Student loans are not necessarily the only means of financial support available to fund your studies. There is a wide range of services that may offer additional monetary help according to criteria such as personal circumstances, location, and achievements.
The most widely-available funding comes in the form of scholarships, bursaries, and awards. Many course providers offer these for varying amounts, usually according to the individual course and the location where it’s being studied. However, the criteria under which a course provider may offer extra funding can stretch to whether you’re involved in specific projects or are pursuing a particular career.
The critical difference between the two is that bursaries tend to be awarded based on a student’s circumstances. This often applies to students from lower-income family backgrounds who show tremendous academic or skilled potential/ but perhaps lack the financial resources to put themselves through full-time higher education.
But what is the difference between bursaries and scholarships? Do you qualify, and how do you go about applying for them?
Differences Between Bursaries & Scholarships
Meanwhile, scholarships are usually awarded to outstanding students in their chosen field (typically music or sport). Scholarship applicants tend to face much stiffer competition than those applying for bursaries. They can also reward or encourage volunteering and other extra-curricular activities.
Aside from these subtle differences, there are numerous similarities between the two. So much so that the terms ‘bursary’ and ‘scholarship’ are often used interchangeably. Both are available to undergraduate and postgraduate students alike. Both are more commonly awarded to full-time students, and both offer individual awards that are specifically designed for, and awarded to, international students.
Perhaps most excitingly of all, neither bursaries nor scholarships require the student they’re awarded ever to pay the money back.
How to Find a University Bursary or Scholarship
The first ports of call for students looking into bursaries and scholarships should be UCAS and the websites for the individual universities or colleges they wish to study. In the case of places like Oxford and Cambridge, both of which are comprised of multiple colleges, bear in mind that some of these colleges may offer awards that others don’t.
Different scholarships may also be subject to varying conditions with more or fewer strings attached. For example, while entrance scholarships are awarded to students from the beginning of their studies, progression scholarships may depend on a certain amount of the course completed before any financial support is given.
Also, consider that some bursaries and scholarships are available from elsewhere. This is worth remembering if you don’t meet the criteria for funding from the university itself, particularly as the qualifying parameters are often a lot broader. These can be based on where you attended school and be awarded by charities, external agencies, and even current or prospective employers.
How to Apply for a University Bursary or Scholarship
Before you apply for a bursary or scholarship, you should consider the likelihood of being successful. For example, if you are from a wealthy household or your parent(s) or guardian(s) are high-earners, your chances of a scholarship will likely depend on your prior achievements. However, a desire to study a ‘shortage’ subject for a skill that’s in high demand will work in your favour.
When considering whether to apply for a bursary or scholarship, you should be mindful of whether the award you’re seeking will be granted automatically or whether you need to apply in advance. In the case of the latter, you’ll probably have to be offered a university place beforehand. Keep a record of any application deadlines that may be relevant to you.
Once you’ve decided you meet the eligibility criteria for an award, check the university’s website for details on how to apply and how long it’ll likely take for your application to be accepted or rejected. Be aware that you won’t know whether you’re eligible until you’ve received your student finance assessment results if the bursary is dependant on income. In contrast, others may not be awarded until you’ve received your exam results.
You can share your information with the institution you’re applying to by ticking the relevant box when applying for your student loan. This is confidential and will enable the university to assess your eligibility for an award.
When attending open days and interviews, it’s also worth keeping your eyes peeled for award offers that weren’t advertised on the university’s website. It’s often the case that universities have extra places to fill nearer the start of the academic year and increase the number of bursaries and scholarships to achieve this.
Most importantly, don’t make any rookie mistakes with your application. Proofread it to make sure there are no spelling or grammatical errors. Furthermore, as the old clichés go, always read the small print and don’t be afraid to ask questions (to the university) if there’s anything you do not understand. Finally, don’t be enticed by the offer of more money if it’s for a course that isn’t right for you. Choose the right course and the right university for you and your future ambitions.
Alternative Bursaries & Scholarships
If you don’t meet the criteria for an award from the course provider, you may still be able to secure a company or industry bursary from several trusts or charities.
Much like with university bursaries and scholarships, it’s strongly advisable that you research what’s available and any relevant deadlines in advance. However, whereas you can mostly find university awards in one convenient, online portal, details of alternative funding sources will probably be liberally scattered all over the internet.
Although school career advisors may help, you should be prepared to spend a lot more time researching your options and coming up with a plan of action.
It would be best if you also made as many relevant and easily-recoverable notes as possible during the funding application process, as you may need to refer back to them further down the line. You must also be ready to answer many probing questions regarding your background, abilities, personal circumstances, financial situation, and future ambitions.
The following is a step-by-step guide to (hopefully) securing funding successfully:
Evidence is Power
Your plan of attack should involve gathering as much evidence as possible to support your application. Identify all the grounds on which you meet the eligibility criteria, and be ready to include any information regarding your circumstances that could also work in your favour.
Scholarship for a Degree Subject
Degree-based bursaries and scholarships aren’t just available for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM courses). You may be able to secure funding from a specialist body or ‘learned society’ associated with nearly any subject you wish to study.
Although funding is sometimes available for undergraduate study, be mindful that it’s mainly allocated to postgraduates. However, funds are sometimes awarded for vacation research, which may be something for final year students to consider.
