Weird university scholarships where grades don’t (always) matter

Many scholarships don’t require top marks for a student to be eligible: all you need is a bit of research, some creativity and a big roll of duct tape
Alisha Sawhney
U of T students participate at a Compete Tespa event. (Tespa)
U of T students participate at a Compete Tespa event. (Tespa)

Do you love to play video games? Enjoy coffee? Or maybe you’re just really tall? These seemingly trivial details could help defray the ever-rising costs of higher education by making you eligible for an oddball array of scholarships, prizes and contests open to Canadians.

There’s a common myth that students need to be academic high achievers to earn a scholarship. But other attributes—like volunteering in the community, athletic prowess or musical skill—can also lead to monetary support for education. “There’s a hidden scholarship market that every student should explore,” says Suzanne Tyson, the founder of HighEdPoints Inc., a company that converts loyalty points, like Aeroplan miles, into tuition dollars. The company offers email forms that students can use to request that family and friends donate their points toward the cost of books or a meal plan.

Students should begin searching for scholarship opportunities as early as Grade 10, experts say. Websites such as ScholarshipsCanada or Yconic make it possible to create a master list of applicable awards. Here are some of the quirkiest options for monetary support students can ponder.

To be eligible for this award, you need to fashion a prom outfit from Duck Brand duct tape (thus rendering you “stuck at the prom”). Wearing the sticky outfit to the dance earns the wearer a chance to win up to $10,000. You need to submit at least one photo of you and your prom date (or just yourself, if you’re entering as a single) decked out in duct tape before, during or even after the prom. Two female students from Leamington, Ont., won in 2011, each claiming $1,000 for their crafty designs.

A&E Networks sponsors an annual essay contest for any Canadian high school student between Grades 9 and 12. You must submit an original essay of 300 words or less about a person who had a significant impact on Canadian society in the past year. The piece will be judged on persuasiveness, creativity and relevance. The winning student gets $3,000, plus $1,000 for their school’s English department; the runner-up receives $2,000, and $1,000 for their school.

As part of a larger effort to build a more women-friendly beer scene, the Ontario Craft Brewers association announced new scholarships earlier this year that will cover the costs for six women to complete courses in the internationally recognized Cicerone Certification Program.

How does coffee make me a better person? HiLine Coffee, a boutique New York roaster, offers $1,000 to the student with the best 500-word (or less) essay answering that question. Along with your piece, all you have to submit is the name of the school you’re attending along with proof of acceptance or enrollment.

In no more than 250 words, Olive Garden asks you to describe a teacher who has inspired you and how they affected your life. Easy enough, right? The winner will receive a $2,500 savings bond and a three-day trip to New York.

“What do babies really want?” Answering that question in 800 to 1,000 words could garner $500 from TopBabyGears, a website that reviews car seats, strollers and similar products.

Canadian schools are increasingly putting the spotlight on collegiate esports. For this scholarship, students in the faculty of applied science and engineering at U of T with a minimum 3.5 GPA who participate in esports clubs are eligible to apply. The first $1,000 scholarship will be awarded in the fall of 2018.

Women who are at least five foot ten and men who are at least six foot ten can write a one-page essay entitled “What Being Tall Means to Me” for the chance to win a scholarship worth up to $1,000.