What extra financial support can you get at university?
Most students will be entitled to student finance ie a tuition fee loan and some form of maintenance support, the full amount of which will depend on their household income, where they live and where they plan to study. Students must apply to the student finance body in their country for this.
However, there may be extra financial help available to you; and unlike tuition fee and maintenance loans, they don't accumulate interest, nor have to be repaid.
What are scholarships and bursaries?
Scholarships and bursaries are extra pots of money you can apply for which come in various shapes and sizes.
They might be offered on the basis of your academic abilities, they may be means-tested (ie based on your household income and personal circumstances), or perhaps a combination of both.
There may also be an application process to decide who's awarded this extra funding (especially when a lucrative scheme receives lots and lots of applicants).
Funding like this can last for one year of your university course (usually the first year), or they can extend over the whole period of your studies.
Scholarships try to cover some or all of the cost of your tuition fees and living costs – meaning you won’t need to borrow as much in terms of student loans or as an extra on top of what you're entitled to.
And remember, they don't need to be paid back!
Who can apply for a scholarship or bursary?
Despite what you might think, scholarships are not just for A* students or those on low incomes.
They can be awarded to students applying to a particular subject, or those in mitigating personal circumstances that can make pursuing university-level study difficult eg having children or adults who depend on them for care or financial support.
In fact, you'd be surprised by some of the more strange and random scholarships and bursaries that exist – from being a vegetarian to having the surname Graham (yes, really!).
Just over two-thirds (67%) of students we surveyed told us they didn't apply for a scholarship or bursary said it was because they didn't think they'd be eligible in the first place.*
But considering the cost of university life and tuition fees, it's definitely worth having a look at what's available.
What bursaries and scholarships are available?
Here’s a quick guide to the different types of scholarships available:
- Doing well in your exams - not always for straight A*s. Some universities offer money for ABB or less.
- Musical talent: if you’re planning to perform while you’re at uni.
- Personal circumstances: including where you come from, if you’ve been in care, what your parents do for a living, your religion or if you’re the first in your family to go to university.
- Financial need: these are usually based on your household income and often called grants or bursaries.
- Sporting achievement – if you’re competing at regional, national or international level in a sport, many universities offer scholarships to attract the best talent, so you can help them win competitions!
- Industry scholarships – offered to attract new talent into a career or industry and will often include work experience as part of the offer. It may even lead to a job when you graduate.
- Interests and hobbies – there are some scholarships which are based on your extra-curricular activities such as community work.
- And the rest – some schemes are open to all subjects and universities, usually requiring you to submit an essay or video.
Where do I look for scholarships and bursaries?
Don't be one of the 17% of students who didn't apply for these valuable sources of extra funding, because they didn't know where to look.
Scholarships and bursaries are offered by universities, further education (FE) colleges that offer degree courses, charities, trusts or even your local council.
What's available and the eligibility criteria you have to meet will vary.
If you know where you will be studying, the first place to check is your university’s website to see what it offers.
Some are automatically allocated, but not all, so don’t assume they will contact you if you are eligible.
Tip: Make sure you give permission to share your details when you apply to the Student Loan Company, as this is how universities find out if you are eligible for scholarships related to financial need
Charities and organisations
Not all bursaries and scholarships come from universities.
Research some of the smaller organisations which give grants for educational support – the charity Turn2Us is a good source of trusts and charities, while The Guide to Educational Grants book is another useful resource.
Tip: Many schemes are offered to students worldwide, so don’t let the mention of Dollars or Euros stop you from applying!
The Scholarship Hub website
If you don’t know what you want to do yet, search and compare the database of scholarship schemes on The Scholarship Hub.
Register (for free) to see listings for each university as well as those not linked to particular universities.
Tip: when you search, think broader than the subject you're studying – and don't forget to check out scholarships open to all students.
Examples of bursary and scholarship schemes
- Royal Television Society Bursaries: worth £1,000 a year to students studying television production, broadcast journalism or technology students keen to pursue a career in television.
- Leverhulme Trade Charities Trust: up to £3,000 a year for students undertaking their first degree with a close family member who is a commercial traveller, chemist or grocer.
- BeArt Presets Scholarship: for Year 13s who have accepted a place at university or current students. For $5,000, applicants simply need to explain how the scholarship will impact their life.
Note that deadlines for applying differ from scheme to scheme, and year to year.
So don't simply look once - we'd recommend checking fairly regularly throughout the year for new opportunities as they open.
Applying for bursaries and scholarships
Identify all available funding
The wider you cast your net when it comes to hunting for extra funding, the more likely you are to be successful.