Scholarship or Sponsorship Related to a Future Career
If you’re aiming for a career in a specific industry, particularly one with a skill shortage, you may be able to secure funding from a company within that industry. Your chances of landing financial backing from a company will increase if they believe you have the potential to be an excellent employee.
In return for their investment in you, the company will either expect you to complete a work placement for them or agree to work for them after you’ve graduated.
It’s worth looking into various livery companies and professional trade bodies to see if they have anything they can offer you.
Scholarship From the Armed Forces
Upon passing a selection course before attending university, all UK Armed Forces branches will offer sponsorship to students. As part of this arrangement, you will have to sign up for a minimum three-year service period. They may also provide further training for linguistics or engineering according to your chosen profession within the military.
However, be aware that you’ll likely have to pay back the funds if you fail to complete your university degree or period of service. Furthermore, for certain bursary schemes awarded by the Armed Forces, they will select the university you study at, not you.
Scholarship for Music, Community Work or Sport
These also include awards for students who do voluntary work or are prepared to participate in extra-curricular studies, such as learning a new language.
Financial Support Based on Personal Circumstances
This usually applies if you are from what’s considered to be a disadvantaged background or are currently facing adverse personal circumstances. These typically include, but are not necessarily limited to:
- Students from challenging financial backgrounds.
- Students from deprived areas.
- Students with disabilities or health conditions.
- Students from ethnic or religious minority backgrounds.
- Asylum seekers.
Those who Fail to Plan, Plan to Fail
Once you’ve established the grounds upon which you qualify for trust, charity, or company funding, it’s time to start exploring the options and opportunities that are available to you.
If you’re using an internet search engine or database, then remember to include as many keywords and synonyms as you can when searching. For example, type in ‘scholarships, bursaries and university funding’ rather than just ‘scholarships’ to avoid potentially missing out.
This is the obvious and correct first port of call. You can also contact the university’s students’ union welfare office or student services department for information on how your circumstances relate to any funding that may be suitable for you.
Although UCAS and individual university websites are the most helpful, several online databases are available for those wishing to cast a wide research net over multiple possible universities, courses, and scholarships.
The Scholarship Hub is the most complete of these databases. It’s free to sign up and contains a comprehensive list of UK bursaries, scholarships, and grants currently available to students at both undergraduate and postgraduate levels. In addition to this, Scholarship Hub subscribers can also join their mailing list and receive their newsletter and alerts for new awards.
Turn2Us is a national charity and more tailored to students seeking bursaries or charitable grants. It’s aimed at those who wish to go into higher education/ but lack the financial resources. The Turn2Us website offers an excellent search facility and invaluable help and guidance on what information you should include to support your funding application.
Like Turn2Us, the Disability Rights UK fact-sheet provides the same service/ but is instead focused on students with physical or learning disabilities. Lead Scotland is the equivalent resource north of the border.
Careers Service & Libraries
Assuming you’re still at school, you can always ask the careers staff for any help, information, or guidance you may need. You should also check your school library or your local library for an up-to-date copy of the Guide to Educational Grants. The book features grants from over 3,000 UK charities and is published in collaboration with the National Union of Students (NUS) and the Directory of Social Change.
Research, Research, Research
It’s essential to plan and prioritise who to, where, and when you send funding applications rather than applying one-by-one for every scholarship, regardless of suitability or application deadlines. Make sure you have a list of bodies to approach for funding before diving in.
It’s also crucial to make a note of all relevant deadlines to avoid disappointment. Prioritise applying for awards according to which ones have more imminent deadlines and offer you a greater chance of success. Speculative applications can always be sent afterwards if there’s time left!
It would help if you also kept a watchful eye out for online scams. If something seems too good to be true, then you should proceed with caution.
Make Sure You’ve Read the Application Guidance Properly.
It’s important to remember that, even though you meet the criteria for an award, you must concisely and adequately explain why and how. Therefore, you should only answer the questions you’re being asked while making sure your answers elevate you above your rival applicants. Do not start waffling or going off on random tangents.
You mustn’t forget that even though you’ll never have to pay the money back, being awarded, it means that an investment will have been made in you. Tailor your responses to the specific body you’re applying to according to what you think they’ll want from you in return, whether it be a future company employee (you) or some sort of commercial interest. In other words, sell yourself, stay on topic, and do not copy & paste.
Please Don’t Leave it Until the Last Minute.
Make sure you manage your time wisely. Don’t leave your application until the eve of the deadline, panic and make a hash of it. Leave yourself plenty of time to consider your responses and make sure to re-read what you’ve written to check spelling, grammar, and factual accuracy. Better still, get someone else to review your application before submitting it. A neutral party may be able to offer suggestions and honest critique.
Even if you don’t wish to receive a student loan, you should apply for one nevertheless. This is because certain bodies will not grant funding unless you’ve explored all the standard options. Refusing to apply for a student loan could therefore come back to haunt you, so make sure you do!
Other Available Bursaries & Scholarships
The following is a list of lesser-known and miscellaneous bodies and organisations who sometimes award funding to students. They can all be researched further at your leisure should any of them catch your eye:
- Vegetarian Charity
- George Viner Memorial Fund
- Royal Caledonian Education Trust
- Leverhulme Trade Charities Trust
- Holbeck Scholarships
- Helena Kennedy Foundation
- Jaguar Landrover
- Snowdon Trust
- Gridiron Grant