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New eBook – TD Canada Trust Scholarship for Community Leadership 2013-14

I have been getting lots of feedback that I should write an eBook for the TD Canada Trust Scholarship for Community Leadership. I am excited to announce that after weeks of hard work, my first version of the eBook is now available.

In this book, you will learn:

  • What I think the TD Scholarship is looking for in applicants
  • How to address each of the components of your 600 word essay
  • An actual copy of my very own TD Scholarship winning essay and my comments on why I wrote what I wrote
  • Tips and tricks for turning your essay into a masterpiece
  • How to complete the rest of the application
  • How to get strong reference letters

You can find full details about the book here.

Good luck to all of you applying, and I hope you find the eBook helpful!

Toronto Star Article on Scholarships

A few weeks ago I was interviewed by a good friend of mine and fellow TD Scholar Jasmeet Sidhu for a piece she was writing about scholarships. The article just came out, and I think she did a really good job. Check it out:

‘Super candidates’ cash in on huge scholarships

My Comments:

Based on the comments available on the Toronto Star website and things I have heard from friends, it seems this article has stirred up a bit of controversy – and unfortunately, some of it based on a misunderstanding of some of the scholarship programs.

One misconception is based on the numbers thrown around in the article. The huge six figure scholarship amounts mentioned were what a student was offered in total from various universities and private organizations – this is very different from what a student actually received to put towards post-secondary education. It seems some readers think that there are students selfishly pocketing amounts that could buy a house. This doesn’t happen for a few reasons. One is that you can only go to one university, so any scholarships offered from other universities cannot be accepted. Furthermore, most of the major private scholarships (e.g. Loran, TD, etc.) have stipulations that restrict the total amount of scholarship money you can receive (because they also believe in making sure scholarship recipients only receive approximately what’s required to cover a university experience, and nothing more, so that other students can benefit from the funding available).

Since I am mentioned in the article, I might as well use myself as an example. The Star article correctly states that I was offered over $200,000 in scholarships from many different sources – TD, Millennium, and several major university scholarships. What did I actually receive? $52,500 in total, which was put towards my three years of undergrad studies at York for biology, and my first year of medical school (since the TD scholarship supports your first four years of undergraduate studies). Although the value of the TD scholarship is valued up to $60,000, I received a total of $47,500 from them because undergraduate science tuition is not as expensive as say engineering. I also accepted $5,000 total from other sources (TD has a restriction that you can accept up to $5,000 in scholarships from other sources). $52,500 is a very significant amount and I am very grateful for the generous support I have received from these scholarship programs and institutions.

There remains controversy over the different types of funding available. Some scholarships are based more on financial need. On the other end of the spectrum are purely merit based scholarships, which are the ones being mentioned in the article. There are also many in between that consider both financial need and merit.

The purpose of merit-based scholarship programs are to identify young people with certain traits, experiences and/or potential that these institutions/programs want to invest in. As an example, a large scholarship program like the TD Canada Trust Scholarship for Community Leadership wants to invest in young people who they feel will be able to better continue serving their community with less of a financial burden. You also have post-secondary institutions offering scholarships based on merit, whether it be application-based ones looking at an entire student profile or the entrance scholarships offered automatically based on academic merit (grades) – post-secondary institutions do so because they are a centres of academia, and want to attract certain students to their own institutions versus others. The fact is that the programs and institutions who offer merit-based funding do so for specific reasons they believe in and for reasons that they believe benefit their personal interests. A post-secondary institution isn’t going to suddenly stop offering scholarships and putting all of their funding into bursaries because then a lot of students they would like to attract will go to other institutions that make them better offers.

Like most systems, the post-secondary funding one is not perfect at all ends of the spectrum. There is limited funding, and the funding is allocated based on competing interests and imperfect information. For example, you can have students who are in financial need but can’t get it because their parents are well off but choose not to support them.

What should be done? It’s hard to say. But before coming to any conclusion, I think it’s important to recognize all perspectives in place and all the competing interests they come from.

Why You Need to Think Critically about Advice and Who You Get it From


Sometimes I read advice online for medical school admissions from medical students that I think is fundamentally wrong. Of course this would seem counter-intuitive – how could someone be wrong about advice if they got in?

Consider a game of rock, paper, scissors (yah yah, how many times have I used this example now?). Imagine your opponent is playing scissors. Now also imagine that you’ve never played the game before, so you enlist the help of a friend who has. This friend has defeated this opponent before and tells you to play rock because it worked for him last time. If you listen to him and play rock, you’ll win too. Great.

