By Brett Dickinson


The finances for university can be complicated and potentially off-putting. With this in mind bursaries, grants and other schemes which may help financially become even more important. But it’s not always easy to understand the difference between them, what they’re offering or how to find them! Each university will be different, but the aim of this article is to break down the differences, give some examples of how a student might qualify for a bursary etc., and explain how to find out about them.


Bursary, Grant, or Scholarship, what’s the difference?

One thing in common with all three is that they are effectively free money. Admittedly they may come with conditions such as being used to pay off fees etc. (so you may not ever see the cash in some cases!) but ordinarily you won’t have to repay anything.

Scholarships – often given out for excellence in something, which could include academics, sport, music, and so on. They can be offered as a reduction or part-payment of tuition fees, or sometimes as money to help with living costs.

Bursaries – tend to be given to students from low-income households, or as a result of some form of adverse circumstances. They are normally given out as money to help with living costs.

Grants – very similar to bursaries, normally given to students from low-income households or because of a student’s circumstances. They are normally to help with living costs but may also be given for a specific purpose such as undertaking a project or study abroad. The difference is that bursaries are normally from the university itself (or sometimes employers), whereas grants tend to be from charities or trusts with specific conditions for giving money.


Where to find them?

University/College – the most common place to find scholarships or bursaries. They’re not always well-advertised but students who do their research may well be surprised by the range of help available.

Employers/Big organisations – they sometimes offer scholarships or bursaries with specific conditions, this can allow them to develop relationships with promising young students in their field, who they may later wish to employ.

Charities or trusts – where a student’s profile or circumstances aligns with the aims or funding of the charity/trust.


What to look for?

Award: What do you get? How much and when? Are there conditions around what you can use it for? Some students may find they would be eligible for multiple scholarships/bursaries, so it’s worth taking your time to pick the “best” option for you.

Eligibility: What are the criteria for the award? How hard is it to prove? Do you meet all the criteria?

Application process: Is there a deadline? When? Does it require just your grades, or do you have to submit extra stuff such as an essay or portfolio, or attend an interview.

Conditions: Is the award dependent on anything before or after you get to university? Some may be conditional on grades, or on representing the university in some form (e.g. in sport or on open days). What happens if you don’t complete these criteria?


Where to start looking?

This part will focus more on scholarships and bursaries offered by universities as these are the most common form of funding available.

Start with the university website: Generally you should find something about scholarships and bursaries. Each university website is a bit different, but I picked a few univerisities and was able to find their page easily enough, e.g. Fees and funding | Study at Bristol | University of Bristol

Different universities will have different quantities of scholarships/bursaries on offer so do your research before applying if you can.

Using the Bristol universities as an example, here are some of the things students could get a scholarship or bursary for at the time of writing:

  • A bursary to help with accommodation costs depending on household income and home postcode (UoB)
  • An award of just over £2000 as a bursary based on household income (UoB)
  • A bursary towards living costs to study physics or biology as a female student (UoB)
  • Scholarship in history for students who can demonstrate financial need (UoB)
  • A living cost bursary for first year law students (UoB)
  • A scholarship to help with living costs for business students from a business partner (UWE)
  • A scholarship for physiotherapy students of £5,000 (UWE)
  • A scholarship for students from partner schools (local) and based on household income (UWE)

These are not exhaustive but give an indication of type of support and awards available. Contacting the university or your school/college careers zone may also provide alternative bursaries/grants. Applying for some of these would be easier than others, and some would be an out and out faff! But they could make a real difference to your finances whilst at university, so once you start thinking about what you want to study it’s definitely something to explore.

Other sources:; Scholarships, grants, and bursaries | Undergraduate, Conservatoires | UCAS