#042 – The Ins and Outs of College Scholarships: An Interview with Scholarship Coach Janet MacDonald

The scholarship application process can feel overwhelming and complicated to many students and their parents. In this episode, scholarship coach Janet MacDonald shares some of the secrets to making this process more approachable and productive. She helps us understand when to start, what to do, how to get organized and how parents can best support their student. According to Janet, there are more scholarships available now for more types of students than ever before. If you have a student heading to college, this is information you need.

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A note about this episode: Unfortunately, we had some difficulty with Janet’s sound during this interview. We apologize – to you our listeners, and to Janet. But please don’t give up. This episode is loaded with valuable information you won’t want to miss if your student is interested in finding the scholarships that are available.

Janet MacDonald

We know that scholarships are essential for many students and their families to make attending college possible. But the process of finding – and getting – those scholarships can seem overwhelming.

We sat down with Janet MacDonald who has over ten years of experience with university admissions and scholarship coaching. She has helped students save hundreds of thousands of dollars over the years and she shared some of her advice and wisdom with us. Although Janet works primarily with Canadian students, many of the basics she talked about are applicable to all students, wherever the are and wherever they plan to attend college.

Be sure to visit Janet’s website – mycampusgps.ca (note that is .ca not .com) to learn about her services and also gather even more great tips.

You’ll want to consider Janet’s guidebook: How to Find and Win Scholarships on her site. It has information and tips and even includes templates and spreadsheets you and your student can use.

You can also check out the free checklists for both Grade 11 and Grade 12 students. If your student wants to win scholarships, you need all of the help you can get!

We asked Janet what book she would recommend to students or parents and she was quick to recommend The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Teens by Sean Covey. According to Janet, it is worth the price of the book for Habit #3 – Put First Things First about using your time to reach your goals – especially by mastering “Will and Won’t Power.”

Because we had some sound difficulty with this episode, we’re including a transcript of this one.  Don’t miss any of Janet’s important information!

Announcer (00:10):

Welcome to the College Parent Central podcast. Whether your child is just beginning the college admission process, or is already in college, this podcast is for you. You’ll find food for thought and information about college and about navigating that delicate balance of guidance involvement, and knowing when to get out of the way,. Join your hosts, Vicki Nelson and Lynn Abrahams, as they share support and a celebration of the amazing experience of having a child in college.

Vicki Nelson (00:40):

Welcome back to the college Parent Central podcast.. We’re excited that you’re joining us today. This is the podcast about college parenting, about getting ready to be a college parent, and all of those things that impact you as your student is heading off on their college journey. My name is Vicki Nelson, and I am a professor of communication. I have served as an academic advisor as well, and I perhaps even more importantly, have three daughters who have all gone on to college. So I look at this college parenting topic as both a professional and as a parent, and as always, I am here with my friend and colleague Lynn Abrahams.

Lynn Abrahams (01:38):

Hi everyone. My name’s Lynn, Abraham’s as Vicki said, I also come to this as both a professional in higher education and as a parent. So I am a, also a professor at a small college, and I work with college students with learning differences. I’ve been there many years and worked with many, many different students and their families. And I’m also a mom of two sons who have been in and out of the college system. And, so Vicki and I sort of cover the, the girls and the voice I have. I have the sons and she has the daughters. But, you know, we started meeting together and doing these, workshops because we were feeling like we were in higher ed and getting confused about the whole process and, and the role shift from parenting high school students to college students. And so we thought, that there was a need out there to bring this, these issues out and, and to have these conversations.

Vicki Nelson (02:47):

And we are very excited today because although we love to chat with each other, we’re always excited when we have someone else here to talk to us. And we’re going to talk today about a topic that neither Lynn or I are very well-versed in at all. And that is scholarships and financial aid. So we can’t talk about it. We have to bring in someone who can help us do that. And we’re very happy today to have with us, Janet MacDonald,, who is a scholarship coach, and Janet has over 10 years of experience with university admissions and scholarship coaching. She was an assistant registrar of admissions and an admissions officer. And for six years, she was the program coordinator for a national science and engineering research scholarship program. So she has a lot of experience. She has helped Canadian students save hundreds of thousands of dollars. And that’s what we want to hear about today. And most importantly, she loves her job. Janet has a blog, mycampusgps.ca because she is from Canada and her blog is one of the top education blogs in Canada. So Janet McDonald, welcome.