But what if your opponent decides to play paper instead? Of course your friend comes along and again tells you to play rock because that’s what he did last time and it worked for him. But if you play rock, you’ll quickly realize that it doesn’t work this time. So what went wrong, and how could your friend win at this game but fail to help you this time?

Short-Term Success does Not Necessarily Equate to True Understanding

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Interview Advice: The Importance of Being Memorable and Telling Stories


I was once asked in an interview to talk about an accomplishment I was proud of. Prior to the interview, I had come up with a list of practice questions and what my general approach to them would be – the “accomplishment question” was one of them. I had planned on mentioning my TD Canada Trust Scholarship because of it’s prestige, the hard work it represented, and how it has allowed me to continue doing a lot of my volunteer/non-profit work during university without worrying about having to pay for my education. But as soon as I was asked the question, I decided to change my mind and pick an experience that I had spoken about before, but had not planned on using as my answer for this type of question.

Instead of the TD Scholarship, I decided to talk about June 29, 2006. It was 9 a.m., and I was at City Hall in downtown Toronto. I was also really, really tired. I was tired because the previous day was a big day for me. Not only was June 28 my 18th birthday, but it also ended up being the day of my graduation and high school prom (yah, my high school was weird that way). Needless to say, June 28 was a really big and exciting day for me, but also a very tiring one.

So why did I need to be up at so early the day after my birthday, graduation, and prom? The previous fall, my friends and I started a Make Poverty History student banner that was signed by students in over 30 schools and university campuses in Southern Ontario. June 29, 2006 was the one-year anniversary of the Live 8 concert, and so there was a Make Poverty History press conference held at City Hall to commemorate the event, as well as remind world leaders to put issues of poverty on the agenda for an upcoming G8 meeting. To celebrate the work of all the students involved, we were given the opportunity to present our banner at the press conference.

Part of that presentation involved me giving a speech about the banner. It was a really cool experience, especially the chance to share the podium with the likes of Gerry Barr (past-chair of Make Poverty History Canada), Steven Page (of the Bare Naked Ladies), and Toronto Mayor David Miller. The reason why I was proud of that moment was more than because it culminated the achievement of our banner campaign. It was a great personal achievement for myself – if you had told me four years before when I started high school that I would be at that podium a day after turning 18, I would never have believed it. That wasn’t the person I was when I entered high school – I was much too shy. For me, that moment also represented the personal transformation I went through in high school as I opened myself up to more experiences, and for that reason, I was very proud of myself.

Telling Stories

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Scholarship Interview Advice: TD Canada Trust Scholarship for Community Leadership


Although I am a recipient of the TD Scholarship, I have no experience on the judging committee, so please take my information or advice with a grain of salt. Oh, and good luck!

Dress Code

In general for interviews, I think anywhere from semi-formal to formal is fine. For my interview, I wore a dress shirt, dress pants, and dress shoes – no tie, no blazer. I honestly don’t think the judges really care about your attire as long as it’s presentable.


I believe you are asked to come to your interview for maybe half an hour or so before it’s actually your turn. You get to spend this time with a few past TD Scholars, and feel free to ask them questions and just have a nice relaxing chat. Hopefully the warm welcome will take your mind and nerves away from the situation.

In addition, you will receive an information sheet with a short biography of each of your judges. The judging panel includes Jane Thompson (Executive Director of the TD Scholarship program), a past TD scholar, and around three leaders from the community. The point of the biographies is just to give you a bit of background information on who you will be talking to. Don’t worry about memorizing the biographies, it’s not like you will be quizzed on them or anything! That being said, it’s some good information that you can use to maybe figure out how you can better relate and connect with them.

Inside the Interview

When you enter the interview room, I suggest going up to each judge, shake each of their hands, and get to know their names before sitting down – I think it’s important to know who you are talking to during the interview.

As far as questions, I think they were pretty simple. I found the TD interview process pretty relaxing and laid back. The judges seemed more concerned with just getting to know me than asking me really difficult or trappy questions.

Most of my questions were pretty basic – tell me about this from your application? Why did you start this? Oh, so it says here you are interested in studying neuroscience in university, why? It says here you are in a choir, tell me about that?

Conversely, I never got questions like: What are the most important qualities of a leader? What are your strengths or weaknesses? Nothing like that. All of the questions were just there to learn more about me as a person and the activities I’ve been involved in.

