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University bursaries and scholarships

Scholarships, bursaries and grants are all there to help different students in varying situations. Find out what help is available and how to apply.

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CONTENTS

  1. What's the difference between bursaries and scholarships?
  2. How do you find a university scholarship or bursary?
  3. Tips for applying for a university scholarship or bursary
  4. Other scholarships and bursaries

What’s the difference between bursaries and scholarships?

Scholarships and bursaries reward high achievement or support students with greater need. The money doesn't need to be paid back.

University bursaries are usually awarded to students based on their personal circumstances or if they come from a low-income family. Bursaries can help students who may face more barriers to attending full-time education, enabling them to access university.

University scholarships usually reward students who are outstanding in their subject. They generally need to be applied for and are quite competitive.

The two terms can be used interchangeably, and each university has its own terminology. There can also be university scholarships to encourage or reward activities separate from studies, such as volunteering, sport, or music.

University scholarships and bursaries are available as extra financial help for both undergraduate and postgraduate students. Most awards are for full-time students, and there are some awards specifically for international students. To be eligible, students must meet the criteria. 

If you don't think you'll fit the criteria for a university scholarship or a bursary, you can still look at what bursaries, scholarships and grants are available outside of universities. The criteria for these can be broader. They could be based on where you attended school, for example. Awards from external agencies or charities may also be listed on university websites.

How do you find a university scholarship or bursary?

To find a university scholarship in the UK, you should consult the websites and prospectuses of individual universities and colleges. University profiles on the Complete University Guide may include information on any financial support available, as well as a direct link to the university funding web page. If you're considering a collegiate university (a university comprising a number of separate colleges, like Oxford or Cambridge) check if there are awards from particular colleges.

There may be entrance scholarships awarded to new students entering university, or progression scholarships for later years where financial support is conditional on your academic progress.

Tips for applying for a university scholarship or bursary

Consider your chances

If your parents are high-income earners, you may only be eligible for scholarships linked to achievement (whether academic or in music or sport) and/or a desire to study 'shortage' subjects where unis seek to attract good students. Check both the value of the award and how many are on offer.

Check if you need to apply and what the deadline is

Some awards require you to apply. Others may be awarded automatically. Automatic awards can include bursaries based on your personal circumstances, or if you achieve the specified grades in exams. Awards that need an application are likely to require the offer of a place before you can apply. Make sure you note any deadlines for applications.

Find out when you'll know if you're successful for an award

On the university's website, read the award's eligibility criteria, how to apply and when you can expect to hear if you’ve been successful. For bursaries dependent on income, you'll know if you're likely to meet the criteria when you get your student finance assessment. For other awards, you may not know until you get your exam results, long after you've made larger decisions.

Share your information with Student Finance

When you apply for your student loan, tick the box on the application that allows your information to be shared with the universities you're applying to. This will enable them to assess whether you meet the criteria for a university scholarship or bursary. Your information won't be shared with anyone else.

Keep your eyes open for opportunities

Look out for special and unadvertised offers when you go to interviews and open days. Be particularly watchful during Clearing – some universities may increase bursaries and scholarships to fill their places.

Take care with your application

When completing your application, check it's grammatically correct with no obvious errors. Read the small print on any offers. There's also no harm in phoning a university if you have difficulties in understanding the information.

Be realistic

Weigh up the total package, including any extras you may be charged over the year, and compare it with other universities you're interested in. Make sure to choose the right university for you, not because it offers more money.

Scholarship application

Other scholarships and bursaries

For other ways to fund your degree, check for industry and company scholarships or bursaries from charities and trusts.

It's worth planning how you're going to look for what's available. Start early, so you can identify application deadlines for likely funds well in advance. If you're still at school you might have more time to apply during holidays, but you may want help from school careers or guidance staff before then. 

Step 1: Gather your 'evidence' for potential funding

When searching for a scholarship or bursary, you'll need evidence and a plan. It's worth identifying all potential criteria from your individual circumstances as well as the kind of scholarships you could be eligible for. Note down the information that might be useful for completing funding applications and make it easy to refer to, so you can complete applications quickly.

First, consider whether the subject you study offers potential for funding, whether because of the subject, a related career, or sponsorship by the UK Armed forces.

Scholarships for your degree subject

Degree-based scholarships aren't just for STEM courses. You may be able to get financial support from a body that promotes a particular subject (sometimes referred to as learned societies).

Most funds are for postgraduate study (including research studentships), but some are available to undergraduate students. Science students may find summer studentships to carry out research, which will be useful if you're entering the final year of your degree.

