Turning a life lesson into a thriving business

Brittany Palmer learned a lesson or two about scholarships at Simon Fraser University, and she's created an award-winning business to pass her knowledge on to other students.

The 24-year-old Burnaby resident graduated with a bachelor's degree in communications, debt-free, entirely on scholarships. Now, she's crafted a career helping others do the same through her company Unlock your Future.

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The story of Palmer's business goes back to January 2005. She had been accepted at UBC and SFU and started applying for scholarships while still in Grade 12. Three months later, she got her first "yes" - a yes she'll never forget. The phone rang; it was someone from SFU. Palmer was told she was receiving the Gordon M. Shrum scholarship worth $24,000.

"I just burst into tears on the phone. I knew that moment my life had changed. I wasn't the type of person with $30,000 in my bank account for university," Palmer says. "Knowing my university was covered was a huge weight off my chest."

In all, Palmer applied for 30 scholarships and received 16, totalling of $56,500 ($20,000 of which she didn't end up using because it was for UBC, and she chose to attend SFU instead).

Word spread of Palmer's success, and she was invited to speak to students in North Vancouver about her experience.

"That's how it all started," Palmer says.

What began as a community project in 2005 morphed into a proper business in 2008. Now Palmer offers oneon-one consulting through Unlock your Future. She travels to high schools and conferences as a guest speaker, sharing her tips on how to secure scholarships. She estimates she's presented to thousands of people in B.C. over the years - students, parents and teachers alike.

In April, Palmer received a 2012 youth entrepreneur award from the Cultural DIVERSEcity Awards in Vancouver.

Seated at a Brentwood area coffee shop, Palmer shares some of her secrets to success.

"Apply, apply, apply," she says, adding it's important to take the time to read the eligibility requirements. Everyone has different strengths, and committees look for people who are well-rounded, show initiative and leadership and are involved in their schools and communities, she says. Volunteer experience, for example, helps one stand out as a candidate, according to Palmer.

Many scholarships are not necessarily about grades, either.

"If you have a 60 per cent average, there's still a scholarship for you," she says.

In fact, Palmer pointed out that there's a scholarship from Tall Clubs International for students who meet minimum height requirements (6-2 for men, and 5-10 for women if you're curious).

People also need to be organized when applying for scholarships, and Palmer recommends they keep all documents in separate envelopes for each application. January to April tends to be the busiest time to apply for scholarships, but there are opportunities throughout the year.

Applications for two of the big ones - the Loran Award and the TD Scholarships for Community Leadership - are due in October. (Those are roughly $70,000 each.)

"I want people to realize there are opportunities out there and scholarships are possible if you invest the time," she says.

But it wasn't all easy. Palmer has come a long way from the Grade 12 student she once was, unsure of herself and convinced that scholarships are only for overachievers and child prodigies.

"I was under the impression that you had to be a super kid to achieve a scholarship," she said. "I always say to students (that) you can be your worst enemy, and I use myself as an example. - You realize you have to believe in yourself."

For more on Palmer's company, go to www.keyto scholarships.com.

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