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What's better – a fee waiver or a bursary?

Are some types of university funding better than others? In the case of fee waivers and bursaries, the latter is nearly always better news for your pocket.

What is a bursary? 

A bursary is money paid upfront to low-income students and is similar to a grant. Universities, or sometimes charities, will support a student by contributing cash to students whose household income is below a certain amount. 

There will be different rules about how much is available, who qualifies and how to apply, depending on who is awarding it. It’s best to check particular details with the university or charity  directly.

What is a fee waiver?

A fee waiver is when a university pays part – and very occasionally all – of a student's tuition fee. he amount you need to borrow as part of your loan will therefore be reduced. This is an option that might be offered to lower-income undergraduates. 


Which one is better?

 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.

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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.

Learn about tuition fees, maintenance loans, repayments and more: read our full guides to student finance in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

What about scholarships, though?

A scholarship is awarded in terms of merit, as opposed to your personal circumstances, and they tend to be pretty competitive. 

It’s always a good idea to contact your uni to see what’s available. Each uni will have slightly different criteria for applying for extra finance and might have slightly different terms and definitions. Knowing about extra finance, in whatever form it takes, is always going to be worthwhile. 

About to apply? We asked students to share any top tips they had on securing funding for a bursary or scholarship.

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