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Graduate shares his advice
Attention post-secondary students, Greg King has a lot of advice to share about how to increase your chances of actually getting the scholarship you apply for.
King is a recent graduate of the University of Alberta, where he successfully completed the bachelor of science/bachelor of education double degree program. During the five years he spent in university, the Metis student not only earned his degrees, but was also on the receiving end of a long list of scholarships, including the Rutherford Scholarship, an entrance scholarship from the university, and the Aboriginal housing scholarship.
He was a two-time recipient of a scholarship from the National Aboriginal Achievement Foundation, and in each of the years he was in school, received the Aboriginal health careers bursary from the Alberta Heritage Scholarship Fund. One year he even received an engineering scholarship from the Alberta Energy Corporation, even though he wasn't studying engineering.
"I've received quite a few over the course of my studies at university, which has been fortunate for me, because what it has allowed me to do is it's allowed me to work mainly in the summer, and not work during my studies. Which encouraged me to do better so that I could get more awards, so that I would not have to worry so much about making the money in summer."
The first step in successfully applying for scholarships is finding the scholarships to apply to, King explained. He suggests checking with Aboriginal student services at the school you will be attending, checking the Internet, or going to the library. (A few online sources for scholarship information are www.scholarshipscanada.ca, www.canlearn.ca, and studentawards.com. The Aboriginal Multi-Media Society also has a listing of scholarships and bursaries online at www.ammsa.com.)
When you're searching for scholarships, don't narrow your focus too much, King advised.
"I applied to scholarships that didn't apply to me. I've applied to scholarships that looked like they'd apply to me, but had smaller amounts. I just applied to a lot of them. I applied to anything and everything, even if it looked too intimidating or too easy. Because a lot of those ones that are too intimidating, they're not just too intimidating for me, they're too intimidating for a lot of people. So they might not be getting a lot of applicants, so there's not a whole lot to choose from," he said. "You just have to be willing to sit down and read what is required of you, and to sit down and do it."
Probably the best advice he can give, King explained, is for students to start preparing for applying for scholarships while they are still in high school.
"If you've got a teacher that you like or that you get along with well, or even better than getting along with them, well, that the teacher has good writing skills. Because a teacher can like you all well and good, but I've gotten some reference letters, and I've gotten some amazing reference letters. And the teachers that are eloquent and have a gift of writing, they might not know you as well as the other teacher, but it certainly looks like they know you better, because of the way they write. So getting those kinds of reference letters, getting them written up, and getting lots of them," he said.
In addition to getting reference letters from teachers, King also suggests you get them from friends and family, from people that you've worked with, and from people from within the Aboriginal community.
While many of those offering scholarships aren't interested in personal references, every once in a while they will ask for one, King said, "particularly with Native scholarships. What they want to see is some kind of involvement in the Native community.
"I kept a file of all these letters. And whether or not a scholarship asked for it, I've often gone and included a lot of these extra letters," he said. "These are people, and the more connection that you can make to these people, thebetter ... if you can really come alive to them on that piece of paper, if you can really show them, this is me, you'll be remembered a lot more."
Another tip: Don't be afraid to sell yourself.
"Why should I receive this award? That's sometimes a very tough question, because a lot of people applying for them are actually quite humble, and they're like, 'Well, there might be other people that better deserves this award, and I'm in this situation, and maybe I don't deserve it as much as the next guy.' No. You've got to sell yourself. And at first I thought, is there an ethical dilemma with selling yourself, because when you sell yourself, you want to emphasize the positive and minimize the not so positive. And then after a while you just kind of get used to it and you realize that no, all you're really doing is, you're doing what the government does, which is you're just presenting the best possible face. You're not out to falsify anything, you're just trying to show your potential. 'This is the best of who I am.'"
Once you've collected all the reference letters and filled out the application, remember to check everything over before you mail it off. Check the spelling. Check the grammar. Make sure it's legible. Make sure you've answered everything asked, and provided everything requested. And, of course, the most important piece of advice, don't' miss the application deadline. It doesn't matter how impressive your application is if it arrives too late.
If this sounds like a lot of work, it is, but only when you're first starting the process. After you've applied to a few scholarships, things should get simpler, King explained.
"By the end of my second or third year, when it was time to apply to scholarships, it didn't matter what scholarship it was, it became a snap to apply to them, because I pull out from my file. OK, I need this type of reference, this type of reference, this type of reference, and I need to write this kind of essay. Oh, I've already got tht essay pretty much written, I should just go on the computer, edit it a little bit, make it slightly more relevant, maybe throw in a few new thoughts that I've had about this since, and that takes 10 minutes. And print it all off . . . and then slap it into a manila envelope, slap a stamp on it, and throw it in the mail."
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