Scholarships, grants, and bursaries: Academic excellence and merit

Academic scholarships, grants, and bursaries reward university applicants who achieve high grades in their school exams. And the good news? They require little to no extra work.

What’s an academic scholarship, grant or bursary?

Academic scholarships are financial awards given to prospective students, who achieve high final grades in their qualifications, which they apply to university or college with.

This type of funding can go by slightly different names, such as ‘academic excellence’, ‘academic merit’, or ‘academic achievement’ scholarships. The terms are often used interchangeably, though there may be small differences.

Universities and colleges offer these to reward hard work, as well as attract top talent who’ll have their pick of the litter when it comes to offers. So, if you’re predicted to get high grades, and you can’t decide between two or more very similar university courses, this might be the sort of thing that sways you towards one.

Plus, an academic scholarship can be an excellent motivator to keep going when exams and revision are stressing you out, as well as an extra boost for your student budget  — especially if you’re worried about the cost of university, or managing your money once you arrive.

What can you get?

Academic scholarships usually boil down to a financial award, whether money towards your living costs, money off your tuition fees, or a combination of both.

That said, you may stumble across academic scholarships that come with extra benefits or perks, like sports scholarships or music scholarships do. For example, one university offers a package of lifestyle and accommodation benefits — including flights home, housing upgrades, and theatre passes — on top of a tuition fee reduction, for strong grades.

Examples of academic scholarships offered by universities 

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

  • Example 1: Up to £1,200 over three years.
  • Example 2: Tuition fees reduced by up to £2,500 per year.
  • Example 3: Up to £3,000 over course of a degree.
  • Example 4: £7,000 in first year, with identical cash payments in subsequent two years based on performance.
  • Example 5: Tuition fees reduced by £1,000 for one year.
  • Example 6: £500 in first year.

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

Be aware, this might not mean cash in your bank account to splash out on whatever you like. Some universities may award this via a prepaid card, which will restrict what you can spend it on.

Don’t be surprised if a scholarship is subject to review once you get to university. If your grades or attendance slip, you may not receive your full entitlement.

Always check the full terms and conditions of a scholarship — we go into more detail about these below.

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

Eligibility criteria and applying

Academic scholarships are one of the most popular types of extra funding. Of all students who received at least one scholarship or bursary, a third were academic-based (UCAS Freshers’ Experience 2019 survey, January 2020) 

They’re pretty simple to get, compared to other types of scholarship. A lot of universities will award these once they receive your grades from UCAS. This is usually the case for ‘academic merit’ scholarships. ‘Academic excellence’ or ‘academic achievement’ scholarships may consider your overall academic record too, and involve you completing an application where you demonstrate why you’re deserving of that scholarship or bursary.

These awards aren’t just reserved for students who score the highest grades, either. Some universities and colleges ask for AAB or similar at A levels (or equivalent).  So, don’t worry if you don’t get straight As come results day.

Not studying A levels? While universities and colleges sometimes have a tendency to focus on these when talking about offers, they will accept all equivalent qualifications like BTECs, the International Baccalaureate, Scottish Highers etc. 

Provided your results translate to the same number of UCAS points, this should be enough. Get in touch if these aren’t set out on their website, or you’re unsure.

However, achieving the grades for a particular scholarship doesn’t automatically guarantee you’ll receive it. The number of awards available in a given year may vary — especially if lots of prospective students get top grades. Therefore, there may be further criteria or conditions you must satisfy, or other factors a university will consider when awarding academic scholarships. For example:

  • You meet all conditions of your offer, such as minimum grades in certain subjects.
  • Your other qualifications — for example, one university looks for a minimum of eight GCSEs, with specific grades in key subjects, on top of A level requirements.
  • Other funding you receive — this may restrict what else you can get through an academic scholarship, or make you ineligible altogether.
  • Your personal circumstances — priority may be given to students from low income households.

Open day questions for academic scholarships

  • If a student receives other extra funding, like a sports scholarship, will this affect their chances of getting an academic scholarship?
  • If a student is eligible for an academic scholarship, when will they find out? How will they be contacted?
  • Do you consider household income when deciding who receives an academic scholarship?
  • How many academic scholarship awards are available each year?
  • Apart from achieving the necessary grades, is there anything else a student should do to apply, or to be eligible for an academic scholarship?
  • How are academic scholarships paid? Is this paid into a student’s bank account, or will they be given a prepaid card?
  • Is an academic scholarship paid in one go, or in instalments?
  • In addition to the financial award, are there any extra benefits or incentives?
  • Are there any conditions that come with receiving an academic scholarship once a student arrives at university? Can an academic scholarship be withdrawn, and if so, under what circumstances?

Learn about other additional funding available, including sport, music, and low household income scholarships