How I hacked high school to get $74,500 in scholarship while working less

My first high school test mark was 58%. I felt ashamed, alone, and without hope. I was frustrated because I worked harder than any of my classmates — i f my friends studied for 3 hours, I would study for 9 hours — but we would get the same grades. I learned early on that I would not succeed by hard work alone. I needed to think differently to reach the top.

My graduating grade from high school was 96%. I was accepted to Canada’s most elite business school with $79,000 from 14 scholarships. I also worked less than any of my classmates. This is a story of how I hacked high school.

My Typical Day

This was my daily schedule in high school. Typical right? Actually, by my classmates’ standards- whom studied until 12am daily – my schedule was incredible.

With this schedule, I produced the following results:

Why am I telling you this? Because this was all achieved working less than any of my classmates. No overnighters, no cramming, and no anxiety. Below are principles that I used to 10x my results:

  1. Skip classes and do not pay attention during lectures

What? Did I really just recommend you to skip classes? The answer is a big fat YES. I attended less than half of my classes at the end of high school. Most of my classes were not engaging and did not cater to my learning style. Instead, I recommend the following:

a. Skip class and take the spare time to study whenever possible. You are fine to make up an excuse that works: volunteering, club activities, sick days, etc.

b. Focus on the part of the course that is testable and disregard the rest (you will forget them soon anyways).

c. In case you have to attend class, sit at the back and do your homework. I am usually 1-3 lessons ahead in each classes.

d. Participate only during these times: (1) to solve hard problem sets when others cannot, (2)to ask advance level questions to obtain clarifications, (3) to discuss interesting topics after class that is beyond the scope of the daily lessons.

d. During other times, finish your homework during class time and read ahead. Do not participate for any other occasion beyond the above 3 reasons.

You can finish your homework while in class and have free time to pursue your own interests after school by following these steps.

2. Create your own rules and follow them with patience

Life rewards winners – and coming in second place is as good as last. I avoid competing when the chance of success is against me. Instead, I create scenarios where I can compete with only myself – so that success is inevitable.

I created the Environmental Club at my high school and grew it to be the largest in my school’s history. I became a club president immediately after forming it in gr. 10 — youngest “club president” in my year. We grew from 3 members in the first year, to 20 members in the second year, to 70 members during my last year as club president. Growing the club was easy as I had more experience running a club as it’s president than any other students, as typical president candidates had to climb the leadership ladder for many years to reach this position.

5. Leverage your efforts:

Align as many of your efforts to produce a single desired result. By doing so, your per hour output can be many times more effective. I did this by involving the efforts of my high school environmental club, student council, and regional environmental group (PEYA) to implement an energy audit program that ran in over 50 high schools in the Peel Region. This program took 2 years to set up and only gained traction during my gr. 12 year.

You can achieve great things with patience and creativity. An overnight success requires many years of setting up the play and behind-the-scene executions. These accomplishments build credibility for me to apply for many scholarships.

6. Focus on the unconventional path

Everyone in grade 12 focuses on getting into their preferred university programs. I realized that if I focused my energy to write scholarship essays, then I can also use them to apply to my university programs. This is a great way to accomplish two goals with a single stroke of effort.

During this time, my mother gave a lot of pressure for me to “find a job”. I hated the idea of trading my time for $10 an hour so I refused to work. I wanted more and that motivated me. I thought: “What if I could get $500 to $5,000 an hour?” — and I did exactly that.

In the span of 5 months, I applied to 40 different scholarships. The trick was to apply to many and spend more effort than the average applicant to write these application essays. For many applications, I had over five essay drafts revised by English teachers, professionals, and friends. Winning one scholarship every two months would mean a total earning average of $5,000 a month, which beat working part-time. Beyond my expectations, this resulted in a total return of $79,000 from 14 merit-based scholarships. This was my first taste of what doing “smart work” instead of “hard work” meant, and I was hooked.

Final Thoughts

I am privileged during my journey to have a number of friends, mentors, teachers, and parents that supports me. At times, I felt lost, scared, and vulnerable. That is normal — it means that I am on the right path. To do anything significant, I must defy convention and that feels uncomfortable.

This was my first blog entree, and with this, I hope to inspire you to earn your own victory by adopting a “hacker mindset”. Achieving financial, academic, and career success is all within your grasp – as long as you are willing to think differently. I am now designing a “hacker mindset” to achieve success in a new arena: being the founder of a fledgling Toronto startup called Odyssey3D. I have experienced enough failures to realize that I still have much to learn — and that makes me so excited. With my followup blog posts, I hope to disclose some of the most difficult struggles and successes that I had along my journey.

I encourage all of you to fail fast and fail often. These are the experiences that will make you wiser – these are the real lessons that can teach you how to hack your way through life’s greatest challenges!

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