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.
- What's the difference between bursaries and scholarships?
- How do you find a university scholarship or bursary?
- Tips for applying for a university scholarship or bursary
- Other scholarships and bursaries
Scholarships and bursaries reward high achievement or support students with greater need. The money doesn't need to be paid back.
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.
Scholarships usually reward students who are outstanding in their subject, often sport or music. 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.
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.
To find a university scholarship in the UK, you should consult UCAS and the websites and prospectuses of individual universities and colleges. 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 where financial support for the second year of study is conditional on successfully completing the first year.
If you don't think you'll fit the criteria for either a university scholarship or a bursary, you can still look at what bursaries and scholarships 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 be listed on university websites.
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. 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 need an application. 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 a box to allow your information to be shared with the universities you're applying to. This will allow them to assess whether you meet the criteria for a 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 come across difficulties in understanding the information.
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.
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.
While you're going through the steps below, note down all information that might be useful in completing funding applications and make it easy to refer to, so you can complete applications quickly. You're likely to be asked for financial information and 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. Note down the deadlines for each application so you can prioritise.
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 your potential criteria from your individual circumstances as well as the kind of scholarships you could be eligible for. This will give you a bank of evidence to use in your applications.
Scholarship for your degree subject
Degree-based scholarships aren't just for STEM courses. Check whether you could get funding from a body that promotes a particular subject (sometimes referred to as learned societies).
Most funds are for postgraduate study, but some are available to undergraduate students. Funds may also be offered for vacation 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. Check professional trade bodies and livery companies or guilds (ancient trade bodies often named the 'Worshipful' company or society).
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 years. 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 three years are 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
There are awards for people who volunteer in green activities or do community work. There are also awards for people willing to do extra, such as learning in Welsh.
Financial support if you have other personal circumstances
This can include 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.
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'.
This should be your first stop. Contact the university's student services department or students' union welfare office. University student money advisors may know of other funds suitable for your circumstances.
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.
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 relevant scholarships and bursaries.
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.
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. It features grants from over 3,500 smaller charities in the UK.
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 your research and generate a list 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. This is very 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:
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 university 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 UK Black and Asian 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. The fund can be used for course costs including tuition fees, accommodation, travel and course-related expenses. To qualify, you mustn't receive a student loan or other sponsorship covering the course costs.
Royal Caledonian Education Trust (RCET)
If your parents are Scottish, on a low income and served (or are serving) in the Armed Forces for a minimum of a year, RCET may provide financial support. The College and University Students Fund can contribute towards living expenses for undergraduate students, books, special equipment and essential course materials.
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 been in the job for at least five years. You could get up to £3,000 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 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 for any UK university, you may be eligible for this funding.
You must also fit two of the following criteria: having lower than average family income, facing significant difficulties, or being the first in your family to go to university. You could get up to £1,250. The money is to reward hard work and can be spent as you see fit.
The Institute of Materials, Minerals & Mining in the South East of England offers final year undergraduates studying geology, mining engineering, engineering geology or mineral processing up to £1,000.
If you're a woman studying any engineering degree and on track for at least a 2:2, you could get a paid placement with Jaguar Landrover with a bursary of £1,500 on your return to university on the condition that you go back for a further placement the following year.
Helena Kennedy Foundation
If you've overcome significant personal and severe financial hardship to complete a course in further education college, you may be eligible for a bursary of up to £2,250 for your course. You'll also be given training and mentoring, as well as work-shadowing opportunities.
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. 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 personal assistance, or costs related to travel, accommodation or specialist computer equipment or software. If you later gain funding for these from other sources, you'll need to refund the grant. You won't usually get financial support with fees or living costs, and can't apply for costs already incurred.
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 are offering one girl and one boy an opportunity to earn a full UK higher education scholarship through their Gridiron Grant.
To be eligible, you should have been playing and have a significant interest in American Football, or have played in their JagTag programme – a simplified version of touch football invented by the Jacksonville Jaguars with a goal to introduce more UK participants to the game.