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.
Applications for the 2021 Loran Award are now open! The Loran Scholars Foundation looks for students who demonstrate strength of character, a commitment to service, and leadership potential. To learn more about the Loran Award and how to apply visit https://loranscholar.ca/becoming-a-scholar/ and/or join one of their webinars.
*Opinions expressed are those of the author, and not necessarily those of Student Life Network or their partners.