Janet MacDonald (04:10):

Thank you. I’m really thrilled to be here with you both today. I’ve been following you online and listening to your podcast a long time now, and I’m just thrilled to be here.

Vicki Nelson (04:20):

Oh, well, we’re excited to have you. And we know that you are from Nova Scotia from Canada and you work mostly with Canadian students, but there are some basic things about scholarships and about financial aid that we know are universal. Doesn’t matter where you are. So we’re going to talk about that. And, I know that everyone will find it useful and perhaps some Canadian listeners will find it useful as well, because we don’t know where our listeners are out there.

Janet MacDonald (04:52):


Janet MacDonald (04:56):

I know I share this a lot on my social media, so it’s definitely possible.

Vicki Nelson (05:01):

Good. So we’re going to help everyone. And one of the things we usually like to start with is to ask people, how did you get your start doing what you do? Most people, when you ask, you know, third graders, what do you want to be when you grow up? They don’t say I want to be a scholarship coach. So it’s, it’s something that people get into one way or another. So what’s, what’s your journey? What brought you to what you’re doing?

Janet MacDonald (05:30):

Yeah, so, you know, during those years that I worked in higher education, I, you know, met with and dealt with thousands of students and parents over the years. And one of the things that, I discovered during that time is that many of them could have funded problems, you know, hard for some of them, maybe a lot of their post-secondary through scholarships, if they could just know more about them, but they didn’t seem to know much about scholarships. They didn’t know how to find them. They did’nt know how to write the applications. And the most concerning thing was that many of them didn’t know that they even qualified for scholarships when they actually did. So, you know, over those years and you kind of pulling up that information and the need for that, for more information on scholarships, there was a need for them to know it. I knew about scholarships. And so, you know, you put those two things together and I felt like that would be a place where I could really help the students in really important way. So that’s how I created, my business. And, you know, just really simply what I do is I help high school students and the parents with how to, how to prepare for scholarships and how to write the best applications.

Vicki Nelson (07:00):

So we know that parents are often the drivers behind – do some work around scholarships.

Janet MacDonald (07:06):

Yeah. And parents can be very helpful in the process. Now I’ve worked with students who didn’t have a parent involved either because the parents couldn’t be involved or maybe the student didn’t want them to be involved. And we know that that can happen. And they’ve had success. So it’s not that parents need to be involved, but they can be really helpful part of the process in supporting their students along this path, because it is kind of, you know, it’s done, I would say, you know, quote unquote the right way or the proper way then you know, it is a process that can happen kind of over time and to have a supporter, whether that’s a parent, a guardian or another type of supporter, can be really helpful for the students. You know, you know, the two different ways.

Lynn Abrahams (08:03):

Janet, I wanted to ask you, first of all, I just want to say, I’m so glad you’re here because this really is a topic that, you know, I feel like I don’t know much about, and I think a lot of people don’t know a lot about and I’m wondering if, if you could define a few terms for us, you know, just some of the basics, like, you know, what’s the difference between like the terms, scholarships or grants or merit aid and I, you know, what are the differences between these things? Let’s start there.

Janet MacDonald (08:40):

Yeah. That’s a great place to start because there is, you know, just really simply there are differences. And, so there are similarities and there are differences. So, scholarship really simply is education funding, that’s offered by organizations that might be, college or university. It might be, or it might be another kind of organization, like a bank or community groups or an insurance company or whatever. Okay. Some kind of organization. But the, the thing that defines or, or, or it’s the main kind of criteria or criteria, I guess for scholarship is that it is based on merit, which means the student must earn it in some way. And so that might be through grades, although grades are not required for all scholarships. It might be through a volunteer activities, or it might be through just writing an essay or something like that, but the student has to do something to earn the scholarship. Now, when you’re talking about grants, and what we call it in Canada bursaries, they are also education funding. that’s also from the organization either, you know, the university or college or outside organizations. But the main criteria for them is demonstrated financial need. So the student must demonstrate need. Now demonstrated financial need might be a component of the scholarship, but it’s not the main thing in the scholarship. There is some kind of merit piece to it. And with grants there, normally isn’t a merit piece that is, that is connected with that. Now they are both, you know, free money. The best kind, .

