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Graduate Matters

Increase your chances of winning a scholarship

Strategies to help you cover the costs of your graduate education.


First, to find potential opportunities for funding, it is worth keeping an eye on the various newsletters your school sends out, while consulting the scholarship guides that most universities make available. Some systems even allow you to create personalized alerts to notify you about upcoming awards that may be of interest.

Don’t pass up small opportunities

Smaller awards can often be a useful stepping stone to winning major, prestigious external scholarships. Applying for these awards can pay dividends. The applications are often less daunting, the response times shorter, and the chances of success higher! For many scholarship competitions, any awards or scholarships that you have already won will work in your favour when your application is assessed. In general, having already received scholarships will increase your likelihood of winning another!

Use your time strategically

Planning to apply for an interesting opportunity? Review the award criteria, identify the strengths of your file and think about short-term and long-term ways to increase your chances of winning. Perhaps you can work on improving your grades, writing research papers, getting involved in your university or community, organizing events, and so on. Set priorities so that you can invest your time in the activities that will bring you the greatest rewards — not just in terms of scholarships, of course, but also your career plans. For example, in some situations, it may be wiser to spend time writing a journal article than preparing a presentation for a conference. It may be worthwhile to ask your supervisor for advice based on your particular circumstances.

Follow the criteria to the letter

Every scholarship has its own conditions, criteria and terms. Read them very carefully and follow the instructions closely. First, check the eligibility criteria, which may be dependent on your program of study, citizenship status, minimum grade point average or progress in the program. Before spending time preparing an application, make sure that you meet these criteria. If you have any doubts or are unsure, check with the scholarship coordinator, as applications that fail to meet the eligibility criteria are usually rejected. Next, read the application instructions carefully. Do you need letters of support? Proof of enrolment? An official transcript? Get the ball rolling quickly so you can get these documents on time and give people sufficient time to write a letter of support.

Many graduate scholarships also ask for a description of your research project. The fact that space is limited does not make this task any easier. To summarize your project in a way that is convincing, clear and concise, you will probably need to ask your supervisory team, colleagues and friends to read it over numerous times.

Although many scholarships may seem alike, make sure you follow the specific requirements of each one that you apply for. It is essential that you not only provide the requested documents and follow the instructions, but also ensure that the content is consistent with the application and evaluation criteria. Showcase the parts of your file that particularly meet the award criteria and objectives. The evaluators must be able to clearly and easily find all the information they need.

Plan ahead

For all these reasons, submitting a scholarship application can involve many hours of work — which is why it is essential to get a head start. So you won a scholarship? Congratulations! Don’t forget to tell, and thank, all those who gave you a letter of support or helped you draw up your scholarship application. Lastly, carefully record all the details of the scholarship you received, such as the date, amount, criteria, and the name of the award and the organization. You will need that information for your CV and your next scholarship application!

Marie-France Noël
Marie-France Noël has worked in the faculty of education at the Université de Sherbrooke for more than a dozen years. She coordinates numerous scholarships and guides students through preparing their applications. She has a PhD in education and her research expertise is in post-secondary student motivation.
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