How to Get a University Scholarship – The Ultimate UK Guide

In General, University by Think Student EditorLeave a Comment

What university student will say no to free money? Well, by not applying to the numerous scholarships out there, students are essentially ignoring money that is readily accessible to them that would help them during their time at university. Finances can be a touchy subject and yet it’s something that affects a lot of students while at university. Although most students in the UK rely on Student Finance to support them while at university, many are probably not aware of the various scholarships available that they are eligible for. 

In short, there are many scholarships available for both undergraduate and postgraduate students. You will need to do your research, and find out what scholarships you are eligible for in advance. Criteria varies between each scholarship, and the amount that you will be given is dependent on the type of scholarship that you receive.  

If you would like to understand all of the details of university scholarships, you should certainly continue reading this article. Not only will scholarships be explained in depth, but we will point you to resources to do your own further research.  

What is a University Scholarship? 

A university scholarship is money given to students by their university to help support them financially during their time at universityIt is non-repayable and there is normally a criteria that needs to be met before applying. The eligibility criteria varies depending on the type of scholarship it is and it is normally rewarded based on achievements in academia, for example maintaining a 2:1 or higher while at university. 

Depending on the scholarship given, the money could be used to cover tuition fees, living costs, travel expenses or it could even contribute towards a research project for postgraduates. Although in the application for a scholarship it may ask what the money would be spent on specifically, the recipient of the scholarship is free to spend the money as they please – obviously while using common sense! 

Scholarships could be funded by alumni, in this case the scholarship might even be named after them. For example at King’s College London the Michael & Saki Ruth Dockrill Scholarship is named after previous professors who were passionate about their subjects and wanted to give back to the students. 

What is the Difference Between a Bursary and a Scholarship? 

A bursary and scholarship are names that tend to be used interchangeably as they are similar however there are quite noticeable differences between the two. 

bursary is also given to help support students financially however the circumstances surrounding it are slightly different: a bursary could be given based on financial need. In some particular situations it may not be necessary to apply for a bursary as when you apply for Student Finance you should have consented to sharing the details with your university, then from there, your university would be able to evaluate whether you have met the eligibility criteria for any bursaries. Some criteria could include your household income being below a certain amountliving in a particular postcode and paying the full amount of tuition fees which currently in the UK for UK students is £9250 per year. 

Bursaries are less competitive than scholarships as they are less likely to require a formal application involving answering questions or explaining what you would do with the money, but it does vary in different universities. Some bursaries could also be given based on academic achievement similar to scholarships, and some bursaries are called ‘Awards’.  

Why Should You Apply for a Scholarship? 

Most people tend to think that scholarships are given exclusively on the basis of doing well academically but this isn’t necessarily the case. You don’t need to have an amazing academic record to apply for a scholarship. There are a range of scholarships with different eligibility criteria so all it takes is a little bit of research to find one that you could be eligible for. 

The whole point of a scholarship is to support students while at university and I’m sure every single university student would say they need support and could do with some extra money. The money provided by a scholarship could make a significant difference to your life while at university and beyond; scholarships can help to provide financial security. For example, if you had to have a part time job while at university because the money provided by Student Finance wasn’t enough and your parents were not able to support you financially, a scholarship would definitely be of use. Instead of working so hard you could spend more time focusing on your university work in order to get the best grade possible 

Although scholarships can be competitive this should not deter you from applying because you miss all the opportunities you never take. It’s better to just take the chance and apply because what’s the worst that could happen? You may not win but there are still numerous other scholarships out there, you could even apply for external scholarships outside of your university as well. 

What Type of Scholarships are Available for Undergraduates?  

There are specific scholarships that are available to students who are about to start their first year at university. In this case to qualify for the scholarship they may have to choose that particular university as their firm choice or insurance on UCAS. Winning this scholarship could also be dependent on your A level grades, for example achieving 3 A*’s or even ABB. This type of scholarship could also be subject specific, for example if you have an offer from a university to study Mathematics, there would be a specific scholarship available for students who are about to begin a degree that falls under the department of mathematics. 

Some scholarships aim to support students from underrepresented backgrounds such as being from a Black, Asian and minority ethnic background, being a Gypsy or part of a traveller community, having a disability or being a carer for a member of your family. These scholarships are all about promoting diversity and inclusion because institutions recognise that not everyone has had the same upbringing so would not have access to the same level of resources, therefore they are willing to provide help and support to students who fall into the above mentioned categories. 

There are some scholarships available that aim to support students who are doing an international placement year. These scholarships could be subject specific, for example it may only be available to students who study a subject in the area of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) or it could be a general scholarship available to students from different disciplines. With scholarships related to a placement year they tend to be for international placements for students who would work abroad, instead of UK based placements because working abroad comes with additional costs such as visas, passports, insurance and travel expenses. 

What Type of Scholarships are Available for Postgraduates? 

Tuition fees for a postgraduate degree are significantly more expensive than an undergraduate degree as it could range anywhere from £5000 – £30,000 a year for UK students. On top of this they don’t typically get as much funding from Student Finance so have to look at other sources to fund their degree. 

