Scholarship help you in your studies?
The financial support I received as a Loran Scholar—a $9,000 yearly living stipend and tuition waiver of the same value—meant I could fully throw myself into university life and seize every opportunity without concern for my finances or needing to take part-time work.
However, I am increasingly realizing that the money was only one part of the award’s value.
“As a Loran Scholar, I received a $9,000 yearly living stipend and tuition waiver of the same value.”
Loran Scholars attend university outside their home community. Being selected as a scholar sealed my decision to move across the country from rural Alberta to urban and metropolitan Montreal—a transition that profoundly impacted my personal development and perspective on life.
Another core feature of Loran is mentorship: every Scholar is paired with a mentor who will challenge them and introduce them to their new community. My mentor, an executive at one of Canada’s largest charitable foundations, was an invaluable source of advice and helped me keep perspective during the ups and downs of adjusting to a new province, culture and lifestyle.
Why should a student apply for scholarships, even if they have subpar grades?
Grades, though important, are by no means the only indicator of your potential; the best scholarships recognize that fact. In my work now at the Loran Scholars Foundation I frequently see students selected who were not top of their class in every (or even any!) academic subject. What sets them apart are the qualities less obvious from a transcript: a breadth of academic and extracurricular interests; an entrepreneurial spirit, willingness to take meaningful risks and a high level of personal autonomy, to name a few.
What drives you?
Knowing that I’ve had an uncommon share of opportunity, and wanting to do something meaningful with it.
What advice do you have for students once they eventually finish their undergraduate degree?
Resist the pressure to rush into taking the “next step.” If you are like me, life from grade one to now has been a series of relatively clear next steps: to the next grade, the next school, then on to university. For me, finishing undergrad has been a time to reflect and experiment and, although the pull was strong, I’m glad I didn’t rush into a graduate program (I was considering law school) just because I felt I needed to reach another clear milestone in life.
ED. Note: Do you know a student with a great story? They don’t have to cure cancer, but that’s a good start. Send us an email with their contact info at firstname.lastname@example.org.*Opinions expressed are those of the author, and not necessarily those of Student Life Network or their partners.
Ryan Bolton is the Director of Communications (aka. Guy That Plays With Words) at Student Life Network. He has a beard that can nest a family of sparrows. And a dog—Hank—that has a slight attitude problem.
I'm not the strongest writer at the essay format, nevermind short essays,so I would appreciate any and all comments and suggestions. As well, if you could please write down any thoughts or questions you had while reading it, please write them as well. I realize that to me, this seems overly basic, but to people that may not have heard of many of these organizations or are not familiar with me personally, this may seem confusing. Please be brutally honest as false compliments will not get me anywere fast :] Thank you.
Describe what you consider to be your most significant volunteer contribution to date in terms of its value to your school or larger community. Why was it important to you and to others?
This year I started volunteering for Between Friends, which helps people with disabilities connect and find a sense of belonging in their community through recreational programs. The company strives to eradicate social stigmatism about mental disabilities and to integrate them more into society, as well as help people understand that people with disabilities want to be treated just the same as everyone else. I came into this program thinking I could teach the participants all kinds of life lessons, and fun activities that I learned through counseling and attending 4H camps. I was completely blown away after my first volunteer session, because after reflecting on the night, I realized they taught me more than I could ever try to teach them. I learned how to appreciate everything life has given me, the value of friendship, and to always have a smile on my face. My little cousin, Maddy, has autism, so I grew up knowing someone with a disability. Many people do not have this opportunity and thus do not know how exactly to act or what to say. This program allows me to help people interact with people that have disabilities, while at the same time help people with disabilities interact with everyone. At the same time, I learn and teach valuable lessons to all those I meet through this program.
Describe a time you challenged yourself by taking on a task/project you felt was beyond your scope and capability at the time. Why did you do it? What happened?
Lights, camera, action! I have always loved acting; there is something about dressing up as someone else and performing in front of a crowd for their entertainment that Ive always cherished. Through 4H, I learned valuable public speaking skills that helped me through auditions to make it into three plays and counting at my high school. However, there is more to a play than simply the actors. There needs to be a set in order to make the audience immerse themselves, and fully believe in the play. I volunteered to design and paint sets with absolutely no art, design, or painting experience. However, I have a very strong will, and always welcome a challenge. I had to innovate, as I needed to account for fast set changes, multi-functional pieces, and I needed it to be finished quickly. After drawing up over ten set designs and having them all rejected by the producer, I finally came up with a set that was functional and practical. I worked for about three hours after school every day sanding, drawing, painting, and assembling my pieces for about two months. Two weeks before the play started, I organized teams of kids from the drama production in order to help construct and do finishing touches on set pieces. I learned that I can do whatever I put my mind to, even if that requires a little assistance for skills I do not myself possess. Designing sets allowed me to express my creativity, and gave me a sense of accomplishment. I have painted every single set for our school plays after that, and try to make them all better than the last.
Describe an activity where you led a group of people towards a common goal. Using concrete examples, how did you engage others? What difficulties did you encounter? What were the outcomes?
-As a Senior Counselor at a 4H camp, I was responsible for advising all the younger counselors on any problems or questions they had, helping the staff members do their job, as well as looking after delegates myself. At 4H camp our goal is to help kids develop leadership and citizenship skills while having fun in a community-based environment. My personal goal for the camp was to make sure every kid was involved, and went home with a positive experience. I involved many shy kids by getting to know them better, and helping them network and pairing them up with a more outgoing individual. I also talked to the more extroverted kids and gave them a fulfilling task of making friends with more introverted people, so that they felt they were making a difference. While playing a game of Capture the Flag, one girl stepped on a wasp nest, and received over 70 bites all over her body. I stayed with her the whole night, administering icepacks, telling her every funny story I knew, and making terrible puns and knock knock jokes in foreign accents to keep her mind off her stinging body. After I ran out of stories, I played music and invited two girls that were homesick to come sit with us. After a whole night of telling stories while waiting for the swelling to go down and for crying to cease, I convinced all the girls to stay at the program. As a result of that long night, I knew those campers better than anyone else at camp, and still keep in contact with them. This experience taught me that I had the ability to stay calm and keep people laughing, which let these girls have a great experience of camp. It also taught me that it is important to try to make sure everyone has a great experience, even if takes more effort on your part, because those people will always appreciate that extra effort you put in.
Describe a time when you took the initiative to address an unmet need at school or in the community. What was the need and what steps did you take? What were the results of your actions?
After talking with my school districts Mental Health and Addition Counselor and having a discussion about what our school could benefit from, I realized that there was a need for Mental Health Awareness. Specifically, I wanted to target grade nines coming into the high school, as they are especially vulnerable and more likely to engage in dangerous behaviors at this point in their lives. Our school launched a new initiative called the Week of Welcome or WOW. After pitching the idea to my school principal and the School Council, we moved onto planning. Involved were members of all school groups, as well as teachers that are heavily involved in the school extracurricular. The result was a welcome assembly where I spoke to every grade about the benefits of getting involved in school activities, sports, making the right decisions, and how to succeed in high school. Every day we had a big event like a BBQ lunch and pancake breakfast where I served food to kids, got to know them better, and was a friendly face in the crowd. I also helped organize and set up spirit day, homecoming dance, motivational speaker, and an extracurricular resource fair. All these events helped get kids more involved in their high school and have a better high school experience, as well as helping the new grade nines feel more welcomed and accepted into high school. These events were all set up so that they hopefully wont feel the need to act out, or engage in dangerous situations or activities, and know that there is always someone there to listen and help them out.