Vicki Nelson (10:44):

That’s always good.

Janet MacDonald (10:44):

but the other kind of foundational piece of information that people need to know is that all scholarships and grants are going to be different. Okay. So they’re all there. They’re all different, which can be part of the reason why this can be kind of a confusing and kind of a process that you have to learn about. But, they’re all different because the they’re all offered by different funders and it is the funder who determines everything about the scholarship or grant. So they determine the amount, you know, who qualifies for it, how they qualify with scholarships, you know, is there an essay that the student has to do you know, what’s the essay about? And it’s based on normally on the funder’s values, what they value in the recipient. So, you know, similarities but differences. But the, the main thing that the type of funding that I deal with is scholarship. So we’re always talking about some kind of merit student needing to earn it in some way. And there are lots of different ways that they can do that.

Vicki Nelson (11:59):

Okay. So it sounds as though the more a student can find out about the funder as an organization or an institution, the more they can think a little bit about those values that they want to try to align with.

Janet MacDonald (12:13):

Very, yes, absolutely. That’s something that I, that I definitely suggest because, the funder often will provide you the clues or they will tell you outright what it is that they value and what they’re looking for. And so we want to bring out those aspects of yourself in your applications so that you can show that a lot.

Lynn Abrahams (12:38):

So, I mean, I certainly see why somebody would contact you and have you help them. You know, what, what if people, I mean, where do students and families start looking? What if they don’t have a you to call? Where do they go? Like, how do you begin the process of looking for this stuff?

Janet MacDonald (12:59):

Yeah. So, so the, the majority of scholarships are available for students, during the grade 12 year.

Lynn Abrahams (13:10):

This is good.

Janet MacDonald (13:10):

So the majority are earmarked for students who are in high school, leaving high school, entering university for the first time. So, so that’s where the majority are. So students should (inaudible) scholarships are offered throughout the entire year. There’s no one time where they’re all offered in one deadline, they open and close throughout the entire year, which means that you need to be looking for them throughout the entire year. There’s no, like I say, one time that that they’re all going to be available. So as far as where you start, there are a couple of different places, so you can, the first place that a lot of people start, of course, is with the colleges that they’re applying to, what are their, what are they offering and what are the deadlines? And the deadlines don’t necessarily align with the admission deadlines. So that is something to bear in mind as well. So I suggest that students start a spreadsheet and start to collect the information with a deadline, in one of those columns so that they can keep the information straight. Okay. Cause there’ll be, there’ll be curating a lot of different pieces of information, input those into a spreadsheet so that you have a record of that

Lynn Abrahams (14:47):

Just, there, just doing a spreadsheet of all the information. That’s a good thing to learn.

Janet MacDonald (14:54):

Yeah. And putting the URL in there so that they can quickly go to the page. So that’s, one place to, to start. Another place that a lot of students start as well, that can be helpful are scholarship search engines. And there are many of those, many different kinds that are available for students. And most of them, what they will do is they will ask you to set up a profile. So they’ll ask you different questions about yourself and kind of your affiliations, your intentions for the future and things like that. And, basically you’re kind of clicking boxes that then the search engine searches for it matches you with. Now, search engines are great things to, to start, but they’re not perfect. They’re going to give you information that you don’t want or need. But it, but like I say, it’s a good place to just start and what you can do with many of those as well is have the results that it delivers to you that you can have those delivered by email, which set up some kind of system where those are sent to you kind of on a regular basis. So that’s a second place to start. And the other place of course, would be with your school counselor. So there they, each school counselor will probably have some type of way that they communicate scholarship opportunities to students. So that might be through Google classroom, or maybe a physical bulletin board or something like that. So find out how your school makes those announcements. And the other thing that you can do is your own Google searches. You can do Google searches based on your, information, basically a lot of that same information that you, that you were asked in the search engines, your affiliations. You can do your own Google searches, with parameters around your maybe your county or state, and see what is available there. So that, but the, an important thing that’s that students and parents need to remember during this process though, is it’s not just about where you look, it’s about how you look, and so that’s more the strategy piece of it. And what I mean by that is that because the scholarships are offered throughout the year, you do need to search on a regular basis, to be successful in finding those ones as they come up throughout the year. So I suggest that you set, a time, a meeting with yourself, you know, in your Google calendar, 30 minutes, every two weeks or something to do these searches and to, to check those throughout the year. So this is not a one and done thing. You know, it is something that you do have to make time to do, you know, prioritize, but the benefit of that of course, is that you will find more scholarships that way and input them into that, that spreadsheet

