All About Estates

Scholarships and Other Educational Awards

By Indiana University - Indiana University, CC BY-SA 3.0,

Student awards are one of the most popular charitable purposes, especially in estates.  Donors often strongly identify with the life changing benefit of direct educational funding to students.  Named scholarship funds are often named and constitute part of the donor’s legacy.

Educational awards are such a popular purpose that there are numerous providers.  Of course, there are schools, colleges and universities that establish and administer awards.  There are also independent charities, public foundations with donor advised funds, culturally-specific foundations, and even private foundations with specialized scholarship programs.  This article focuses on post-secondary education and provides an overview of types of awards in this surprisingly diverse area.


A scholarship is typically an undergraduate award based on academic merit (marks) for tuition and other direct educational expenses, such as books and supplies.  Some scholarships may also be applied to living expenses. Scholarships are named (typically by the donor) and may be limited to a particular field of study or faculty. Most scholarships are awarded annually to a different student and may vary in value from a few hundred to thousands of dollars.  More valuable scholarship may be recurring and offer the student a “full ride”.  Scholarships are prestigious and motivating, providing both recognition and funds. In the last 30 years, scholarship dollars at Canadian universities – and to a less extent colleges – have grown significantly due to philanthropy and matching programs for endowments.


A bursary is an award based on financial need.  A bursary is normally named (by the donor) and awarded throughout the year in response to students in financial need. Funding may be used for tuition, supplies, or living expenses.  An important source of emergency funding, bursaries do not have the prestige, profile, or motivational effect of scholarships. A bursary is awarded on a more discretionary basis by the institution and funding is often not recurring. Bursaries are typically administered by institutions.  They are an important way to help students in financial need, but they are “charity” not a recognition of student achievement or potential.


A prize is an award for academic accomplishment in a particular field of study or course.  A prize is typically named and provides a modest cash award to the student without strings attached.  Outside of educational institutions a prize may be award for achievement in a particular field of endeavour, for example, medical research or poetry.  Prizes are also increasingly used by philanthropists as incentives to achieve certain goals.


A fellowship is a scholarship awarded to graduate students or for post-graduate research positions.

Institutional Scholarships

Educational institutions offer the greatest number and value of scholarships.  As mentioned, most are supported by a segregated endowment fund.  The award focus on academic merit, the measure of which is typically marks and marks alone.  This is partly due to the desire of universities to attract and retain the “best and brightest” students, but also a function of administrative pragmatism by busy awards offices.

There are several criticisms of the academic merit scholarship.  The focus on marks alone downplays social factors and does not improve access by student who face barriers to access, such as family finances, being a child of a single parent, being a person of colour, new Canadian, or being first in family to attend university.  Or all of the above.  Studies have shown that the focus on “merit” alone, often rewards students with existing financial, family, and social advantage.  The student may have the top marks, but receiving a scholarship may not be essential to assess post-secondary education.

Community-based Scholarships

A community-based scholarship is awarded directly to a student who is selected through a formal process using published criteria.  A community-based scholarship is student centred. The selection process takes place in an identified community, through an established committee and/or focuses on a class of eligible beneficiaries.  The scholarship provides the student with direct support to attend a post-secondary institution of the student’s choice, although in payments are made to third parties such as an educational institution for student fees or even to a landlord.

Some charities and organizations that offer community-based scholarship work with community partners to identify students and adjudicate awards.  Community partners include high schools, social service or child welfare organizations, or an indigenous community.  Others run their own process, which can include detailed application processes.

The goal of most community-based awards is to enable capable students to pursue the education of their choice, regardless of type of post-secondary institution or location.  They are designed to find strong individuals who might otherwise not have access to funding and provide consistent support to help them achieve success, both in their studies and life.  Community-based awards are typically designed to assist students who may not otherwise be able to access post-secondary education due to financial need, distance, or life challenges. While academic achievement is an important criterion, financial need, leadership, and character are important considerations.  The use of the term scholarship is important, however, as they are designed to celebrate achievement and potential, not just fund need.

These student-based scholarships are typically more focused on access to education and equity.  They also require more resources to administer and adjudicate than the basic institutional scholarship.  As a result, the awards have greater value, and often cover full undergraduate tuition.  They are also recurring, which helps the student complete their studies without major debt or financial worry.

Estate Planning

The key to including a student award in your estate plan is to do some advanced planning.  Read up on different models.  Understand the complex issues.  Research different entities that offer scholarships.  And put the terms and conditions in place during life, not in your will.

About Malcolm Burrows
Malcolm is a philanthropic advisor with over 30 years of experience. He is head, philanthropic advisory services at Scotia Wealth Management and founder of Aqueduct Foundation. Views are his own.


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