These scholarships are mainly based on academic excellence so in order to win it you would need to have graduated with at least a first class or 2:1 to even be considered and a certain number of credits may even be required. There is also a wide variety of these type of scholarships and every faculty is likely to have one. 

As the area of STEM includes a lot of research, this results in countless opportunities for students who may want to go on to pursue a PhD. These scholarships cover a lot of expenses including tuition fees, living costs, travel costs and so much more. There are websites such as The Wellcome Trust that shows a number of scholarships available for different courses, and you can look to see the specific university the course is in, then from there you apply directly to the programme. These scholarships are funded by charities who have made a large investment into the programme because they value the work and research that the student will be doing. 

Postgraduate scholarships are very competitive as they are only available to a certain number of students each year, so it’s best to apply early and apply for a range of different ones in different universities. 

Postgraduate Funding is another useful resource for postgraduates as it has over 800 scholarships available, you can search for scholarships by the name of your degree or university. 

How Much is a Scholarship and How Long Does it Last for? 

Scholarships can range anywhere from £1000 to £26,000 and maybe even moreThe value of the scholarship does depend on what the scholarship is for, for example a postgraduate scholarship is likely to be significantly more than an undergraduate scholarship as the tuition fees for postgraduates are more expensive.  

Some scholarships are given to cover living costs or travel expenses and the value of some scholarships are heavily dependent on your specific household income. This is why it’s so important to provide accurate details about your living situation so the scholarship provided can be best suited to you and support you in the best possible way. 

Most scholarships are given at the start of the academic year, and are given annually. For example if a student won a scholarship of £1000, they would receive £1000 just before the start of the academic year every year while they are at university. So if they are on a 3 year course, in total they would receive £3000 from the scholarship. However if this student decided to do a placement year, depending on the terms and conditions of their scholarship, in most cases the scholarship might not cover the placement year so they would not receive £1000 in the year they are undertaking a placement year. But when they return to continue with their studies in their final year of university they will continue to receive the scholarship. 

Some scholarships are given in instalments throughout the academic year. For example if a student won a scholarship of £8000, they might receive £4000 at the start of the academic year in September, then the remaining £4000 later on in February. But this is all dependent on the university and it can vary depending on the value of the scholarship. 

How Do You Find a Scholarship? 

The internet would be the best place to start looking for a scholarship. You should first go to your university website, look for the section about the money team, then there should be information about fees and funding. In this area of the website there would be information on the different scholarships and bursaries available that you can apply to. You just need to look at the eligibility criteria to see the ones you can apply for. 

Keep an eye out for emails from your universityMost universities send their students numerous emails throughout the week related to any upcoming events happening within the university, surveys that need to be filled out, as well as some potential job opportunities. But your universities money team might also send you information about new scholarships that are available that you can apply to, in particular course specific scholarships that they would have sent specifically to students in your faculty. 

Most students would have their own personal email address as well as their university email address, so it’s important to check your university inbox regularly, as well as the junk mail, just in case you missed an important email that could be detailing information about a potential scholarship that you could apply to. You would hate it if you missed out on some extra funding for your degree, all because you didn’t check your emails. 

You could also search for external scholarships that may not be specifically linked to your university so it may not be on the university website. The Scholarship Hub is a website that can be used to search for scholarships for both undergraduates and postgraduates. 

When Do You Apply for a Scholarship?  

As most scholarships are given at the start of each academic year applications usually open in the previous academic year. For example, a student in year 13 in sixth form, has recently applied to 5 universities and got an offer from them all. They choose one as their firm choice and one as their insurance by March and they will start university in late September. After accepting their desired university as their firm choice they then go to that university website to look at the available scholarships and find one that is related to their course – engineering. The application deadline for this scholarship is July (before they have even started university!) and says that winners will be informed about the outcome of their application around August following confirmation of their A level results as this particular application has the following criteria: 

  • The student must have an offer to study at the desired university  
  • The student must have chosen the university as their firm or insurance choice  
  • The students family income needs to be below £30,000 
  • Predicted A level grades of ABB or higher  

There’s always a deadline for applications to scholarships otherwise different students would be applying at various times in the year. Always note down the application deadline as well as when you will be informed of the outcome so you can remain on the lookout for emails from your university. 

It’s best to apply to scholarships as soon as possible because they might even close applications early if they receive a lot of applicants. Also if you decide to delay in applying for a scholarship you could end up missing the deadline which would be such as shame, especially if you met all the eligibility criteria for a particular scholarship. 

Most undergraduate scholarships are targeted at students in their first year of university, then they would continue to receive the scholarship throughout their time at university. If you’re in your second or third year at university it may be harder to find a scholarship you’re eligible for, so it might be best to search for bursaries as another source of funding for your degree.  

