Whether you're thinking of saving for your newborn's future post-secondary stint - recent reports reveal that could cost you more than $130,000, scrambling to secure the money needed to send your teen to university or investigating your own continuing-ed options, don't forget to consider this important funding resource: scholarships.
Research into post-secondary scholarships should begin in the second or third year of high school; it's important to familiarize yourself with eligibility requirements well ahead of application time. Many grants, for example, require significant community service hours; if you've only clocked an hour's worth of volunteer time you'll have to devote more after-school hours to be considered.
Before you start your scholarship search, jot down your interests, accomplishments and preferences for quick reference. Include things like your GPA, volunteer work, hobbies, skills and talents, organizational memberships, athletic accomplishments, where you'd like to go to school, what you'd like to study, etc. Remember: for every award that's based on academic performance and/or financial need there's another that looks at environmental activism or artistic talent, so don't be shy about identifying your personal attributes and achievements. This is no time to be modest - when it comes to scholarships, a healthy dose of self-confidence will only help your cause.
Searching for opportunities on the Internet is arguably the best way to find scholarships. Sites like www.studentawards.com features millions of dollars in available awards and, when you create a personal profile, the site will automatically match you up with the scholarships best suited to you.
Though www.scholarshipscanada.com requires some sifting, it's worth the trouble once you see the potential gains. This site lets you mine a sizeable database of scholarships, bursaries and grants by type, due date, location, etc. A search for applications due in the next 30 days for an undergrad program, for example, yielded 493 hits. Featured scholarships are also listed on the homepage.
The Association of Universities and Colleges in Canada, which manages several financial aid programs, serves up valuable information. One of the site's featured awards is valued at $70,000: full tuition for up to four years of school open to Grade 12 or CEGEP students who've demonstrated outstanding community leadership. (Really makes me wish I'd done more searching before heading off to university!) AUCC online also lets you peep an extensive list of scholarships for children of employees.
Even if your or your parents' employer isn't listed on AUCC's site, it's still a good idea to ask (try the human resources department) about possible scholarship opportunities. Same goes for community organizations, churches, volunteer groups, etc. Plenty of employers offer full or partial tuition coverage for staff members wishing to take classes or pursue a degree while working. And because it's never too late to go back to school, there's no shortage of financial aid out there available to "mature" students in their mid-20s, 30s and beyond.
Entrance scholarships are usually granted automatically based on high-school academic standing, but don't let that stop you from investigating other financial-aid opportunities at the college or university you're hoping to attend. In this case, Google's the way to go: a simple search for your school + scholarships will pull up your options. If you know anyone who received funding ask them - or a school teacher or guidance counsellor - how they did it and what they recommend you do should you wish to apply.
Patience and planning
While some scholarship money happens automatically, most require time and effort on your part. Devote a few hours each week to the process and keep your findings organized. Many award applications want to see school transcripts, letters of reference, original essays or samples of work. Even if you think you can squeak in on a deadline, the person preparing your letter of reference or photocopying your transcripts might not.
There are tens of thousands of opportunities out there and no limit to the number of scholarships you can apply for. Personal finance author Ramit Sethi recently blogged about his own scholarship application experience - as a high school student he applied for over 70 different awards. It only goes to show: the more you apply the greater your odds of having someone else fund your education.
Angela Self is one of the founders of the Smart Cookies money group. Read her weekly column on managing debt and saving money at the new globeinvestor.com.