Research who the big players are in fields or sectors tied to the subject you're applying to. If they don't explicitly mention anything about scholarships or university funding for students on their website, drop them a quick message introducing yourself.
Explain your university plans and any goals you have for the future and ask whether they offer any financial support.
Worst case, they don't reply and you've lost a few minutes of your day; but best case, your initiative and enthusiasm impresses them and they can help you in some way (plus it gives you a foot in the door for future work experience, internships and graduate schemes).
Ask once, and the opportunities may snowball from there
Reach out to your university
Reaching out directly to your university's student services or finance department is the first step to making yourself known to them, especially if you speak to a specific individual. This way, when opportunities pop up for funding that match your criteria, they'll know to get in touch with you.
Don't be afraid to pick up the phone or fire off a quick email – no matter how simple you think your question might be, the university will be best equipped to answer it (and not just when it comes to finance questions either, but also any questions you have about entry requirements, housing or the course too).
Plus, universities will vary in what extra funding is available they offer, so don't assume anything.
They can get busy, but they should aim to respond as soon as possible.
Take your questions to an open day
A good approach to an open day is to have a handful of questions to ask.
You could have a long journey to get there and back, so you want to make sure you're getting the most out of the trip.
Before heading to an open day, check what the day will involve. Are there mandatory talks or sessions, or do you have some flexibility to pick and choose what you do/see?
If the latter, a finance-related session may be worth checking out. Your school grades might open up opportunities, or even where you’re from.
Missed the deadline for most scholarship applications?
If you've crunched the numbers and going to university will be a real struggle without the extra help, consider putting it off for a year and working in the meantime to save some cash.
This will give you time to plan ahead and apply for scholarships the following year, as well as build up any skills and experience you can bolster your application with.
Be organised and take initiative
Scholarships and bursaries can be competitive, especially if the criteria to apply is quite open; so don't wait around.
Hopefully you should have most of your parents' financial information to hand from when you applied for student finance, which can save time.
Also, it's really worth working out what your living costs might look like as soon as you can.
Many students are surprised by the typical cost of university life, including those bills which mum and dad are likely to have been taking care of (eg monthly phone bill, household bills).
See what student life will cost you each month, try our student budget calculator.
Give consent to share your income
Allowing the student finance company to share your financial status with your university takes the hassle out of applying, and you could find yourself receiving a bursary automatically.
It boils down to simply ticking a box when applying for student finance. Easy!
Read the small print before doing so to confirm you're happy with how your information will be used.
Often this is simply the best way for universities to identify the students from low income households who would benefit most from extra help.
Treat your application like your personal statement
If you've already written your personal statement as part of your Ucas application, you'll have some practice talking yourself up in the best way possible, in an essay format.
However, it's worth doing some further research into the provider of the bursary and how the bursary came about.
This might give you some ideas for what you should emphasise here.
Like writing a personal statement above, an interview may be a familiar scenario you find yourself in when applying to universities.
Again, do your research about whoever is providing the bursary to give you a few talking points to jump on.
Don't fret if you're asked to complete a presentation as part of this.
Often your interviewer will come up with a topic or project that's quite broad or subjective, to see how you think and respond to this.
And while you're seeking financial support, it's not about gaining sympathy with the biggest sob story to 'win' over your interviewer.
If you've encountered or overcome certain hardships up to now, don't shoehorn these in. Bring it up when asked or where it feels appropriate to the point you're making.
What are my chances of getting a bursary or scholarship?
In the same way as you wouldn’t just apply for one job and then give up when you hear nothing back, applying for scholarships and grants can be hard work.
Once you get into the swing of applications, you might find it gets easier. That said, always take each scheme seriously and read any criteria or background information carefully – something mentioned here might inform what you write in an essay or talk about in an interview.
Persevere and keep looking throughout your studies and not just when you’re applying to university. An average scholarship is worth around £1,500 so the effort can pay off.
The Scholarship Hub spoke to 20 organisations who offer bursary or scholarship schemes, and you might be surprised to hear that half said they had to work hard to attract applicants.
So your chances of being successful are higher than you think!
What is a fee waiver?
Rather than giving you extra funding, fee waivers reduce what you owe.
You can get fee waivers just by themselves, or you can get a mixture of a fee waiver and bursary in one package of support.
Plus, none of your fee waiver has to be paid back.
Where do you get fee waivers from?
A university or college might offer to reduce the cost of your tuition fees for a year or more, rather than give you a cash payment, or they could give you both.
This means you don’t need to borrow as much from the Student Loans Company.
Bear in mind that because a high proportion of students will never pay off the full amount of their student loans that this might not be as generous as it appears upfront.