Sponsorship or a scholarship related to a potential career

You could get a company scholarship or sponsorship if you have the potential to become a good employee or want to enter a specific industry, often ones with skills shortages. In return, you’ll either work a placement or commit to working for the company after graduation. Financial support may also be available from professional trade bodies and livery companies or guilds (ancient trade bodies often named the 'Worshipful' company or society).

Healthcare students and those training to become a social worker or teacher may be eligible for NHS or government funding.

Another option to consider is a degree apprenticeship, where you work as an employee while studying a degree funded by your employer – this won’t be the same as going to uni but it could suit you if you’ve got a clear idea of the career you want to enter.

Sponsorship from the UK Armed Forces

All UK Armed Forces offer sponsorship schemes to students who've already passed a selection course before starting university. In return, you'll need to sign up for a period of service from which you can withdraw after three to seven years, depending on your degree. You may also get further training in your specific profession within the armed forces, from engineering to linguistics.

If you don't complete your degree or leave before your 'return of service' is up, you may have to repay funds. For some Armed Forces bursary schemes, you must study at specified universities in the UK.

Scholarship or funding for community work, music or sport

You may also find awards for people who volunteer in green activities or do community work. Awards may fund expenses relating to the specific activity, rather than help with your living costs. There are also awards for people willing to do extra, such as learning in Welsh.

Financial support based on your personal circumstances

There can be scholarships or grants based on where you live, where you were educated, your family income, and jobs your parents do (or if you're a mature student, jobs you've done). If you have a disability or health condition, are from a minority religion or ethnicity, or are the first from your family to go into higher education, it's worth checking if there's financial support for university based on any of these factors. There are also scholarships and bursaries for refugees and asylum seekers.

You're likely to be asked for financial information. If an application relates to financial hardship, you may need details of annual household income, income from any benefits, savings or investments, and even assets.

Step 2: Plan where and how to look for other scholarships and bursaries

Having identified criteria that could land you a bursary or scholarship from a charity, trust, or company, you'll need to start looking for what might be available.

If you're searching a database or on the internet, consider similar words that could be used to describe the same thing. You don't want to miss out on a grant or bursary because you only searched using the word 'scholarship'. Note down the deadlines for each application so you can prioritise. 

University websites

This should be your first stop, as unis may list scholarships or grants in partnership with other funders. University student money advisors may also know of other funds suitable for your circumstances. Contact the uni’s student services department or Students' Union welfare office.

Other websites

The Scholarship Hub is a free online database of UK scholarships, grants and bursaries for UK or EU undergraduate and postgraduate students. A basic sign up lets you search and subscribe to a newsletter or alerts for new funding that match your profile.

Prospective postgraduate students should also check Postgraduate Search.

Turn2Us is a national charity that provides practical help to people in financial need. The website has a grant search facility and helpful guidance on the information you may need if applying for a charitable grant.

The Disability Rights UK factsheet is a useful tool for disabled students to find funding from charitable trusts. If you live in Scotland, Lead Scotland has useful information on sources of funding, including relevant scholarships and bursaries.

Careers service

If you're still at school, see if you can get help there from careers staff or guidance teachers, or check with your local careers service.

Public libraries

Ask your library service if they have a recent copy of the Guide to Educational Grants. This is published by the Directory of Social Change in association with the NUS. Focusing on further education – including postgraduate funding – it features over 800 grant-making charities from around the UK.

Postgraduate students could also check the Grants Register, published by Palgrave Macmillan, which lists postgraduate funding opportunities across the world. You might find it in uni libraries or the reference libraries of larger towns or cities.

Step 3: Do your research

Don’t apply for bursaries or scholarships as you find them. You may lose time applying for a fund that's less suitable than another where the application deadline is looming.

Instead, do a quick bit of research to generate a shortlist of charities, trusts or companies to approach for scholarships, bursaries or grants.

Note down any application deadlines, as some application windows are very short. Prioritise which you'll apply to first – either an award with a deadline approaching, or one that you fit the criteria for the best.

If you already have financial support or means-tested benefits, double-check whether additional scholarship funding will affect this in any way. Also be wary to avoid scams.

Step 4: Apply

Read the application guidance carefully

As well as fitting the criteria for an award, you'll need to pitch how well you fit the criteria, as you'll be competing against other applicants. Only include information that's asked for.

Try and get a feel for why the money's on offer in the first place. You want the money to fund your university degree, but the people awarding the funding want something out of it too. Is there a commercial aspect to it, as with a company scholarship where they may be looking for a possible future employee? Or is it about giving chances in communities where historically there have been few? For this reason, you can't use the same responses for each application.

