Scholarships and bursaries can help you if you need financial support by paying towards the cost of going to university. The terms 'bursary' and 'scholarship' are forms of financial assistance which can sometimes be used interchangeably, and each university will have their own requirements for eligibility. Here's a guide to the different types and how to get them.
What are scholarships and bursaries?
Scholarships and bursaries are used to describe the same thing: financial assistance given to current or incoming university students. They may be offered in monetary form paid directly into your bank account, or as a discount (for example, 40% off your accommodation, or even as vouchers for things like books.) They can be funded by universities, private companies, individuals or charities.
Bursaries and scholarships are different from student loans, as they never have to be paid back.
Am I eligible for a bursary?
Extra financial assistance comes in various shapes and sizes. Your eligibility could be based on your academic abilities, your household income or, more often, a combination of several criteria.
- Needs-based: almost all UK universities offer bursaries for students from low-income families. This may either be to help with tuition fees, living costs or both. Qualifying criteria include being from a low-income family, being a mature student with existing financial commitments, being a student previously in care, or being a student with children.
- Merit-based: Universities may also offer merit-based bursaries or scholarships for students who excel in a particular area of academia or university life. You can check out your chosen university website to gain an idea of what they offer. It’s also important to be aware that some of the scholarships on offer are not all related to academic performance; there are a vast number of funding opportunities for those who excel in Sport, Drama or Music.
Charitable and commercial bursaries
- Charitable bursaries: It is worth doing some research to find out what is available because there are significant funding opportunities beyond your university, mainly from charitable trusts. There are a number of foundations dedicated to supporting you if you are from underrepresented communities, in need of financial support, or simply to help you with your goal of attending university.
- Commercial bursaries: Such forms of financial support are also available from many commercial companies or government organisations who use financial incentives to recruit graduates. Some organisations offer bursaries alongside training and work experience, to help students access job opportunities more easily at these organisations after university.
Extra help bursaries
Unlike most other bursaries, the ones listed below are funded by the government.
- Disabled Students’ Allowances (DSAs): DSAs help with the extra essential costs you might have as a direct result of your disability, including a long-term health condition, mental-health condition or specific learning difficulty, such as dyslexia or dyspraxia. DSAs can help with the cost of having a person to support you (for the additional support you might need while studying), items of specialist equipment, travel, and other study-related costs. It doesn’t depend on your household income; how much you’ll get depends on your individual needs.
- Parents’ Learning Allowance: This government allowance helps students with dependent children pay for course-related costs such as books and travel. The Parents’ Learning Allowance is paid on top of other student finance and doesn’t have to be paid back. You can apply for the Parents’ Learning Allowance when you apply for student finance.
- Adult Dependants’ Grant: This helps with the extra costs you might face if an adult depends on you financially. To be eligible, the adult dependent must either be your husband, wife, partner/civil partner, or a relative, such as a parent or grandparent. To apply you will need to fill in the Adult Dependants’ Grant section on your main student finance application - you’ll need to give estimates of your household income.
How do I apply for scholarships and bursaries?
How you apply will depend on the body that is awarding your scholarship. Applications for government extra help bursaries will usually be submitted with your student loan application. Universities will sometimes assess bursary eligibility with your UCAS application or you may potentially have to wait until you have received an offer. For organisations and charities, you typically need to apply to them directly.
Tips for applying:
- Start your research early. The application deadlines for some scholarships fall much earlier than the standard UCAS deadlines. For example, the deadline to submit an application for an Organ scholarship at Oxford and Cambridge is 1st September.
- Be prepared to promote yourself. Applications to scholarships can be incredibly competitive (particularly if they are merit-based). Certain organisations may require applicants to submit an essay or portfolio of work to assess candidates; take time over this task and make sure to include in your application why you in particular would benefit from this opportunity.
- Check if the bursary you applied for affects other types of funding. For instance, the Adult Dependants’ Grant will affect any income-related benefits and tax credits you might get.
- Be aware of any strings attached. Many scholarships and bursaries require a level of commitment from students in their chosen field. For example, an Organ Scholar at King’s College Cambridge is expected to rehearse for and play at seven services per week in exchange for the £450 per year financial allowance.
You can also search Unifrog for live one-off and renewable scholarships and bursaries using the Special Opportunities tool here.