What’s better - a fee waiver or a bursary?
In the case of fee waivers and bursaries, the latter is nearly always better news for your pocket.
A bursary is normally your best option because it is paid directly into your bank account – meaning cash upfront.
A fee waiver is taken off how much you pay in tuition fees, effectively reducing the amount you end up owing to the Student Loans Company.
Since a bursary allows you to decide how and when you want to use your money, it’s the better option for most students, especially when it’s estimated that not all students starting university under the new student finance system will end up repaying all of their student loan anyway.
Of course, you might not get the option to decide on which type of funding you’d prefer – and a fee waiver will still reduce your overall debt.
That’s particularly appealing if you’re uncomfortable with the idea of student debt hanging over you.
What are hardship funds?
These are designed to help if you’re having financial problems, either while you’re at university or when you’re applying.
They are awarded by the institutions themselves, with the amount of money decided on a case-by-case basis.
As of the last few years, universities and colleges fund these themselves (previously the UK government-funded these as well), as well as deciding who should receive this cash.
There’s usually an application form to complete in order to state your case.
You can apply either if you simply have less money coming in than going out, or if an unexpected cost arises like an expensive repair bill.
Your circumstances will be taken into account and certain groups – student parents, disabled students and so on – will normally be prioritised for help, although all UK students can apply.
Where do you get hardship funds from?
You can get these via your university or college's student services or finance department, either when you’re already at university or in some cases while you’re applying there.
Because these are decided case-by-case, it's worth researching what's available yourself in relation to your own circumstances, rather than going on the word of other students who've applied for these – just because someone else received a certain amount (or were unsuccessful) doesn't necessarily mean you’ll get the same result.
You'll need to take documents that confirm how much student finance you receive, as well as expenses and outgoings (eg bank statements) to justify why you deserve this additional help.
Learn more about hardship funds on the GOV.UK website.
What is the NHS bursary? Read our FAQ
Bursaries used to be available from the NHS for students in health fields to help with tuition and living costs, but this has significantly changed in recent years.
Read on to find out what the changes mean, whether you’re a new student or are already at university.
Note, the below information refers to undergraduate students beginning a course after 1 August 2018.
Can I get an NHS bursary?
The NHS bursary is now primarily for medicine and dentistry students.
Students studying nursing, midwifery or Allied Health Professional courses are no longer eligible for an NHS bursary (although there is still financial support available for these students).
NHS bursary: am I eligible?
To be eligible for the NHS bursary now, you have to meet the below criteria:
Where you live
- You must have been residing in the UK, Channel Islands or Isle of Man for at least three years up to the start of your academic year.
- That said, there may be exceptions. See the NHS Business Services Authority website for more information.
Your course and year
- You must be studying an NHS-funded course (full or part-time) that will result in you registering as a doctor or dentist (ie medicine or dentistry).
- You can only apply for an NHS bursary once you reach the fifth year of your course.
- See how much you can get with the NHS Student Bursary Estimate Calculator.
- Until then, you can apply for student finance as all other full-time students would, namely a Tuition Fee Loan and Maintenance Loan.
Your household income
- The overall amount you can get will depend on your annual household income.
- Depending on your circumstances, this might be what you or your parents/guardians/partner earns.
Whether you’ve received funding before
- Even if you’ve already received an NHS bursary or some other form of Higher Education funding, you could still be eligible.
- Note, you can still apply for a Maintenance Loan on top of your NHS bursary, although this may be limited.
- Your entitlement will be less in your final year too.
NHS bursary: what can I get?
If you’re a medicine or dentistry student, you can apply for an NHS bursary once you reach the fifth year of your course.
The NHS bursary will include the following:
Tuition fees: provided these aren’t more than the standard amount, the NHS will pay these in full, straight to your university.
Bursary: this will depend on your household income. As a rough guide, students living away from home outside London could get up to £2,643 in 2018/19, with this going up to £3,191 for those in London.
This is based on a standard academic year and goes straight into your account each month (in equal instalments over the year).Further support is available for extra weeks of your course, at a weekly rate.
Grant: all eligible, full-time students get a £1,000 grant once they apply for the NHS bursary.
Maintenance Loan: you can apply for a smaller Maintenance Loan to supplement what you receive from the sources mentioned above to help with your living costs.
Students studying in London away from home in 2018/19 were eligible for £3,263, while those outside London could get £2,324. This drops to £1,744 for those living at home.
What is the NHS travel grant?
Medicine and dentistry students can claim back some travel expenses to clinical placements that exceed the everyday cost of getting to university.
The same goes for study abroad that’s part of your course at a university in another country (including Erasmus).