Vicki Nelson (18:25):

And the other benefit is it spreads it out so that you, you’re not saying I’m going to spend this entire weekend doing this, but if you’re doing it in little pieces, you know, digestible chunks,

Janet MacDonald (18:40):

And this is one of those places where parents or supporter can be really helpful because of the different places and the time that can be involved in, you know, once you find one that you think you might qualify, for you do have to really read through, you know, make sure that you qualify, understand the parameters and stuff. So this is a place where your parents were supporters can be really helpful because you can kind of divide up the places where you’re going to look and, you know, kind of maximize your time in that way. So kind of divide and conquer. Yeah. So parents can be really helpful in that.

Vicki Nelson (19:24):

And that’s nice for parents to know that there is a way that you can help other than just nagging your student to do it all the time. So that is a chance to work together, which is,

Janet MacDonald (19:37):

Yeah. And I do suggest that you really, um, try to do this as a partnership and, and work together on this common goal. So parents can also help students to be, to, to get organized, you know, to maybe set up things like that spreadsheet, create some folders and, you know, students often need some help around that type of organization. So they can kind of, help them to set up some systems. That’s going to keep it manageable for them. So they don’t get overwhelmed, and, and set those, you know, sometimes what parents will do, will be to set up a weekly meeting or monthly meeting or something where they can get together and start to work on the, work on the applications. Maybe you can provide a special snack or something during that time,

Vicki Nelson (20:39):


Lynn Abrahams (20:39):

Chocolate goes a long way!

Janet MacDonald (20:39):

Exactly! like, you know, and, and really kind work on this stuff together. Now where that, where that ends, I guess you’d say is when you’re, when the student is actually completing the application. So parents do not pick up the pen, do not start to write the essays or actually complete the applications. You know, you’re, you’re playing a supporting role here. You know, you’re not the star. So allow the student to do those things. You can, if you want to, you could help them to, by proofreading maybe afterwards or whatever, but not to rewrite their essays, not to write their essays, allow them to, to do that. In fact, a lot of, reviewers can tell when a parent has written the content, so you’re just not helping, in a lot of ways by doing that, but you can help with these other important things.

Vicki Nelson (21:46):

It is amazing how transparent it often is when, when the student hasn’t written something and it, you know, it strikes me as you’re talking about helping your student, get organized and create spreadsheets and, and figure out how to do this in small pieces as, as you go along that, you’re really teaching success skills that are going to be helpful in college as well. So it’s not just for the process of, of the scholarships, but also, beyond that. So that’s a great thing too. So, so, so the student is doing it in little chunks and maybe every couple of weeks checking on scholarships and all, how many should they apply for? Is there a target? How do you know when, when to stop?

Janet MacDonald (22:40):

Yeah, well, um, you know, my quick answer to that would be to apply for as many as you possibly can, but, you know, time is finite and you only have so much time. So you do sometimes have to pick and choose. So you can usually tell with, when you’re reading the application, if you’re struggling to, answer, the essay questions or, you know, it’s really not going well, maybe to move on to maybe one that, one that is easier for you to, to complete. But I would say, you know, at least 10, during the course of the year. You know, at the end of the day, it’s a bit of a numbers game. The more you apply to the more likely it would be that you will win one, number one, and you can win more than one, you can win several different ones. So, so this is also an exercise of prioritization for students as well. But there are ways that you can sometimes, you know, people say, well, how do I know how competitive it is? Well, you don’t really, like, nobody knows behind closed doors, how many applications will be submitted for that particular reward, but, you know, if it’s a huge international award, if it’s a lot of money, if it’s highly advertised, you know, these are ones that probably have more applications. So to find smaller ones with smaller applicant pools that you might want to look for ones that are, you know, in a smaller catchment area, maybe just within your county or something like that, ones that are not highly advertised, ones that are the money, maybe (inaudible) and ones that have really, you know, long applications, a lot of students don’t want to complete them

Vicki Nelson (24:54):

So persistence to follow through gives you an advantage.

