Skip to main content

How to get free money

February 19, 2020

As I've always said, free money is the best kind of money. Receiving bursaries, scholarships, donations and gifts are wonderful experiences, most of all because they lessen your financial burden and support your success. As students, we all know that going to school (and let's face it... living as an adult) is unbelievably expensive, which is why it's important to take advantage of all the help you can get. The "poor starving student" schtick won't last forever and things like free food, money and resources will inevitably slowly dwindle. Luckily for you, I have compiled the penultimate guide to getting free money.

via GIPHY

Now you may be thinking, "there's no way it's that easy". I wrote this to challenge that assumption. You don't have to be the smartest, most charming, most athletic or most involved to find a few quarters under the couch cushions. With a few hours of dedication and solid effort you, my friend, will be breathing easier!

If you question my credentials, I'd like to share that throughout my four years as a student at Ontario Tech, I've been the recipient of multiple bursaries and scholarships that have allowed me to fund my quest for knowledge and worry less about money. Since I don't have lots of spare time on my hands (I like to keep myself busy), I try to be as efficient as possible. This means that I've found the most direct and supportive channels through which to submit applications and requests for financial aid.

Let's break it down and discuss the most important steps one should take while in the pursuit of catch-free funds. For ease of access allow me to suggest five ways to increase your chance of obtaining ever-loving support from the school, community and beyond.

Apply for bursaries through Student Awards and Financial Aid

By far the simplest, and in my opinion, the most effective way to obtain bursaries and scholarships is through the school's Student Awards and Financial Aid website. They have many resources that can point you in the direction of both internal and external opportunities for free money.

There exists something called the "General Bursary/Donor Award Application". If you retain only one piece of advice from this, it would be to APPLY for the General Bursary/Donor Award Application. The General Bursary/Donor Award Application is a single detailed application that you fill out once every year that allows you to be considered for all of the Donor Awards and General Bursaries offered through the school. Even if you receive a small award, it’s better than nothing!

Full disclosure, this is not the shortest application you'll see. It takes me (a seasoned pro) about 30 to 45 minutes to complete the entire package. This is because you are required to provide detailed financial information and complete brief questionnaires regarding your current studies and your aspirations. BUT, it should be known that every time I have completed the application, I have received an award. Let that be the incentive you need to do it too.

In addition to the General Bursary/Donor Award Application, there are even more awards for which you can apply. These, however, will require separate applications that can vary in length and detail. That being said, most people won't go to the extra effort of completing separate applications, which increases your odds of success.

To apply to any of these opportunities, log in to your MyCampus account and go to the Student Awards and Financial Aid tab. You will see the links on the right side on the menu.

Search for opportunities through your clubs and societies 

If you're the type of person who is involved with clubs and societies on or off-campus, this strategy may be for you. Often these types of student groups are chapter members of professional organizations or regional sections and in most cases, part of the parent organizations have a mission to support and encourage students. For instance, in my case for engineers there exist many companies (Hydro One, Enbridge, Bruce Power, GM, OPG) and professional societies (Engineers Canada and ONWiE) that support students through offering scholarships and paid employment. This is where you come in; you can turn your passion or pass-time into an opportunity for financial support.

The easiest way to find out about available scholarships or bursaries is to ask! Have a look online, ask your friends, professors and the executive members of your groups. Chances are, someone will have an answer for you. If such opportunities exist, take advantage and apply. In some cases, being a member or supporter of the cause will be enough to fulfill the criteria, other instances may require an essay and an interview.

No matter the situation, if you can afford to dedicate the time, I highly suggest you apply, especially since these types of scholarships and bursaries can lead to network building and future employment.

Test your online treasure hunting skills

If clubs and extracurriculars aren't your scene, perhaps consider a virtual treasure hunt. On the internet, free money is EVERYWHERE, you just have to take the time to look for it. A simple Google search for "bursary scholarship Ontario Canada" or "{insert major here} scholarships" will result in a plethora of results. Most of them will be helpful in some way shape or form, and the good news is that it can be related to anything. Have a passion for art? There's free money for that. Consider yourself a foodie? Cha-ching. Sing along to *every* song on the radio? C-C-C-cash it in folks. If you know anything about anything, there's a way to get free money.

