Sunday, 30 June 2013

MedTalk Series: It's Not Just About The Money: Why Scholarships are Important

A reader recently emailed me this question:
"While you were a premed, did you apply and win awards and scholarships? I was wondering if the awards and the scholarships help boost the ABS? "

The answer to the first part of this question is "Yes" - during my high school as well as undergrad, I had applied to many awards and scholarships and was fortunate enough to be the recipient of quite a few of them.

The answer to the second part of the question is that while scholarships enable students to fund their education, the other underlying advantage to applying (and winning) a scholarships is that it can also help shed a positive light on one's application for professional school - in this case, medical school.

For anyone who has applied for scholarships and awards in the past, you would know that the application process can sometimes be very long and detailed depending on the prestige and amount that the scholarship is offering. The point of scholarships is to award those applicants who've fulfilled its criteria, whether it be volunteering a certain number of hours, achieving a certain GPA, making a difference in the community etc. These eligibility criteria all showcase an applicant's initiative in their academic and/or social life which can further support and validate one's achievements when applying for professional school. For instance, if you were part of a student association and made a large impact for that association or even for your school at large, having won a scholarship that recognized your work would further help your interviewers see the kind of person you are - one that is hard working and concerned about his/her school community. It can also showcase your ability to juggle your academics and extra-curriculars which is also an important trait that most medical school interviewers look for. Winning scholarships also gives one the ability to speak about their achievements during the interview process.

On the OMSAS application, there is a section whereby applicants can indicate if they've won any awards and if they did, the size of the applicant pool. Depending on the prestige of the scholarship/award, the competition might be very large or small. Even if one didn't win a scholarship and only ended up as a finalist/semi-finalist, it is important to indicate this as it shows that you had taken the initiative to apply for the award and advanced in the selection process. If you had won the scholarship, then the size of the applicant pool gives the interviewers can idea of how difficult it was to win that scholarship which can work in your favour during the interview process.

One thing I haven't talked about is research awards. Most students are aware of NSERC but there are also various research grants/funding offered by the department that you're carrying out your research, by major companies/government organizations (ex: Heart and Stroke Foundation). Furthermore, various hospitals offer summer research studentships that pay students to do research in an academic hospital. Depending on the medical school that you are applying to, the reviewers might look heavily on whether or not you have any research experience. Thus, having any sort of research award/grant/bursary would enhance your application.

When applying for scholarships:

Know your Strengths

  • Do you very high grades?
  • Do you play any sports?
  • Do you write plays? act? dance?
  • Do you do many extra-curricular activities?
  • Are you part of any student associations? unions? governing councils?
  • Do you volunteer anywhere? hospitals? senior homes? day cares?
  • Can you speak more than one language?
You get the point. By knowing your strengths, it will be easier to narrow down which scholarships you can apply for. 

Know your Resources

If you're a high school student, try speaking to your guidance counsellor about where to look for scholarships. It's their job to assist you in looking for awards and scholarships for post-secondary schools. They also usually have a binder full of various awards that students can apply for.

If you're a university student, your Registrar as well as Academic/Career Centre should also have the necessary resources for you to find the various scholarships that your university has to offer. Often times, your Registrar's website should show the various scholarships available for each department and its deadline so be on the lookout for these.

Another resource one may look into is your parents' company/organization that they work for. Sometimes, awards and scholarships are available only to the children of employees.

A good website to look for scholarships is

Prepare in Advance

The worst thing that can happen is you find a scholarship that you think you would be the ideal candidate for but you miss the deadline. Scholarships often have a lot of requirements and paperwork that one must submit such as transcripts, reference letters, and essays that you must write. These all take time to get into order especially for documents out of your control (ex: reference letters). Thus, it is imperative to prepare ahead of time to make sure that you don't miss the deadline. Also, keep in mind whether the scholarship can be submitted via email or regular mail as mailing it in can take some time and this can also impact whether or not your application is received by the deadline.


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