Janet MacDonald (24:56):


Vicki Nelson (24:56):

So some scholarships often seem to be such small amounts and hopefully the more you apply for the more you get, but is it worth it for students to, to, you know, these couple of, when you’re looking at the price of tuition and you’re looking at the cost of college and you look at a scholarship that may be a couple of hundred dollars or something like that, is it worth the time?

Janet MacDonald (25:25):

Hmm. Well, I guess it depends on what else you’re doing with your time.

Vicki Nelson (25:27):

Cost benefit.

Janet MacDonald (25:27):

If you’re making a lot of money doing something else, but if you’re not, then, then I would say it’s a worthwhile investment. The other thing that, that students and parents need to understand about scholarships is that the money is important and the money is great and everything. And even if we just talk about winning a thousand dollars, you would have to work about 70 hours, in a part-time minimum wage job to earn a thousand dollars. So you’re, you know, there’s no guarantee.

Vicki Nelson (26:08):

Interesting way to think about it.

Janet MacDonald (26:08):

But you know, it’s, it’s in that way, when you look at it, you know, this is pretty good return on investment, but so the money is great, but it’s not just about money. There are other benefits to scholarships that not a lot of people think about that are sometimes more valuable than just the money. So for example, you know, if you win that scholarship, first of all, it does free up your time. You don’t have to work as much maybe, during university or the college as you normally have to. So it does provide a little bit of freedom to do some other things that you want to do to get involved on campus, you know, there’s less stress for you in that way, but the other thing, even smaller scholarships can (inaudible) more scholarships and bigger ones in the future, because I say that scholarships, beget scholarships. So once you win one, it’s a credential, it’s something, you know, that is a mark of success that you’ve can put on your record that can then help you, when you complete your next application. And then you win 2, and even if they’re small, it doesn’t matter. It’s still a, it’s still an award, and so you’re building kind of that history of success and they’re kind of like a stepping stone to the next one and a laddering effect that can take place. So, you know, you can, by winning one, it can help you do more in the future. The other thing is that, again, it is that market success. So you can put that on your resume and, for summer jobs or internships. So if it comes down to two, you know, pretty equal candidates, excuse me, you know, if one has one or more scholarships on their record, again, you don’t have to say how much they were. They could have been $50, but it is a mark of success, for students who might be preparing in the future for medicine or law or something, you know, again, it helps to have that record, for admission. And sometimes these scholarships come with things like mentoring, built in internships and things like that. So there are a lot of other benefits that can, that are attached to scholarships that people don’t think about, but that can often be more valuable.

Vicki Nelson (28:58):

Hm. I think that’s really helpful information because I, I think, you know, so many of us just think in terms of the monetary value of a scholarship and, you know, is this really going to make a dent? So thinking about it in terms of the number of hours you have to work, to earn that equivalent amount of money is really, you know, it’s eyeopening in some cases. And then all of these other benefits besides just the monetary benefit is really a different way of looking. That’s, that’s very helpful. Hmm.

Lynn Abrahams (29:33):

So you mentioned 12th grade as the, the year, you know, to do a lot of this. Should you start any earlier? Like, is, is that helpful? So that’s the first part of the question. And then the other part is, you know, what, if you’re already in college, is it too late?

