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How to Apply for Government Scholarships in Canada

Applying for scholarships can provide significant financial assistance for your education in Canada. Government scholarships, funded by federal and provincial governments, are an attractive option for both Canadian citizens and international students.

Government scholarships offer some of the most generous awards. For example, the prestigious Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarships provide $50,000 per year for doctoral students.

However, government scholarship applications also tend to be highly competitive. Thorough preparation and putting your best effort into every component of the process is key.

This detailed guide covers everything you need to know, from finding programs you qualify for to putting together an outstanding application.

Types of Government Scholarships

The main categories of government-funded scholarships in Canada are from federal and provincial governments. Many other government agencies also offer scholarships, but these two levels provide the most options.

Scholarships from the Government of Canada

The Government of Canada provides funding for numerous scholarship programs. Here are some of the largest federal scholarship programs:

  • Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarships: The most prestigious graduate scholarships in Canada, worth up to $50,000 per year. Awarded to world-class PhD students.
  • Canada Graduate Scholarships – Master’s: Awards of $17,500 for master’s students with high academic achievement.
  • Postdoctoral Fellowships: Funding of $45,000 per year for up to two years for recent PhD graduates.
  • Banting Postdoctoral Fellowships: Highly competitive awards of $70,000 per year for postdocs who will positively contribute to Canada’s economic, social, and research-based growth.

Other examples include the Queen Elizabeth Scholarships for exchanges between Canadian and international universities and scholarships for indigenous students.

Scholarships from Provincial Governments

The government in your province of study may also offer generous scholarships. Ontario, for instance, offers the Ontario Graduate Scholarship program with nearly 2,000 scholarships per year. Other provinces like Alberta, Manitoba, Nova Scotia and Quebec have similar large-scale programs.

Many municipalities like Toronto and Vancouver also offer substantial scholarships for graduate studies.

Eligibility Criteria

While eligibility requirements vary between government scholarship programs in Canada, most share the following criteria:

Academic Standing

For graduate scholarships, both master’s and PhD, you typically need to have at least an A- average (3.7 GPA or 80%+ average) to qualify. Undergraduate scholarships require averages above 90%.

The specific thresholds can be higher for extremely competitive programs. Having a first-class academic record dramatically strengthens your chances.

Some programs do offer a limited number of scholarships for students with slightly lower averages who show great promise. So you may still have opportunities even if you fall just short of the top academic tier.

Areas of Study

Many government scholarships are open to all academic disciplines. However, certain programs target specific fields aligned with Canada’s research priorities.

These tend to emphasize STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and math) but may also cover health, environmental studies, business and social sciences.

It helps to review if the field or topic you want to study is a priority for any current scholarship programs. Aligning your proposed research with national interests can increase your odds.

Enrollment Status

Most government master’s and PhD scholarships require you to:

  • Be accepted and enrolled full-time in your graduate degree program
  • Remain enrolled full-time for the duration of the award

Part-time graduate students and undergraduate students may have access to a more limited selection of awards.

Your citizenship and prior education (whether in Canada or internationally) can also determine your eligibility for specific programs. It’s important to verify if you meet all core requirements before investing time in an application.

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How Government Scholarships Are Awarded

Strong grades alone are often not enough for these highly competitive scholarships. The evaluation process also closely considers:

  • Research potential and merit: Scholarship committees look for students demonstrating considerable ability to make a significant research contribution in their field. This includes both master’s thesis and PhD dissertation proposals.
  • Leadership and communication abilities: Applicants need to show the people skills for high-level academic networking, collaboration, presentations at key conferences, etc.
  • Fit and benefit for Canada: There is also an emphasis on how the recipient’s research or future career will advance broader social, scientific or economic priorities in Canada.

In many cases, especially at the PhD level, whether an experienced faculty supervisor is eager to work with you is a huge consideration. Their reputation and alignment of research interests with the selection committee’s priorities matters.

Applicants for postdoctoral funding face the most rigorous review. You already need to have a strong PhD publication record and high-impact research plans.

How to Find Scholarships

So where do you locate these awards and pinpoint ones fitting your background and field of study?

Your university is one essential source. Graduate studies admission offers often include potential scholarship packages. Universities also widely advertise government scholarships – current students are strong contenders for these awards.

The provincial and federal government education department websites list their scholarship programs. However, be aware that hunting through the different levels of agencies can be extremely time consuming.

Scholarship databases that compile opportunities from hundreds of sources can simplify searches. Sites like Scholarships Canada and CanScholars help filter for graduate awards by discipline, university, etc.

