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What you need to know about getting a university scholarship, grant or bursary

You don’t have to pay them back, you can get them once you’ve already started university, and you may be surprised by the variety on offer

There are plenty of expenses to consider when you're going to university. On top of tuition fees, most people will need to cover the cost of things such as accommodation, the weekly food shop, travel costs and other bills. Plus finding a few quid to go out every now and then. 

Most UK students are eligible for loans to cover at least some of these costs. But there's also a range of scholarships, grants and bursaries out there which can provide additional cash. These are awards that do not have to be paid back, and they're available more widely than you might think.

Here’s what you should know about these awards, and how to go about finding them and applying.

Is it too late to get a scholarship, grant or bursary if I’ve already started university?

Nope – lots of scholarships are available year-round, with rolling deadlines.

They’re also available to students in all years, not just freshers.


What are the differences between scholarships, bursaries and grants?

All of these awards refer to sums of money that you do not have to repay.

The main differences between the three come down to what the award is based on, and who it is offered by – although there’s no set rule for this and they are also often used interchangeably.

  • Scholarships are usually awarded to students to recognise an achievement. This could be an academic achievement or something related to one of your interests, such as sports or music. They’re offered by universities or colleges and local employers.
  • Bursaries are generally given to students based on their personal circumstances – so, for example, they could be for students from a disadvantaged background, those who have a low household income or students from a particular area.
  • Grants tend to be based on the same kind of criteria as bursaries, but are likely to be offered by charities or trusts instead of universities or employers.

Who can apply for a scholarship, grant or bursary?

There are hundreds of scholarships, grants and bursaries out there; so all sorts of different people can meet the criteria for one.

The kinds of thing you might be awarded one for include:

  • If you do well in your exams or other academic work
  • If you have an extracurricular talent, for example you might be very musical or good at sports
  • If you follow a certain religion
  • If you’re the first person in your family to go to university
  • If you’re from a particular area or country
  • If you’re in financial need
  • If you’re passionate about working in a certain industry
  • If you’re from a disadvantaged background
  • If you have a disability
  • If you’re studying a certain subject.

That isn’t an exhaustive list by any means, and it can get very niche. For example, you can even apply for a grant from The Vegetarian Charity if you're a committed vegetarian or vegan.

How much money will you get from a scholarship, bursary or grant?

It completely depends on the award.

Some might contribute towards your tuition fees, some may give you money towards living costs and others could be given to you for one very specific purpose – say, to pay for specialist equipment you need for your degree or to help fund study abroad.

Where can students find scholarships, grants and bursaries?

Your university’s website is a good starting point. There should be a page covering scholarships or bursaries, listing the awards on offer.

You could also pay your student welfare office a visit to see if they know of any financial awards going that you might tick the right boxes for.

Your research definitely shouldn’t begin and end with your university though. Most universities won’t advertise grants and bursaries provided by anyone that’s not affiliated with the university, so you’d be seriously limiting your options.

The Scholarship Hub has an extensive database of available funding for UK and EU students on undergraduate and postgraduate degrees.  

There are quite a few government-funded awards, too. These include the Dance and Drama Award (DaDA) for certain private dance and drama schools, bursaries for studying to be a social worker, bursaries for studying to be a doctor or dentist and the Disabled Students’ Allowance to help cover extra costs students might have because of a disability. You can find more information about these on on the website.
International students should visit the UKCISA (UK Council for International Student Affairs) website to find information on support for going to university in the UK.  

You could also check relevant employers, whether that’s local companies or organisations that are in your particular field of interest. They often have bursaries for students who show promise, as well as to attract underrepresented groups into a particular industry, for example women in Stem.

Charities are another good place to look, especially if you have a particular set of circumstances that line up with the charity’s aims. The Talented Athlete Scholarship Scheme (TASS), for example, is designed to help young athletes through education.

They don’t necessarily need to be educational charities, either. Turn2Us is a charity that provides grants to people in financial need, including students. 

And for those with a disability, Disability Rights UK publishes this factsheet to help you find and apply for funding.

How do you apply for one?

The first thing you’ll need to do is put in a bit of research. Find out what scholarships are out there for your university, who they’re for and how you can apply for them.

It will require some time and effort, but it’ll all be worthwhile if your application is approved.

Next, check when the deadlines are and allow a minimum of two extra days in case you’re waiting for a reference or there’s an unexpected delay.

It's a good idea to create a separate folder for your scholarship material and make sure you keep up-to-date information in there – this will help you keep track of the different deadlines and make everything easy to find.

When you’re ready to apply, double-check you’ve provided all the information required set out in the application guidelines – missing information will only delay things.  

Can you apply for more than one?

Short answer: yes – spread your net far and wide! You can apply for as much help as you want.

So how can you stand out from the crowd?

Some financial awards are either automatic or only ask you to prove eligibility – for example, if you get specified grades in your exams or if you come from a particular background. 

With others, however, you’ll have to make an application. And writing an application for a financial award is a bit like going for a job interview – you want to give the best impression to give yourself the best chance.

Take your time over your application and make sure you include as much relevant information as possible, and that you haven’t made any obvious spelling or grammar mistakes. The awarding panel won’t be impressed by a form which has been thrown together in five minutes.

If the application asks for referees, choose them carefully – a lot hangs on this process, so make sure they highlight all your best bits by praising you in the most effective way.

Also, keep track of the deadlines and be prepared in advance for anything that could jeopardise your application, particularly if you’re relying on referees, proofreaders or professional printers.

Finally, when you’ve got your application together, get someone to look over it for spelling mistakes and to check all information is up-to-date, including your full address, phone number and email.

Once you’ve got that nailed, all that’s left to do is apply!

Alternatives to bursaries and scholarships

Even if you don’t qualify or succeed in getting funding in the above ways, there are other avenues available. Rather than giving you funding, some institutions might assess your situation and agree to a fee waiver – which reduces the amount you need to pay. 

For more on budgeting for university, including student loans, check out our advice on how student finance actually works.

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