Janet MacDonald (29:55):

Right. So the majority are for that, that kind of what I call the golden window of opportunity. They’re in grade 12, but there might be some that are available for students before grade 12, fewer of them, but there might be something available. So sure start looking earlier. Really though what students in grade 10, let’s say 10 and 11, could be doing that would be most useful for preparing for that grade 12 year, would be to, first of all, just, you know, get solid grades. That’s kind of goes without saying, but, you know, solid grades. And the other thing would be to get engaged in some kind of meaningful volunteer experience, because volunteer experience is one of the things that, many scholarships, require. It’s a qualification for many different kinds of scholarships. So having some of that, prepared and on your record before you get into grade 12 will be helpful. So what I mean by meaningful though, is, is something that means something to you. Something you enjoy and something that you, you know, made some kind of depth and commitment to. So something that has, that you’ve engaged in over a period of time, and maybe progressively taken on a little bit more responsibility, maybe taken on a leadership role in that. So that leadership within a volunteer experience is probably best kind of experience you can have in, in grade 12. So to put on these applications. So that’s what I would work on by grade 10 or 11, getting that type of experience. And then if you’re in a college, then, there are still, scholarships that are available to students in college. So by no means would I say to stop after grade 12. There are fewer of them and maybe the dollar values aren’t as high as some of the ones, you know, for instance in grade 12, but there are definitely still opportunities. Don’t stop. Don’t stop.

Vicki Nelson (32:21):

Right. So, um, yeah, it’s nice to know that it’s not over after 12th grade because you know, working in a college, I often encounter students who once they’re there and they begin to find out how much books cost, and what all of additional things are, are wishing that they could find something, and it’s nice to be able to encourage them and say, there are things still available to you. And that’s good. So, in addition to the preparation that you’re talking about, the meaningful volunteer work, and I think, you know, like admissions offices, scholarship offices, I’m sure can, can tell, you know, the student who suddenly is doing all of this in the last couple of months. But you also have talked about the essay and, you know, that’s such an important part of so many scholarship applications. What should students think about as they’re thinking about approaching, probably not just one essay, but multiple essays?

Janet MacDonald (33:28):

Hmm. Yeah. Um, so with applications, many of them, although not all, they’re all different, but many of them will, ask students for a list of that extracurricular activities that they’ve been involved in 10, 11, and 12. So they’ll have that list of your activities. The, the essay, the purpose of the essay is to get to know you. So you need to get personal in the essay. It’s not a time to just regurgitate that activities list that you have there and say, I did this, and I did that, that, it’s so, and that’s one of the biggest mistakes that I see students make is that they keep it very superficial, that sort of top level stuff about what they did not about why they did it. So the essay, like I say is to most of them, or many of them are reflective essays, discuss a time that you faced a challenge. What was it, how did you handle it? What did you learn from the experience? So these types of questions that ask you to reflect on an experience and pull out from that experience and talk about how that’s changed you or impacted you in some way. So, so this is not a time to just go through the grocery list of your successes and things like that. Take, you know, one experience for example, and go deep into that and talk about why you got involved in that activity, what you learned from that activity, and then how you’re going to use that learning in the future. So it’s really that, allowing the reader to get to know you more on that personal, deeper level, rather than really kind of superficial,

Vicki Nelson (35:35):

And do most students need to write a new essay for if you’re applying to 10 or 12 or 15 or 20 scholarships, is that 10 or 12 or 15,20 essays, or how much?

Janet MacDonald (35:54):

Hopefully not, I don’t want to say, I don’t want to say absolutely, but there are, there are common themes that come up in many of the, of the scholarships. And so if you know what those things are, then you can create some content around those things. And yes, you can reuse that over and over again. This is a great strategy. It’s what I teach, because it works because it allows you then to apply for more scholarships in less time. Now you don’t want to just copy and paste and be done with it. You do have to tailor it to the new application. You know, it’s kind of like not sending the same points, I mean, in your cover letter to HR for every job that you apply for, you do need to tailor it, but the, but the bulk of the work has been done. The thought has done all of your, you know, self-reflection and all of that sort of stuff, the basic, content already created. So there is absolutely nothing wrong with using that over and over again. And that’s what I suggest you do, if you can. It’s your own, it is your own content, so there’s nothing wrong with you. [inaudible]

Lynn Abrahams (37:17):

You know, one thing that strikes me as really interesting is that this is it’s sort of it sort of models that shifting in relationships. You know, I’m thinking about parents and students working together on this and how, you know, early in high school, you know, the parents tend to do more, but then, you know, getting towards 12th grade, then it, then it becomes almost this equal partnership thing where, you know, they’re working together with, a, with a common goal, but neither one is totally in control, but then when you get to the writing of the essay, then it starts leading towards the student being more in charge because it’s their life they’re talking about. And so this sort of follows that whole path. And you know, it occurs to me. I, you know, I did want to ask you what advice you had for specifically, specifically to parents about this shift in role.

