Illustration/ Mariah Llanes
Illustration/ Mariah Llanes

The first thing to note about finding free money: never dwell on missed deadlines, accidental incompletes, or scholarships you did not win—this arduous process requires a stiff upper lip of positivity. The second thing to remember: creativity and an ability to slightly bend your circumstances to the favour of the decision-making body will always yield two indispensable qualities. So let’s get to it: how to hunt for—and score—scholarships, grants, and loans, while also locating some funds to travel on U of T’s dollar.

Tip #1: Please, apply for OSAP

Often first-year students do not apply to OSAP because the application is confusing for first-time applicants, or they think their financial need is not high enough, or students do not understand the basics of what OSAP funding is meant for. You can still apply for OSAP, however, until the end of September—90 days before the end of the study period. Additionally, if any of the criteria on the application changes upon arrival at school, submit a written appeal of your OSAP funding. Some common slip-ups: overestimating your earnings for the study period, underestimating your course load percentage, or underestimating your expenses at school. Also, ensure that if you live more than 40 kilometres away from campus you have checked this box on your application as you are eligible for a first-year residence/living grant.

If you are not eligible for OSAP funding, apply for the “30% Off Ontario Tuition” grant—this provincial initiative is a grant that can fund you up to $1730 towards tuition costs depending on financial status and other factors.

Tip #2: Go to your college to locate alumni cash

Last year, I was in the middle of a protracted OSAP appeal process and was directed by an exasperated OSAP employee to “talk to my college.” Hesitant, I went to my college and began poking around the financial aid office, where they quickly offered me an application for a St. Michael’s College grant. All the colleges offer “emergency” grants which are based solely on current financial need.  A useful note: one can be somewhat liberal with the definition of “emergency.”

Get an appointment with a financial aid officer and talk honestly about what you need. If your laptop is broken and you need a new one, just say that—at least initially. Either they will advise not to apply for a grant (apply anyway) or they will support in application-making, and help find the necessary funds.

Tip #3: Look for external scholarships

Most people begin their hunt for scholarships on or Something about these sites is indistinguishably irritating; external scholarships can be found using the online financial aid section of Ontario college websites. Colleges have extremely extensive listings of external scholarships whereas the University of Toronto external awards page is not well-organized and contains links to scholarships with long expired deadlines. Humber College and George Brown College both have excellent listings of external scholarships within their online financial aid information.

Tip #4: Head to the “Other U of T Awards” section of the U of T financial website

This section is unfortunately often not up to date, so click on the “current awards” link, which will show you all the current U of T scholarships which don’t quite fit into either the merit-based or financial need-based sections; quite a few of these scholarships require the submission of an essay for consideration. Writing essays for scholarships is excellent practice and takes less time than you might think; the word counts are always short and it increases your likelihood of winning—essays deter a lot of would-be applicants. The deadline for many of these “Other U of T Awards” is November 30.

Tip #5: Find scholarships specific to your skills, interests, background

There are quite a good few specific scholarships out there for the taking, if you qualify. For example: Royal Canadian Legion scholarships for children and grandchildren of Legion members; scholarships for LGBTI-identified students in high school called the Bill 7 Award; ECO Scholarships for young environmentalists; McDonalds or Burger King scholarships for their committed employees; the Kathy Searles scholarship for career-oriented individuals; Kwansis Scholarships for socially engaged students; IODE Scholarships for high-achieving female students. Applying for specific scholarships relates directly to tip #6.

Tip #6: Become eligible for scholarships.

To apply for scholarships you almost always need a reference letter or two from a faculty member, and unfortunately teaching assistants are not included in this category. In large classes visit your professor’s office hours regularly, or consider enrolling in small-sized seminar classes such that you can build a personal relationships with one or several faculty members. When you request a reference letter, ask the professor to make one copy that states the specific scholarship you are applying to and another copy that is a unspecified letter of support so that when you need another letter in a jiffy you have something available. Make copies.

Also related: many scholarships ask for evidence of community commitments, so I suggest finding a casual volunteer commitment or two that you can attend weekly or bi-weekly (insert newspaper plug here).

Tip #7: Research the the scholarships available for your subject POSt

Disclaimer: if you enter the University of Toronto as an Arts & Science student, you have no major, and you will not have a major until you apply and are accepted into one after your first year of study.

Now we’re all on the same page. You can, however, research the subject POSt you expect to enroll in (Political Science, English, Biology, etc.) and look for scholarships on the department’s website. Each department has a variety of merit-based scholarships, some which require applications and many which do not. In addition to excellent grades, these scholarships often require you to demonstrate your commitment to the program, so in first year consider joining the student society of your potential program or getting involved with their events.

Tip #8: Work study. Not qualified? Apply anyway.

A common theme in this article is that even if you do not feel qualified enough, smart enough, poor enough, or deserving enough for a scholarship or grant, apply regardless! The same goes for work-study positions; work-study positions are jobs on campus that request a maximum of 12 hours per week. The postings will be listed on the U of T Careers website on September 3, 2013.

Tip #9: Finagle some free money for traveling

a) Go to your college—pretend to need money for rent, use it on airfare.

b) Go on a summer abroad and apply for the Woodsworth scholarships—the main ones will cover about half the total cost of the program.

c) Apply for the Walter and Mary Tuohy Award—it is one of the few U of T travel awards for the Arts & Science gang. Check out others on the Centre for International Experience (CIE) website, under “Going Abroad,” then “Funding.”

d) Hoard your OSAP loans and then use them on a Hosteling International membership.

e) Go to  the CIE at 33 St. George Street and ask how you can procure funds—the staff always have great advice.

f) Be sure to explore opportunities within U of T: Summer Abroad programs, 399Y Research Abroad, International Course Modules (ICMs), and exchange programs with particularly excellent funding, such as those running to the United States, Hong Kong, or Israel.

Tip #10: Start early. Start early. Start early.

Spend the first few weeks of school doing some research about what kind of scholarships and/or grants apply to you and consider beginning to write a few essays before November rolls around and your five-course calendar doesn’t permit it.

Learning to find free money is a process which can be endlessly frustrating. Consider it as a job—if you receive a $1000 scholarship that you spent 20 hours applying for, you cashed in at $50 per hour. And for the scholarships you do not receive? Consider those applications as excellent practice.

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