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Applying for bursaries and scholarships – student tips

Want to apply for a bursary or scholarship, but not sure how the process works? Students who secured extra cash told us their top tips...

While half of students told us they relied on the 'Bank of Mum and Dad' to help with living costs at uni*, seven in ten students told us they didn't apply for any bursaries or scholarships whatsoever:

In fact, research by The Scholarship Hub has suggested there is around £150 million in scholarships up for grabs each year!

Make sure you're not missing out on money that's ripe for the picking. As part of our annual student survey, we asked those students who did apply for extra funding to share their tips below see if they've poked a hole in your biggest concern or excuse that's stopping you...

Not sure what support is available? Read our full guide on extra funding to help you manage the cost of university.

Watch now: How to find university scholarships – students’ tips


Applying for extra funding: tips from students*...

Identify all available funding 

I was told to look into local charities and organisations that offer bursaries to young people starting university to help me pay for things like books etc. I also looked on the university website and found out that I was eligible for a bursary organised by the university. First year student (The University of Lincoln),
Looked on the uni website about all the different ones on offer and just applied to any that related to me even if I thought I wouldn't get anything, no harm in trying as you might get something even if it's just a few hundred pounds, anything is good! First year student (The University of Birmingham),
Mine was a scholarship from the Institute of Engineering and Technology. I found it by researching online and applied around the time I took my A levels. It’s £1000/year of my degree. Second year student (Durham University),

The wider you cast your net when it comes to hunting for extra funding, the more likely you are to be successful. 

Use Google to research who the big players are in fields or sectors tied to the subject you're applying to. If they don't explicity 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 (eg a particular career path) 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).

Calculate your living costs
See how much you'll need to live on at your chosen university, with our student budget calculator.
See your living costs


Ask once, and the opportunities may snowball from there

Ask university staff for advice! they will 100% help you and direct you to reliable sources for more info! Second year student (Newcastle 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. 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. 


Don't know what to ask at an open day?

Heard about an entrance exam/entrance scholarship during the open day and looked into it more on the uni website. Wasn't going to try as I thought it would be to hard but my dad urged me to give it ago anyway. First year student (Bangor University),
I found out about the bursaries available on the open days from the finance teams. Then all I needed to do was remember to apply at the start of the academic year. Second year student (The University of Nottingham),

A good approach to an open day is to have a handful of questions to ask at the end. You could have a long journey to get there and back, so you want to make sure you're getting the most out of it. 

Before heading to one, 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...


I had a £1000 scholarship that I qualified for automatically due to my A-level grades. First year student (University of Manchester),
Due to me getting high grades in College, I was automatically suitable for the gold level scholarship in Swansea Uni. All I had to do was sign a form and hand it in to show that I wanted it. Second year student (Swansea University),
I applied for a scholarship when I applied to uni and it was dependent on my grades. It was well advertised and widely available. First year student (The University of Birmingham),


Or where you're from...

I was eligible for a bursary at the end of first semester because I passed my exams and I lived in the town of Troon. I filled out a form and sent it to the Marr Educational Trust along with confirmation of my results and they sent me a check [for] payment. First year student (The University of Glasgow),
I have a local bursary in my town that I heard about through other students local to me. I then contacted the charity through written letter and they replied quickly. First year student (Plymouth University),


Apply early


Look into it early, so you don't miss deadlines. Second year student (The Robert Gordon University),
The Chamberlain Award is automatically awarded based on income, so it doesn't need to be applied for. Other bursaries should be researched well in advance, to avoid missing deadlines. Second year student (The University of Birmingham),

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


Look on the website in depth, phone and ask about opportunities, contact external scholarship providers. You will have to weigh up what is most suitable to you and do a lot of applications but it will be worth it. First year student (The University of Westminster),

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 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.

Consent to share your income

Huge tip, make sure students parents / guardians know to allow universities to see their student finance information otherwise they won’t get bursaries. My parents forgot to tick that box so it made getting a bursary much harder. First year student (Newcastle University),
The university automatically gave me bursary by reviewing my financial status with the student finance company. There was an option while applying for student finance to allow you to share this information with your university which took the hassle out of applying. Second year student (King's College London),
I got the bursary automatically as my university had my family’s income details from student finance. Second year student (University College London (UCL)),

This one came up a lot, and it boiled 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 could benefit most from extra help.

If the comments above are anything to go by, it could pay off big time, with little to no extra work on your behalf.


Not another personal statement...

I applied for the Gold Scholarship Programme fairly close to the deadline for applications. I treated it like my personal statement and had different people look over it and suggest improvements. The programme is very competitive but don’t let that discourage you. They want to learn about each individual so they can choose the right people for the scholarship. They advertised it a lot on open days and applicant visit days which meant you saw it constantly. First year student (The University of Bath),

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.

Need personal statement help? Check out our tips and advice, or build your first draft with our tool.

Get interview-ready

I had to write a personal statement and had an interview with an academic administrator and my donor. I convinced them of my academic excellence and motivation, so I got the scholarship. First year student (The University of Cambridge),

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 (so hold the tears). 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.
Calculate your living costs
See how much you'll need to live on at your chosen university, with our student budget calculator.
See your living costs

* Data source: 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. 

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