Janet MacDonald (38:30):

Yeah. That, I mean, working with this age group, if, if such it’s such a bittersweet time, you know, for for parents, especially because a lot of these things, it’s going to be the last time that we do this and it will be the last time that we do that. And it’s important to recognize that I think, it is for me working with them, but I mean, it is for the parent to kind of recognize that too. But just to remember that this is your role, this is your job, this is the right thing to do. And, and you’re right, with like just kind of that kind of shepherding them through the process. It kind of mirrors the whole process, you know, over that grade 12 year. Yeah. So it’s not easy. I think you do need to kind of check, you know, check in with yourself. Maybe, hopefully you had someone else that you can add another person and talk to about how that, how that feels. But when the time comes to sit down here, you’re there for your student.

Vicki Nelson (39:38):

You, you talked about parents being support, a supporter for their student. Sometimes the parents need a supporter as well to get through this. It, it is a, an interesting stage. This has been so helpful. I mean, we could keep going, but, you know, as I listened to you, describe the elements and the, and the ways to approach it in the spreadsheet. I’m, I’m kind of a spreadsheet nerd, I guess, but it feels something that has, that has always to me and I, this is not an area I know much about, in spite of three girls going to college, it feels approachable. It feels manageable. And I think that’s, that’s a thing that for, for so many students and parents and families, you’ve got the college applications and trying to make the decision and all of that. And the scholarship piece sometimes gets shoved aside a little bit and then it suddenly feels overwhelming. So this idea of bite-sized pieces really is helpful.

Janet MacDonald (40:41):

And I think just that whole mindset piece is important to recognize because there is, there’s still that myth out there that scholarships are only for top students, you know, and so the student themselves needs to needs to believe that this is possible for me, otherwise they’re not going to be as invested in the process, right. So, you know, and that myth came out of that. And it used to be that that top students were the only students that got scholarships, but it is not that way anymore. There are so many different kinds of scholarships for so many different kinds of students. And, there’s never been a better term in history for students to get scholarships. So that, that mindset, you know, when we think that this is possible for me, needs to kind of be there, at the beginning of the process in that they, they can be really vested in creating that goal for themselves.

Lynn Abrahams (41:46):

That is so important, what you just said.

Vicki Nelson (41:50):

Words of wisdom to leave parents and students with. Yeah. Yeah. So one of the last things we always like to throw out there, and we’ve sometimes taken some people by surprise,

Lynn Abrahams (42:03):

It’s our favorite question.

Vicki Nelson (42:04):

Yes, it is our, I mean, we, we just, it’s so helpful to have some books, at least for us, you know, that you are kind of around and you pick up, or you kind of conspicuously leave for your student or whatever. Do you have any favorite things that you might recommend to parents?

Janet MacDonald (42:26):

Well, the one that I, uh, immediately came to mind, I don’t know if you’ve had this one on before, but it’s, Sean, Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Effective Teens. So Sean Covey is of course, Stephen Covey’s son. And so the seven habits of highly effective teens is, based on his seven habits, and this can, this is, has been around for a while. So you could get it at your local library. I’m sure. I think that, I think it’s probably like 20 bucks or something, but the habit three is worth the money of the book alone and habit three it’s called put first things first. And this, gives a really great explanation of prioritization and how to, how to use your time in the best way possible to reach the goals that you’ve set for yourself. And one of the, that the subtitle of it is will and won’t power. And I think this is really valuable for students because the, the willpower we always hear about that, but the won’t power, I think it’s just as important to be consistent saying no. Knowing when to say no to the things that you need to say no to. And I think sometimes young people have difficulty saying no, sometimes to things either because they really want to do it, even when they don’t have any time to do it, they just really want to do it. So they take it on. Or maybe it’s something like taking on a shift at work because your supervisor asked you to do it. And you really don’t feel comfortable saying, no, even though you have an exam the next day or whatever. So it’s this idea of prioritization and the saying no, to things that are not going to help you to reach your goals with that opportunity costs every time you say yes to what you’re saying no to something else that might be more important. And I think he does a really good job of explaining that. and so that’s why I recommend this one, even if it’s just for that chapter alone, it’s worth it.

