Scholarships, bursaries and grants, explained

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Before you start the hunt for support, it helps to disentangle the terminology. Scholarships and bursaries –– often used interchangeably –– are all non-repayable but have subtle differences between them. These funds can come from anywhere, but mainly universities themselves, government, businesses, charities and organisations. They reduce the cost of studies, but most importantly they lift the burden of debt. Even if they don’t cover the full amount of fees and living costs –– and very few do –– they can reduce tuition fees, fund travel costs and provide cash grants.

What is a scholarship?

Scholarships, as the name suggests, reward good scholars so are usually on the basis of academic merit and suitability for the course or research post. For deserving candidates who provide a well-rounded application, they can pay for up to all years of study, including tuition, housing, books and travel.

What is a bursary?

Bursaries are usually for those with financial difficulties and are used to reduce course fees. They are means-tested and usually not dependent on academic merit, even though they do require applicants to have a good educational background and references. Most bursaries will ask for proof of financial need. Bursaries usually come in smaller amounts and are used to offset the costs of books, travel, and living.

What is a grant?

Another form of non-repayable funds, grants, tend to have a higher level of compliance attached to them. You usually have to provide continued updates on your projects or studies in order to keep the flow of money coming in. Whether you’re a teenager thinking of post-secondary, or an adult wanting to learn something new, there may be a scholarship, bursary of grant waiting for you.


  • Use to find scholarships by subject.
  • Monitor Facebook sites and other social media of your industry organisations.
  • Identify charities working in your field and find out if they are supporting study.
  • Network in your field and talk non-stop about your hopes and dreams.
  • Check the closing deadline and apply as early as possible.
  • Make sure you meet the eligibility criteria.
  • Highlight your academic achievements –– don’t take it for granted that your qualifications speak for themselves.
  • Draw attention to any personal qualities, such as leadership roles, voluntary work or special interests.
  • Have good academic references to back up your application.

This article was originally published in the September 2018 edition of Rg Scholarships.

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