The following interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.
Meet the Interviewee: Sahar Allen
Last year, Sahar Allen, a student who attended Sutherland Secondary School in North Vancouver, received the TD Scholarship for Community Leadership. The TD is one of the largest Canadian scholarships for graduating high school students. The scholarship is valued at $70,000 and includes internship opportunities that give recipients valuable summer work experience. I got the opportunity to ask Sahar for her insights about the scholarship she won.
Obviously, grades were important, but what types of extracurriculars did you list in the application?
“Yes, the application for TD Scholarship required more than just a high average in high school courses. It was part of the application to include volunteer experiences and extracurricular activities and explain how these experiences have changed my community as well as myself. A little story about me, I immigrated to Canada with my family around 4 years ago. At the time I did not know much about English, so I had to study really hard and try to communicate with native English speakers in order to learn the language. I decided that by getting involved in my community and participating in volunteering activities, I would be able to make more connections and improve my English. My first step was simple but very important, I started volunteering at the local library in North Shore and helped out with events and workshops. A few months later, I decided to organize my own event there and perform with a Persian instrument in order to raise money for children who suffer from cancer. My participation at that local library encouraged me to go on and continue joining school clubs such as Student Leadership Council, become the Co-president of Mosaic Multicultural Club as well as starting my own club, The Rhythm in grade 12. Along with school involvements, I also joined committees in the community such as the Lions Gate Hospital Youth Advisory Council, Science Expo, and SFU Science Alive Camp.”
How did you answer the essay question?
“In the essay, I talked about my community and school involvement experiences as well as how they changed the way I see myself and how I was able to impact the community. For example, I explained that through these experiences, I learned to not be afraid of taking risks and stepping out of my comfort zone. Aside from having the chance to improve my own leadership, communications and organizational skills, I was able to impact my community positively by raising funds for BC Children’s Hospital Foundation and saving children’s lives.”
If there was an interview, what were some of the questions asked? How did you prepare for it?
“The Scholarship committee selected around 80 applicants from across Canada to interview them in a group setting. The interview was actually one of the best interviews I have ever had. The committee members were very nice and respectful and they made me feel more comfortable and confident in myself. As a result, I was able to answer the questions properly and sincerely tell them my story. The interview questions were simple, straightforward, and almost typical questions that you could expect to be asked. For example, they asked to tell them about myself, my experiences, and the reason that I put so much time and effort into making a positive change in my community. In terms of preparation, there wasn’t much that I could do other than being honest and answer based on the experiences that I talked about in my essay. Very simple: I just tried to be myself.”
Why do you think you won the scholarship? What do you believe set you apart from other students who applied?
“I believe I got the scholarship because I was able to convey my honest interest in making a positive change in my community through my previous experiences with multiple clubs and councils. Despite the struggles that my family and I faced when we immigrated to Canada, I was able to make progress in learning a second language as well as getting adapted to a new community and environment. I wasn’t afraid to take risks and change myself to become a better person.”
If you could go back in time, knowing what you know now, what would you tell your former self upon preparing for the application?
“I would assure myself that there is no need to stay positive all the time. It’s okay to struggle and feel sad or disappointed. Feeling those emotions are part of the way we humans are. What is the most important is to stop comparing yourself with others and find the pain that you enjoy dealing with rather than trying to be someone else. Also, don’t be afraid of the interviews, be honest and sincere in your answers and everything else will be okay!”
Would you recommend students to apply for the scholarship? If so, what advice would you give them upon applying?
“I highly recommend applying for this scholarship. Even if you think you might not make it, still apply! Just the application process is so significant and meaningful. Remember that taking risks is necessary sometimes in order to give yourself the chance to grow and improve. My only advice for the application is to respond to the essay questions honestly and basically prove to the committee that you are genuinely interested to make a significant change and you want to continue that path by receiving the scholarship. I also think that having great references to support your application are very helpful!”
Is there anything else you’d like to add or mention?
“Good luck on the application process! Just know that by deciding to apply for the scholarship, you are already seeing yourself as a well accomplished and confident individual.”