Vicki Nelson (44:52):

Well, if that one’s, is that important, the others must be good too. Oh, that’s great. We’ll link to that in the show notes. So people can follow up, and, and find that. And then as we’re talking about resources, you have a guide on your website. Tell us, tell us, tell us a little bit about that.

Janet MacDonald (45:11):

Yeah. So I have a guide and a guide book, How to Find and Win Scholarships. So it tells you about how to find scholarships and then how to write your best applications. So it goes through the process that, you know, your, how to write your activities, list the essay, how, and when, and who to ask for a reference, and it has templates. It has that spreadsheet that I send to you

Vicki Nelson (45:42):

Great! Makes me want to apply for a scholarship just to get the spreadsheet.

Janet MacDonald (45:46):

Yeah. So it can be found on my website.

Vicki Nelson (45:53):

We’ll link to that in the show notes as well.

Janet MacDonald (45:55):

It is meant for Canadian students applying to Canadian universities, but it has all of that university information. that could useful.

Vicki Nelson (46:07):

The basics, I think, have to be the same, and you can substitute the specifics. Well, this is wonderful. So Janet McDonald, thank you so much for joining us today. And, we will link to your website and your guidebook on the show notes, and it is mycampusgps.ca, not .com. So, so people can go, and I know you have a blog with more information there and your guide book would be a great help. So, hopefully people will feel a little more in control of this process. This was really helpful.

Janet MacDonald (46:46):

I hope so. It’s, it’s something that I think is quite an opaque, you know, thing for a lot of people and they may be a little intimidated by it, but it’s helped to encourage them.

Lynn Abrahams (47:02):

Thank you for making a scary subject, a little less scary for us. Really. That was so, so helpful.

Janet MacDonald (47:12):

Thank you. You’re welcome. Thank you. And thank you for inviting me and I enjoyed it.

Lynn Abrahams (47:17):

We hope this conversation has been helpful for you, and even a little reassuring. And it’s been such a pleasure to talk with Janet McDonald about a topic that is a little scary for all of us, but she made it very, very, easy to understand. If you’re thinking you’d like to hear more, please subscribe to our College Parent, Central podcast, wherever you like to listen to podcasts, it’s completely free to subscribe and you’ll get each episode as we release them, usually the first and third Wednesdays of every month. And if you do subscribe, consider taking a moment to send us a note and let us know, give us some feedback and let us know if there are other topics you would like to discuss. And finally, we’re wondering if you could just visit our CPC website for show notes and we’ll link to things that we’ve mentioned in the episode. And, you could leave us a comment there about our, about our podcast. We love meeting with all of you and talking about these topics that are really important to us, and we look forward to seeing you the next time, Bye!

Vicki Nelson (48:46):

See you next time.

_  _  _  _  _

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2 thoughts on “#042 – The Ins and Outs of College Scholarships: An Interview with Scholarship Coach Janet MacDonald”

  1. Sue – Thanks for your comment. I’m glad the transcript was helpful. We were disappointed in the sound quality on this one, but we knew this information was vital so thought this might be a way to help. The world of scholarships IS confusing and we thought Janet’s explanations and suggestions might make a big difference. Good luck in your search!

  2. Thank you! Moments, where the sound quality is not very good, can be read in the transcript. So this is very informative and helpful. Finding and applying for scholarships is our biggest worry. I really would love to be able to pay for a college course without resorting to anyone else’s help, but I don’t have enough savings so my child and I are looking for different opportunities to get the best education possible. The application process for some outside scholarships confuses even me, I don’t know how students cope without family help.


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