Taking this approach is useful if you need to write a statement or short essay about why you deserve an award, or about a particular topic. Stick to the question and look at it from different angles – like you would in an academic essay.

Avoid completing a funding application at the last minute

Plan your time well and get someone else to read over your application. Make sure your application (or essay) is easy to read and that there are no factual or spelling mistakes.

Keep in mind

Some grant bodies won't consider you unless you've tried all standard sources of funding, so you should apply for a student loan even if you don’t want to.

Examples of other scholarships and bursaries available

There are many other scholarships and bursaries available, some from seemingly unlikely sources. Take a look at our list below:

Vegetarian Charity

You must be under 26 years old and a committed vegetarian or vegan (with references to prove it!) to get this funding. You can only apply when you have firm acceptance of a place at uni, and you'll stand a better chance of getting a grant after you've started and are actually facing financial hardship.

Grants can be given for educational courses or equipment you need. However, this can be a lengthy process. Grants for more than £500 aren't normally issued and you can't use the money to pay off debts or start a business.

George Viner Memorial Fund

Run by the National Union of Journalists, this support is offered to black and minority ethnic students in print, broadcasting, photographic or online journalism. You'll need to show your commitment to this career and study an NUJ-recognised media course in the UK or Ireland. The fund can be used for course costs including tuition fees, accommodation, travel and course-related expenses.

Help Musicians

A charity for professional musicians in the UK, Help Musicians has awards for postgraduate students studying at UK conservatoires and financial support for medical treatment of a performance-related health condition (whether undergraduate or postgraduate). They also have a handy funding wizard to identify other sources of financial help.

Forces Children in Scotland (previously RCET)

If your parents are serving or veteran Armed Forces personnel living in the UK who have a connection to Scotland (i.e. they’re Scottish, or you live there), you may be eligible for financial support. Its University & College Fund can contribute towards the living costs of undergraduate students aged up to 21.

Leverhulme Trade Charities Trust

If either of your parents or spouse is a commercial traveller, pharmacist or grocer, you could get financial support for full-time undergraduate or postgraduate study. They must have worked in this capacity during the last ten years, and for at least five years, and you must demonstrate that you’re in ‘financial need’. You could get up to £3,000 per year for undergraduate study, depending on financial need and funds available that year. Postgraduate students could get up to £5,000.

Funds can be used for tuition fees, accommodation, living expenses or study-related equipment.

Holbeck scholarships (Holbeck Charitable Trust, with the University of York)

If you're a high-achieving student at school in the Yorkshire and Humber region applying to any UK university, you may be eligible for this funding.

You must also fit two of the following criteria: having a lower than average family income, facing significant difficulties, or have parents or grandparents who didn’t go to university. You could get up to £1,500. The money is to reward hard work and can be spent as you see fit.

MinSouth

The Institute of Materials, Minerals & Mining in the South East of England offers sponsorship of up to £1,000 for final year undergraduates studying geology, mining engineering, engineering geology or mineral processing.

Helena Kennedy Foundation

If you're facing significant barriers to continuing your education, plus severe financial hardship, you may be eligible for a bursary of up to £2,250. You must be in your final year at a further education institution or sixth form college and applying to take a higher education course. You can’t apply if you’ve already started or completed a higher education course.

As well as getting financial support, you'll also be given training and mentoring, plus work-shadowing opportunities.

Snowdon Trust

If you have a physical or sensory disability, you could apply for help with additional disability-related costs that aren't fully provided for by statutory funding. This fund is open to all nationalities if you have a confirmed place on a further or higher education course in the UK and have applied for Disabled Students Allowance. Your financial details are required but the grant is not means-tested. You could get up to £3,000 and can reapply in future years.

Funds can be used for disability-related study costs that haven’t been met by statutory funding. This could include personal assistance, accommodation or specialist computer equipment or software. You won't get financial support with fees or living costs and can't apply for costs already incurred.

Gridiron Grant 

If you've played and have a passion for American Football, then this might be for you. The Jacksonville Jaguars are the only NFL team to commit to at least one annual game in London during the regular season, and they offer two students (one female and one male) the chance to earn a full UK higher education scholarship through their Gridiron Grant.

To be eligible, you must regularly play American Football as part of a recognised programme, such as JagTag – a simplified version of touch football invented by the Jacksonville Jaguars to introduce more UK participants to the game. You must also demonstrate self-discipline, hard work and service to your local community. 

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