Since I've been around the block a time or two, let me point you in the right direction with a few helpful leads as to where some of this free money is hidden on the interwebs. Please see the list below for your bank account's pleasure:

Network, network, network

Now, I'm sure you've heard this a MILLION times, "networking is important". If you haven't, just wait… you will. The longer I've been in school the more I've come to understand the importance of your networks. They can help you in so many ways, including referring you to scholarships or bursaries.

I have a mentor who works in the industry and she knows that I actively search out opportunities that allow me to travel or receive free money. Whenever she sees something interesting, she takes an extra 10 seconds out of her day to send it my way. She does this because she cares about my success and wants to help me achieve my goals. I can't stress the importance of networks enough here. 

via GIPHY

Don't get me wrong, you don't have to have mentors or industry connections to make use of your networks. People in your immediate circles, like your friends, family and colleagues are incredible assets. If your grandparents send you some random newspaper clipping about a scholarship that may be of interest to you, then you're one step further than you would be without them (even if it turns out that the lead is a bust). The same thing goes for a supportive staff member at school, who may mention details about a program or event that could lead to bigger things.

Another advantage of having strong networks is the ability to ask for references or recommendations. Some applications will require that you provide personal and/or professional references to attest to your fabulousness. In this case, having good relationships with professors, managers and staff at school are unmatchable assets. In a lot of cases, a good reference or recommendation can be the make or break element of allocation or hiring decisions.

Now you see what I mean, networking IS important! If you're new to networking or if you're not sure where to start, try making a LinkedIn account and seeing the Career Centre to get help setting it up. Since you probably use social media to stay in touch with a lot of the other people in your life, why should your professional networks be any different?

Give thanks and make time to give back in the ways you can

This last step may not seem obvious to some of you, but it is one of the most important. While getting free money and crazy-amazing opportunities are the best, keep in mind how you wound up wherever you happen to be.

If you've received free money, it came from somewhere or from someone.

Saying thank you and making time to give back is the most crucial step in continuing the cycle of support. Saying thank you can look different depending on your circumstances and your connection to the source of the support. If you have the ability, saying thanks in person is much more meaningful and sincere. If not, try sending an email or online message. Anything is better than nothing. The reason why it's so important to take the time to say thank you is that it allows you to share the impact that this has had on your life and encourages continued support of other students. To your donor/investor/sponsor, the money you received may seem like nothing, but to you, it could mean the difference between working that second job or eating the same leftovers all week.

via GIPHY

Giving back is equally important. Helping others, however you can, is a fantastic way to make your financial support go further. Since you've received some free money, some of your financial stress (and hopefully overall stress) has been alleviated. With the extra time and energy, this should afford you, think of how you can help others. I'm not saying that you should donate your free money or go build a house for those in need. But you should try to contribute in smaller ways, like volunteering for an afternoon or helping a friend understand a tough concept. The only way we can succeed is with our network's help and you can't expect those relationships to be one-sided. Even something as simple as passing along an opportunity that doesn't fit your needs to someone else can make all the difference. Take the 10 seconds, trust me.

Okay, that was a lot of information. The hunt for free money may seem long and laborious, but it's not. I make a point to schedule in two to three hours every month to sit down and complete applications for scholarships and bursaries. If I'm surfing the web and I see content about scholarships and bursaries I save the link to my notes and follow up during my designated money moments.  If you can make use of some of this information, then my job is done here. I hope that you all get free money this year and the next and the next…

As a parting note, if you're ever in a serious pinch because let's face it, life happens, you can always go to Student Awards and Financial Aid (SAFA) and request emergency assistance. They can help you determine the best way for you to get what you need and they can help you with budgeting and financial planning. Sometimes we could all use support and they're there for you.