Once you’ve applied for student finance and you know how much you’re entitled to in maintenance support, you’ll probably discover a cash shortfall, which you’ll need to make up to cover all your living costs (e.g. accommodation, food, books). You can get a rough idea how much this will be for your university with our student budget calculator.
Fortunately there are extra sources of financial support available in the form of scholarships, bursaries, and grants – we explain the differences between these below. Unlike student loans, you don’t have to pay these back – they’re essentially free money.
But they come with a catch: you need to put some work in to find them. While student loans are available to everyone through student finance, there is no one place to find these extra forms of additional funding and apply. Because scholarships, bursaries, and grants are offered by lots of different providers, they all work a little differently (including who’s eligible, how much is up for grabs, and what you need to do to apply).
This is where it’s over to you to do some legwork.
Why apply for scholarships, bursaries, and grants?
Given that scholarships, bursaries, and grants don’t have to be repaid and can make a huge difference to your student budget , they seem like a no-brainer to look into.
Surprisingly though, less than a third of 2019/20 freshers applied for a scholarship or bursary. The most common reason given by those who didn’t was they didn’t think they were eligible for one (72%)*.
As you’ll learn, extra funding is awarded for all sorts of reasons – not just for straight A students. And of those who told us they applied to a scholarship or bursary, over three quarters were successful.
With over £150m in scholarships available to students in the UK each year (source: The Scholarship Hub), could you be leaving money on the table?
If you’re successful in claiming extra funding, and therefore less reliant on maintenance loans – which you do pay back, along with the interest they accumulate – you may walk away with less student debt in the long-run too. Some extra funding schemes even reduce tuition fees (or cover them entirely).
Plus, on top of the cash in your pocket, an award might come with additional benefits, depending on who’s offering it – e.g. internship spots, networking opportunities, accommodation.
Scholarships, bursaries, and grants – what’s the difference?
While these terms can be thrown around interchangeably, below is a rough idea of what they usually refer to:
|Award type||To help with||Based on||Offered by|
|Scholarship||Some living costs (one-off, annual or termly payment), tuition fees (automatic reduction or cover).||Achievement or excellence in academics, sports or music.||Universities/colleges (often donated by alumni), employers or organisations, to support young talent in their area.|
|Bursary||Some living costs (one-off payment).||Low household income, background or personal circumstances, e.g. disabled students, students from particular regions or countries.||Universities/colleges (often donated by alumni), employers or organisations, to support young talent in their area.|
|Grant||Some living costs, specific purposes, e.g. studying abroad (one-off payment).||Low household income, background or personal circumstances, e.g. disabled students, students from particular regions or countries.||Charities or trusts that represent underrepresented groups.|
However, each scholarship, bursary, and grant has its own terms and conditions, including what’s involved to apply. Read the next section on what to do before applying.
Applying to a scholarship, bursary or grant – what to look for
Before applying to any scholarship, bursary or grant, always check the following details. It might save you considerable time and effort applying to something you’re not eligible for in the first place:
- Award: How much do successful applicants get, how is this paid, and what can it be used for? Also, how many awards are up for grabs?
- Eligibility criteria: Do you meet all the conditions set out? An award may only be eligible to applicants for a specific course or subject, or based on certain personal circumstances (e.g. household income, disability, place of residence). Some conditions might surprise you – e.g. you accept a university or college as your firm choice on your UCAS application .
- Application process: Over a quarter of students we spoke to who received a scholarship or bursary, were eligible based simply on their grades*. Alternatively, you might have to complete an online application – nothing too taxing, but definitely worth spending a few hours of your Saturday afternoon getting right.
At the other end of the scale, more competitive or specific awards may demand more from you, including multiple stages – e.g. writing a short essay, attending an interview, presenting a piece of work, or performing an audition.
Also, check any documents, evidence or portfolios you need to submit - hopefully you already have these to hand from completing your UCAS and/or student finance applications – as well as who makes the final decision.
- Deadline: When do you need to apply by? While some applications may be straightforward, others might be quite involved – see above. Do you have enough time to put together a strong application?
- Future commitments: Successful applicants may have to commit to future responsibilities or roles once at university, e.g. representing the university in sports or musical activities, volunteering in the local community, or serving as a student ambassador at events. Failure to do so might result in an award being taken back (and repaying any money already given out).
It’s useful to dig a little deeper into who is offering the award – whether it’s a company, organisation or an individual – and why it was created in the first place. This can give you some context about what they might look for in applicants, and some ideas for what to talk about in an essay or interview scenario.
Usually you can find enough information on the award provider’s website, but snoop around to see what more you can learn.
And if in doubt, get in touch. Making an introduction and becoming known to those involved in the decision-making process can make a good impression (and if you’re unsuccessful, they might keep you in mind if something else pops up).
What can you get a scholarship, bursary or grant for?
There’s extra money for students waiting to be scooped up, for a wide range of reasons, circumstances, and criteria (including some pretty niche ones like the Graham Trust Bursary Scheme, available to those studying in Glasgow with the surname ‘Graham’).
Financial need and academic scholarships/bursaries were the most popular of those obtained by students in our survey*, but you can learn about the following types of extra funding in our dedicated guides.
Where should you look for scholarships, bursaries, and grants?
Your university or college: While you’re researching your UCAS choices , look at what extra funding they offer for students in your position – it’s a pretty good question for an open day if you’re stumped for something to ask. 80% of students who received a scholarship or bursary found out about it from their university or college*.
The most common are awarded for academic , sporting or musical achievement , those studying particular subjects , or as part of a widening participation (WP) initiative to establish more diversity within the student population and attract those from backgrounds traditionally underrepresented in higher education. For example, students from low income households, in or leaving care, from areas where few go to university, returning to education.
One recent notable example was a scholarship launched by rapper Stormzy to cover the tuition fees of two black students at Cambridge each year.
While you shouldn’t pick a university course based solely on what funding is available, if you’re stuck between some very similar choices, it might sway you towards one.
Employers: Companies, professional bodies, and organisations linked to particular industries often run scholarship or bursary schemes for aspiring talent, as well as to attract groups who are traditionally underrepresented in their field, e.g. women in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields.
As part of the application process, expect to demonstrate an existing, deep interest in that field, the desire to study a particular area as part of your course, or a related career ambition. Re-reading your personal statement, or using our personal statement tool, might help.
These can sometimes pave the way for work experience, internships, and graduate opportunities, too.
Charities and special interest groups: These are often to support students whose personal circumstances align with the work of a particular charity or group. These can overlap with the widening participation awards we talk about above – aimed at opening up opportunities for students who wouldn’t traditionally progress onto university or college – but may also cater to students with disabilities, a particular extracurricular interest, a desire to study overseas , or those from a particular background.
*UCAS‘ Freshers Experience 2019 Survey – January 2020