A Guide to Scholarships for Graduate Students

Laura shares some tips for finding and applying to scholarships as a graduate student!


So your SSHRC/NSERC/CIHR application wasn't approved and now you have no idea what to do to find money… well, I am here for you!

First of all, if you don’t know what SSHRC/NSERC/CIHR is, they are huge graduate student scholarships for Canadian PhDs or Master’s students. Apply for the one relevant to your field of study. It’s a long process, but also a lot of money. 

However, if that scholarship doesn’t work out, it’s not the end of the world (I promise). 

A few tips: 

  1. If your department has a board on which they post things, take a look at it. I’ve often found flyers about scholarships tacked onto the one in my department. Obviously this applies to when classes are in person, but we will get there someday. In the meantime, look at your department’s social media channels and newsletters! 
  2. Apply to everything you can. Just like when trying to find a job, you won’t get everything you apply to, but hopefully you’ll get a few! 
  3. Professors understand what it’s like to be a graduate student with no money, and most of them won’t mind writing you a million reference letters as long as you give them at least two weeks to prepare (don't ask the day before the deadline). 
  4. I understand that time is extremely valuable in grad school so my rule of thumb when applying to scholarships is that if I really, truly do not believe I qualify for the scholarships I won’t apply (such as if I don’t meet a criteria--for instance, if a scholarship that is for medical students). BUT even if I don’t think that I won’t get it because of my grades, I will apply. I’ve been surprised before. 
  5. Ask your professors or supervisor if they know of any awards/scholarships you could apply for. Twice I've had a professor send me information about a scholarship to apply for out of the blue.
  6. Ask other students in the department if they know of any scholarships. I found out about a few through asking older friends in the department! 

Now for some scholarship recommendations:

U of A’s GSMS Portal has an awards search tool for awards within the university, and that is the first place I recommend you go to. There are hundreds and hundreds of scholarships, you can filter them by when they are due, the faculty, and more. It is a fantastic resource for awards and scholarships at the university. 

If you have/had an RESP through the Canadian Scholarship Trust, they have a huge graduate award! Last year there were 14 awards, each worth $10,000! 

Interestingly, Mensa Canada has a scholarship contest that does not specify that it is only for undergraduates (so I totally applied). You don’t have to be a member of Mensa to apply, you just have to write a 250 word essay (yeah, probably the shortest scholarship essay you will ever have to write). 

I know places like Yconic have a ton of scholarships, but from my experience they are mostly for undergrads, but it never hurts to check! 

The MacKenzie King Scholarship! This one has a GPA requirement and reference letters, but I highly recommend applying. 

Sometimes professional associations have scholarships for students! If you’re part of APEGA or the Archaeological Institute of America or anything like that, check their website and social media-- you never know what you’ll find. Departments and Faculties often have their own specific awards. I recommend looking them up in the GSMS portal and asking around. Sometimes, associations that professors belong to offer scholarships for students that students may not even be aware of! 

Finding money as a grad student can be very difficult, but I promise that it’s not impossible! You can do it!