Scholarships, grants, and bursaries: Low income households

Universities and colleges offer extra funding to support students from low income backgrounds. We explain what ‘low income’ means’, and why it pays to update your student finance body on your situation.

What’s a low income scholarship, grant or bursary?

A low income scholarship, grant, or bursary is available to students whose family’s annual household income falls below a certain amount. These aim to ensure that finance isn’t a barrier for students from less affluent backgrounds to pursue higher education.

Any means-tested maintenance loans or grants you receive shouldn’t interfere with your eligibility for this type of support. Unlike the student loans you receive through student finance, extra funding like this doesn’t have to be paid back.

Financial need scholarships and bursaries are pretty common too, making up almost half (47%) of all extra funding awarded to students we spoke to (UCAS Freshers’ Experience 2019 survey, January 2020).

How does student finance work where you live? Explore our complete guides to undergraduate finance in EnglandScotlandWales, and Northern Ireland.

What can you get?

Broadly speaking, a low income scholarship is paid in instalments, while a bursary or grant will be a one-off payment near the start of your course. You may receive funding for your first year only, or for each year of your course

This money can go towards your general living or study costs, and you can decide how you spend this. Some forms of low income support may reduce your annual tuition fees, or come with additional benefits, like discounted accommodation, or career-building opportunities.

How much money will you need to live at university? Try our simple student calculator, or learn how to create a budget that works for you.

Examples of low income scholarships, bursaries, and grants offered by universities

As you can see from the examples below, what’s on offer varies by university:

  • Example 1: up to £500 per year.
  • Example 2: £500 only.
  • Example 3: £1,000 per year.
  • Example 4: £5,000 per year, plus access to funded internships to develop employability skills, volunteering opportunities, and social and community building events.
  • Example 5: between £500 and £3,200 per year, depending on household income.

To find what extra funding providers offer, visit their websites, or contact them. There will be some work involved for you, but the rewards are well worth it.

Eligibility criteria

Unsurprisingly, household income is the main factor when it comes to eligibility for a low income scholarship, bursary or grant.

Household income usually refers to how much your parents earn combined, annually (for students under 25 years old who live with, or depend on them financially). Note, it’s a little different if a parent lives with a partner, or you’re 25 years old or over and live with a partner.

Your university or college will use your household income to assess your eligibility for any low income support they offer. It’s really important that you provide this information to your student finance body each year of your course – not just the first year – and that this is accurate. This way, you’ll continue to get the financial support you’re entitled to.

What ‘low income’ means can really vary from one university or college, to another. Usually this is anything below £25,000 or £30,000. However, this threshold could drop as low as £16,000, or be as high as £60,000, depending on where you’re applying to. Always check this carefully for a low income award you’re hoping to receive.

A university or college may offer an amount on a sliding scale, depending on your household income – the higher this is up to a capped amount, the less you can get.

As well as household income, you may have to satisfy the following criteria for a low income scholarship, bursary, or grant:

  • you qualify for home fee status and live in the UK
  • you’ve accepted an offer for a qualifying, full-time undergraduate course at that university – you may have to accept this as your firm choice too
  • you meet the grade requirements and conditions for your offer
  • you’re not receiving certain other financial support – a couple of universities state  that tuition fees must not be NHS-funded, or they have a cap on how much non-maintenance government support you can get, in order to be eligible for their low income funding
  • your course doesn’t involve a work placement, or year abroad

This may vary, so always check the full guidelines and criteria for any scholarship, bursary, or grant you’re hoping to receive – this includes any circumstances under which it may be withdrawn, or remaining payments may stop.

How to apply

Applying for a low income scholarship, bursary, or grant is relatively simple. In fact, you don’t really have to do anything (apart from apply for student finance).

Your university will access your household income from your student finance body, to make their decision. They will get in touch with you if you’re eligible for any low income support.

Open day questions for low income scholarships

  • What financial support do you offer for students from low income households?
  • How many awards are available each year?
  • Is this a one-off payment, or are payments made in instalments? And if so, when?
  • Are there any other steps to apply or be eligible, or do you just use household income information that students submit when applying for student finance?
  • What sorts of things might prevent a student from a low income household from being eligible?
  • When do you assess whether students are eligible for low income support?
  • When will students find out they’re eligible or successful?
  • Are there any additional benefits that come with this funding?

Tips on getting a low income scholarship, grant or bursary

  • Get your parents to submit their household income – you have the option to apply for student finance without your parents providing details about their income. However, if they do submit this, you’re not only guaranteed to get the full finance you’re eligible for, but it also opens you up to scholarships and bursaries, like a low income award.
  • Apply each year – by applying for student finance each year, this will always reflect your family’s household income, which could change throughout your studies. If it does change, dropping below a certain amount, you might suddenly be eligible for a   scholarship or bursary courtesy of your university. This can make all the difference, if your family can no longer financially support you in the same way they once could.
  • Weigh up all funding avenues – your eligibility for other awards may be affected if you receive a low income scholarship or bursary, or vice versa. Therefore, look at all the scholarships and bursaries on offer from your university, to help you decide which one will make the biggest difference to your student budget.

Learn about other additional funding available, including sport, music, and academic scholarships

Worried about managing the cost of university? See what you can do if your student loan isn’t enough, as well as our money-saving tips to make it last a whole term.