Tips for the Application Process When Applying for a Scholarship  

  1. Make sure you first read all the eligibility criteria before applying. You need to find out whether you need to meet all the criteria, some, or specific criteria, then honestly ask yourself whether the scholarship is for you or if you need to do more research to find one better suited to you. 
  2. When filling out the application form always double check for spelling and grammar as well as ensuring all the questions have been answered and have been answered correctlyIf you provide misleading or incorrect information your application for the scholarship may be rejected. The form may also ask for evidence for things such as your household income and your address, so ensure all this information is up to date and readily on hand when applying so this doesn’t delay the application process. 
  3. Most scholarships will have a section where they may ask how the scholarship would make a difference to you and your university life. It’s best to be honest about why you would like the scholarship and what exactly you would use it for. You could explain some of your hobbies or whether you have a passion project which is something that you’re working on aside from university and the impact the money from the scholarship would have. You could also mention any future career aspirations you may have and link it back to your degree and how much you have learned and benefitted from your university. 
  4. Always note the word count for specific answers and make sure you stick to it. If the word count for an answer is a maximum of 300 words make sure you make use of all those words by actually answering the specific question. If you were to write 150 words for example, this would show that you’re not really committed or interested in the scholarship as you can’t follow a clear instruction. Also, it’s best to not go over the word count as this would also show that you’re not following instructions, and the word count was actually given to make it easier for the people who decide winners of the scholarship. 

Do You Need a Reference to Apply for a Scholarship? 

Depending on the type of scholarship you apply for, a reference may be required. If you’re applying for a scholarship just before you start your first year at university, while you’re still at sixth form or college, the university may require a reference from someone in your school. This could be your head of year, the teacher of your favourite subject or your teacher for a subject similar to what you want to study in university.  

A reference is needed to confirm your character and the things you have described about yourself in the application are true. As well as being a teacher it could be your current or former employer at a job you had. It should be someone who knows you well (not a family member though) professionally and can provide further insight into why you should be the best person to win the scholarship.  

Always make sure you ask someone before making them a reference and let them know what the scholarship is for and why you are applying. This is so important because if you don’t let someone know they are your reference they could miss the email from your university asking them to provide more information about you. Or, if they got a call from your university they would be put on the spot and may not be well prepared to talk about how great you would be for scholarship. It’s always best to give potential references a head up beforehand. 

What Happens if You Find Out That You Won a Scholarship? 

If you found out that you won a scholarship, first of all congratulations are in order! Next you should ensure you have read all the terms and conditions associated to the scholarship and that you agree to all of them by signing the form.  

Your university should then provide information about the amount you will receive, when you will receive it and any other useful information. For certain scholarships you may have to remain in contact with your university money team or student support team via email as they may want to have check ins with you to see how you’ve been getting on. 

As some scholarships are funded by alumni, you might even have the opportunity to meet with them, either online or face to face; this could happen each semester while at university or even just once a year. This would be an amazing networking opportunity as well as having the chance to offer your appreciation and gratitude to them for providing financial support to you. Alumni would love to hear how you are getting on with university and how the scholarship is personally making a difference to your life. 

Is it Possible to Lose a Scholarship?  

By failing to read the terms and conditions while applying for a scholarship this could end up costing you later on down the line.  

If you won a scholarship based on the course you study, for example Creative Writing, then after your first year you change courses to History you would no longer be eligible for the scholarship. You would have to apply for a different one under the History department or another general scholarship based heavily on your household income or being from an underrepresented background. 

If you have to repeat a year because you did not pass the first time, you may not be eligible to receive your scholarship. This would have been stated on the application form and the form you signed when you found out that you won the scholarship.  

If you’re in sixth form and you win a scholarship for when you start your first year of university but you decide to defer entry and do a gap year for example, you would not receive the scholarship while on the gap year. When you return to begin your first year of university is when you will receive the scholarship.  

If you receive a scholarship based on academic excellence and one of the criteria involve maintaining a 2:1 or higher while at university but your grade begins to fall below this averagethis could prevent you from receiving the scholarship. This would be case dependent and you might have a valid explanation for your grades, such as an extenuating circumstance which could be taken into account. 

If you already won a bursary this could affect your chances of receiving a scholarship as well, and some universities state that you can only win one scholarship, so it’s important to always read the small print. If you applied to 2 scholarships and you won both, you would have to choose one, or your university would offer you the one of higher monetary value. 

Can Non-UK/EU Students Win a UK Scholarship? 

There are various scholarships with some available only to UK students and some available to both UK and EU students. Always read the eligibility criteria before applying to ensure you have a chance of winning. 

International students studying an undergraduate degree in the UK have to pay considerably more for their tuition fees, from £19,000 a year depending on the degree and universityInternational students are not able to get a loan from Student Finance like other UK students so have to look at others sources to fund their degree. Every university has an International Student Team so if you’re in serious financial need you could reach out to them and they would be best able to advise you on what to do. They could also point in the direction of scholarships and bursaries you could apply to. 

Some scholarships may include a discount on the tuition fees for international students which could be classified as a part scholarship. Then a full scholarship is when the total cost of their tuition fee is covered by the scholarship. 

UK scholarships for international students are highly competitive and these students may need to have the equivalent of a 1st class if they want to study a postgraduate degree in the UK or the equivalent of 3 A*’s at A level if they want to study an undergraduate degree.  

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