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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 nearly half of students told us they relied on the 'Bank of Mum and Dad' to help with living costs at uni (46%)*, six 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 

Look into ones from companies such as Lloyds or JP Morgan as they are very worthwhile if you want to do a placement. First Year Student, University Of Bath
I am on the Southampton University Corporate Civil and Environmental Scholarship Scheme; I am sponsored by a civil engineering firm, which includes paid summer work for the duration of the course and bursary money. Second Year Student, University Of Southampton

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).

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Ask once, and the opportunities may snowball from there

I was already applying for a scheme, so [my university] sent more bursary schemes to me that they knew I fit the criteria for. Second Year Student, University Of Birmingham

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?

Details for the bursary came from [an] open day. I would advise prospective students to attend one of the finance talks [held here]. All universities run a session of this nature so you get a clear idea of what the student loan is and other support the university can offer. Second Year Student, University Of York
I get a bursary through the Compact Scheme at uni, which gives support to first generations into uni, care leavers, low-income students, mature students etc. I heard about the scheme on an open day and immediately applied. Second Year Student, Kingston University

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.


What you do in your spare time might open up opportunities...

I received a scholarship in Civic Engagement by answering a few questions for the university about what I do outside of my studies. I achieved this particular scholarship for volunteering and helping my community. I received a £1,000 cash sum, which funded my travel costs. [As per this] contract, I had to also complete 40 hours of volunteering and 10 hours as a student ambassador. Second Year Student, University Of East London


As might your school grades...

[I] was nominated by head of [my] school for a bursary given to the best students in the year. Second Year Student, University Of Birmingham
[Got a] scholarship for achieving higher grades than needed. Second Year Student, Newcastle University
My Cardiff scholarship was automatically awarded due to my A-level results. I [got] a sum of money from Cardiff University, as well as the engineering school itself. Second Year Student, Cardiff University
I receive an Excellence Scholarship for the grades I attained at A-level. I did not have to apply for this; I was simply awarded it when I confirmed Aberystwyth as my university of choice after receiving my A-Level grades in August. Second Year Student, Aberystwyth University


Or where you're from...

It was part of a trust set up in my home town for residents. The application form was fairly easy. I just had to tell them what you would do with the money. This was a £500 grant to go towards materials costs on the course.  Second Year Student, Nottingham Trent University


An EPQ might help too

It was a Brightsparks scholarship. I receive an extra £1000 each year over three years. I met the requirements of the scholarship [which were] getting the required grades and completing the extended project qualification. First Year Student, University Of East Anglia

Learn more about Extended Project Qualifications and how they can give your university application a boost.


Apply early

The application process is easy enough to complete. All information and forms are on the uni website; but there are deadlines for these normally so they should be completed quickly Second Year Student, University Of Northampton

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

You have to be willing to look for the information yourself  it will not be handed to you! You need to be very organised as the applications will ask for lots of information on your family financial status. It's a good idea to sit down with your parents/guardians to do this, or to send them a list of all the information you will need them to procure for you (about their wages, financial assistance/benefits etc) ahead of time. Third Year Student, University Of St Andrews

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

Tick the box when applying for your student loan to allow the uni to see what your situation is. Check to see what might be available for you. There is a lot of unclaimed money out there. First Year Student, University Of Oxford
It was very easy! If you choose to share [your student finance details] with the uni, they will contact you about [their] bursary.  Second Year Student, University Of Chester
When you register as a student, you are given an option to share your family income with the uni to be considered for a low-income bursary. I simply checked the box and fairly soon after starting uni I received a letter stating that I qualified for the bursary. My advice would be apply for whatever you can as they can only say yes or no and having extra money is always a good thing. Second Year Student, University Of Southampton

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 Roper Scholarship. It was simple enough to apply for: you had to write a short statement explaining why they should give it to you and give some details about yourself. As for tips, I'd say look on the website and even if you're not sure, apply for it. Second Year Student, 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

The scholarship was from the central bank in my country. I had to apply for it via an online application, then a three-day case study workshop/interview. First Year Student, 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 and comments source: Which? University Student Survey 2018, conducted by Youthsight on behalf of Which? with 5,000 undergraduate students at UK universities between March and April 2018.

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