The most important thing is to answer honestly and be yourself. Sorry if that is cliche, but I think not being completely myself is what hurt me at my Loran interviews. During that process, I tried too hard to answer “correctly” instead of answering honestly, and that really messed me up. I think I prepared for a week for the Loran, whereas for the TD, I maybe prepared for maybe 15 minutes the day before, and just decided to walk in and speak honestly – and it worked!

For example, I’m pretty sarcastic as a person and I like to joke around, so I was sarcastic and made jokes when I felt like it in the interview – I didn’t force anything, I just spoke as I would normally speak to people. So honestly, just be yourself, and answer truthfully and from the heart.

At least from my experience, that’s what TD cares about. The want to see real people in their real element. There were even times in the interview where the judges were discussing random ideas with each other and not just asking me questions – that’s how laid back the TD scholarship interview is.

Hope that helps, and best of luck to all the finalists!


Video: Tips for the Scholarship Application – University of Western Ontario – National Scholarship Program

Series: Tips for the Scholarship Application
Name: University of Western Ontario – National Scholarship Program
Length: ~13 minutes
Requires: Adobe Flash Player
Important Links: Scholarship Website, Application Form

NOTE: It may take a minute or two to load depending on your browser.


If you have any further questions about the University of Western Ontario National Scholarship Program, please leave a comment, and I will do my best to answer them!

Video: Tips for the Scholarship Application – York University Awards of Distinction

Series: Tips for the Scholarship Application
Name: York University – Awards of Distinction
Length: ~25 minutes
Requires: Adobe Flash Player
Important Links: Scholarship Website, Application Form

NOTE: It may take a minute or two to load depending on your browser.


If you have any further questions about the York University Awards of Distinction, please leave a comment, and I will do my best to answer them!

The Power of Marketing: Because Perception is Reality


“What is real? How do you define real? If you’re talking about what you can feel, what you can smell, what you can taste and see, then real is simply electrical signals interpreted by your brain.”

This is a famous quote from the character Morpheus of one of my favourite movies of all time, The Matrix. In this part of the movie, Morpheus is helping Neo to realize that the world he once believed to be his reality was no more than a computer simulation. Yet for everyone else stuck in the “matrix”, this simulation was as real as anything.

After watching The Matrix for the first time, I remember randomly asking myself: How do I know this world I’m in is real? I know I can hear my own thoughts, but how can I know for sure that everything around me is real? My family and friends seem real, but without being able to hear their thoughts, how can I know for sure?

But because I can perceive all of the world around me, I believe it to be real. Because I can smell roses, I believe them to be real. Because I can hear my brother speak, I believe he is real. In order to live in my reality, I have to rely on the notion that my perceptions are interpreting a true reality.

Marketing: Delivering a Perception You Want Customers to Adopt

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Why I Don’t Post Any of My Past Essays

Some students have been asking me if they could get a glimpse of my previous scholarship and application essays. But to be fair to everyone, I’m going to be consistent, and my decision is to not ever post or give out any of my previous essays.


There are two main reasons for this. The first is simply because of possible plagiarism. I’d like to think that most students are not the plagiarizing type, but there are always a few students who get desperate at some point and end up plagiarizing. In addition, people tend to have distorted and different views on what actually constitutes plagiarizing – I have met students who didn’t think copying eight words in a row was plagiarizing. You might not realize it, but if you like something you see, you may subconsciously incorporate similar specific elements in your own essays, and you can imagine the weird trouble this could cause if a lot of students ended up with very similar application or scholarship essays. Overall, I feel it would be much safer for the application process if complete essays weren’t being thrown around the Internet.

Understanding My Approach is More Valuable

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Scholarship Aftermath: Dealing with Loss and Disappointment

I was talking with a friend last night whose recent scholarship interview has left her a bit upset and frustrated at the moment. She felt like she did great, and that she deserved to move on to the next round of the process, but ultimately, she was not selected.

If you’ve read my article on success, you’ll know that I understand the feeling. When I learned that I did not move on to the final interview round for the Loran Award I was devastated. For the week after the results were revealed, I experienced a bag of emotions.

I was mad at the judges for making the “mistake” of not putting me through. I read the profiles of the previous year’s winners, and felt that I was just as good as any of them. I was upset when I learned that I did worse than other semi-finalists who I expected to do better than.

But whenever you’re emotional, it’s hard to think rationally and objectively. You start to try and come up with any reason to justify why things didn’t go your way. For instance, at that exact moment of defeat, the whole process seemed unfair – the judges only had my application and met me for only about an hour in total. They never saw me or my work in action. I thought to myself: “how could they make an important decision with such little information?”

Realize: The Scholarship Program is in Charge, Not You

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