You can also find many scholarships through Google searches for keywords like “Canada [field of study] graduate scholarship”.

Just be careful to verify legitimacy before applying to any unfamiliar scholarships located online.

Application Timelines

Most government master’s and PhD scholarship application deadlines take place:

  • October to March – For programs starting the upcoming academic year (beginning in Aug/Sept)
  • February to April – For current graduate students applying for next year’s funding

Exact due dates vary. However, it’s often at least 2-3 months before department admission deadlines.

Some exceptions exist. For instance, Vanier Scholarship deadlines line up with university admission deadlines to enable joint evaluation.

Either way, don’t wait for acceptance into your graduate program first. Scholarship applications often take higher priority in admission decisions if submitted early.

Postdoctoral and research fellowship deadlines are generally similar, but with more options to apply year-round depending on availability of openings.

Once awarded a scholarship, most renew automatically each year if you achieve academic milestones and other award conditions.

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Preparing Your Application

While components differ by scholarship, government graduate and postgraduate funding applications tend to require:


Official transcripts document your academic major awards and highlight where your grades place you within peer comparison groups.

Take some time to explain any discrepancies – for example, a temporary decline associated with serious health issues or extenuating personal circumstances.

Reference Letters

Government scholarships typically need 2-3 reference letters speaking to your research abilities, communication skills and timely progress to degree completion.

Aim to enlist references from professors with strong qualifications themselves. High profile mentors who’ve demonstrated their own ability to nurture young researchers carry a lot of weight.

Provide references with guidance reflecting award priorities and enough time to craft a compelling recommendation. Keep them updated on application status.

Personal Statements/Essays

These core application components need to tell a compelling story positioning you as belonging among the top tier of future Canadian researchers in your field.

Emphasize the scholarly significance, methodological rigor and feasibility of your research direction along with skills to ensure effective dissemination of findings. Explain practical applications.

Use a confident but honest tone discussing obstacles overcome, current work ethic and collaboration ability. Back statements with evidence of productivity reached already at such an early career stage.

Pay extremely close attention to articulating your specialized knowledge and alignment with precise award evaluation criteria. But also avoid overdoing academic jargon. Show you can discuss technical elements understandably with broad research leaders and policy administrators also involved in final review.

Overall, address any weaknesses head-on rather than leaving them to interpret through records alone. And ask multiple professors in your field to proofread for ways your writing could more sharply convey your outstanding intellectual and leadership capacities.

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Tips for a Strong Application

Beyond making sure you meet technical requirements, the following practical tips can help your government scholarship application stand out:

  • Start early – Give yourself lots of time to present polished materials that reinforce one another. Rushed applications are obvious.
  • Follow instructions meticulously – Closely adhere to formatting rules, space limits etc. Minor technical errors undermine impression of attention to detail.
  • Know your evaluators – Understand selection committee composition and emphasis. Customize accordingly.
  • Proofread thoroughly – Typos and grammar problems are glaring in top academic competition.
  • Nail interviews – If invited to finalize award determination, prepare to articulate your ideas fluidly.
  • Persevere through rejection – With long odds at this level, keep working to improve if turned down once.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Are international students eligible for Canadian government scholarships?
Yes, most major federal and provincial government master’s and PhD scholarship programs are open to both Canadian and international students.

Some have special allocations for recruiting top international talent. Just be aware you usually need to first gain admission to a Canadian university to apply.

If I win a full scholarship, do I still pay tuition?
Typically, yes. Most major government master’s and PhD scholarships provide sizeable stipends directly to the student for living expenses.

But recipients still register, pay program tuition and fees, and meet normal progress milestones. Some also cover research costs.

However, this can vary case-by-case, so review award conditions closely.

Which government scholarships are taxable?
Scholarship stipends used to cover living expenses and supplies are usually taxable in Canada. Certain exemptions apply based on program level or equity criteria.

But worry more right now about winning competitive funding rather than future tax liability. Any award contribution outweighs taxes.

What is the difference between fellowships and scholarships?
These terms are sometimes used interchangeably. But fellowships generally support students already further into graduate studies or post-graduation.

Fellowships also tend to be more flexible than scholarships regarding how recipients use the funding and fewer coursework requirements.

In the end, focus more on how much awards offer over terminology. $50,000 transforms research possibilities regardless of naming.


While certainly demanding, going through the rigorous application process for top Canadian government scholarships can provide you with life-changing levels of financial support.

Maximize chances for approval by selecting programs strategically fitting your background, starting early and dedicating full effort into perfecting every required document.

The research, career and life opportunities afforded to recipients are worth the effort.

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