You need to be receiving a Maintenance Loan in order to be eligible. When in non-NHS bursary years (ie up to fifth year in a five or six-year undergraduate course), students can claim a Travel Grant.
Once you reach your NHS bursary years, this becomes Practice Placement Expenses (but is essentially the same thing).
You’ll need to cover the first £300 of your travel costs for the year, while what assistance you receive for the rest will depend on your household income.
This can include accommodation as well, although only to a certain daily amount and you’ll need to get this approved.
And, obviously, first-class travel and swanky penthouse suites won’t be considered ‘reasonable’, so this will only cover standard travel and accommodation.
Make sure you save your receipts, too.
What is the NHS hardship grant?
Medicine and dentistry students facing financial struggles on their course can apply for an NHS Hardship Grant to help make ends meet.
This is a means-tested bursary, with between £100 and £3,000 available.
However, you should only look into this once you’ve tried all other sources of extra finance, including hardship funds offered by your university.
Be prepared to show evidence of your finances (eg bank statements) when applying.
Which healthcare courses aren't eligible for the NHS bursary?
The NHS bursary is no longer available for midwifery, nursing or Allied Health Professional courses.
See the full list of non-eligible courses below:
- Occupational Therapy
- Operating Department Practitioner
- Prosthetics and Orthotics
- Radiography (diagnostic and therapeutic)
- Speech and Language Therapy
- most Dental Hygiene or Dental Therapy courses
Student finance for other healthcare courses
If you’re studying one of the courses in the dropdown above, you can apply for student finance (ie a Tuition Fee Loan, plus Maintenance Loan) just like you would if you were studying any other undergraduate course.
On top of this, you can also get extra support via the NHS Learning Support Fund.
What is the NHS Learning support fund?
If you’re eligible for both a Tuition Fee Loan and Maintenance Loan, you can apply for extra help via the NHS Learning Support Fund (although you don’t necessarily have to have taken out these loans; you just have to be eligible).
There are three separate funds you can apply to within the LSF:
Child Dependants Allowance
An annual £1,000 grant for students with a child under 15 years old (or under 17 years old if they have a disability). This doesn’t affect your entitlement for the Childcare Allowance. You can apply from the first month of the academic year, until nine months later.
Travel and Dual Accommodation Expenses
Reimbursement of travel expenses to clinical placements that are more than the normal cost of getting to university (including toll roads and parking if you drive).
This must be the cheapest possible option (so no first-class tickets!) and may also cover accommodation where appropriate (although there will be a capped daily limit for this). Claims must be approved by your university, so remember to keep your receipts.
Exceptional Support Fund
Up to £3,000 for students facing severe financial struggles and hardship at any point during their course. This is subject to eligibility and is means-tested based on providing proof of your income and spending (ie bank statements).
The purpose is to assist those unable to make ends meet despite careful and responsible budgeting, after having tried all other sources of income or financial support from their university.
You can apply for these on the LSF Application System.
Extra financial support for all healthcare students
There are also extra grants and allowances available to all students (not just medicine and dentistry), and they depend on personal circumstances.
These don’t have to be repaid either.
If you’re financially responsible for someone (ie a child, an adult with disabilities), you could apply for Dependants Allowance. This is means-tested. Those responsible for children may also be eligible for a (non-means-tested) Parents’ Learning Allowance.
This can help to cover the costs of (registered or approved) childcare. Up to 85% of the cost may be covered, to a certain limit.
Disabled Students’ Allowance
This can help cover any extra costs incurred due to a long-term illness, mental health condition, learning difficulty or other form of disability. Examples of costs that can be covered could include specialist equipment or travel costs related to your disability. This is assessed based on your needs, so be prepared to provide evidence.
Funding from other sources
It’s always worth checking with your university for any extra funding on offer.
These could be bursaries or scholarships you can apply for ahead of beginning your course, or hardship funds if you face money troubles in the middle of your course.
What’s available and the eligibility criteria you need to meet will vary from institution to institution, so check directly with them for more information.
Associations or organisations tied to your specific subject may be able to point you in the right direction for additional financial support, such as The Royal College of Nursing for nursing and midwifery students, the British Dental Association for dentistry students and so on.
Get started by googling your subject plus ‘organisation’ or ‘members’ to see who’s out there.
See how much you'll need to live on at your chosen university with our student budget calculator (including tips to save money on the most common expenses).
Before diving into the world of extra funding, check out our guide to student finance basics and what you're automatically entitled to.
About our research
* Which? University Student Survey, conducted by YouthSight on behalf of Which?, surveying 3,874 undergraduate students at UK universities between 20 March and 12 April 2019.