With a reputation of being hard to find and highly competitive, it would be easy to ignore scholarships as a realistic source of university funding. But if you start digging a bit deeper, you will find a wealth of opportunities to suit a wide range of applicants.

What are scholarships?

Along with grants and bursaries, scholarships are one option to support the funding of studies. Scholarships alone will not cover the costs of undergraduate study, but they can be a useful way to supplement funding from other sources. For students in most need, scholarships can make the difference between going or not going to university.

Scholarships are non-repayable and, although they are often understood as being awarded in recognition of academic excellence, this isn’t always the case; personal circumstances, financial need, musical or sporting talent are other factors for consideration, and industry-awarded scholarships or scholarships promoting a brand or business are also up for grabs.

Scholarships vary widely. From Funds4Uni, whose £500 award is open to any undergraduate or postgraduate student; to the £5,000 Boyd Auger Scholarship which supports development within the architectural field by providing students with an opportunity to undergo a period of research and travel.

Know a student who is vegetarian? Or great at e-sports? There might be a scholarship out there just for them.

Although scholarships are awarded through a competitive process, some funds (particularly from smaller charities) might struggle to secure sufficient applications.

What can the money be used for?

Scholarships tend to be awarded for a specific purpose with specific entry criteria, although many trusts don’t specify how the money should be spent. Some provide cash, others offer discounts or cover living or travel expenses. Scholarships might be used to help to pay for books, learning materials or specialist equipment; tuition or additional fees.

What are they looking for?

Encourage students to read up on scholarships and consider what might make them eligible for a funding award: where they live, hobbies and interests, academic achievement, health or medical conditions, family background and so on.

Entry criteria vary from scheme to scheme. Some have barely any requirements beyond studying at a university in the UK, while others are highly specific. Online scholarship search tools make it easy to filter and find suitable schemes.

Where to look?

Two options to start with are The Scholarship Hub website and the Grant Fairy app.

Both have hundreds of funding opportunities to choose from. You will need to register but you can search for free. They do offer paid-for services, but the free services should be sufficient to get started. On the surface, Grant Fairy seems to offer more business-sponsored options, but there is plenty of common ground in the schemes shared. You could use both, or opt for the platform that has the most useful filters or works best for you and your students.

Elsewhere, you can search WISE (scholarships for women and girls in STEM); Crowd Scholar (for high-achieving students from disadvantaged backgrounds); or Turn2Us (a national charity providing practical help to people who are struggling financially). You could search for scholarships issued by professional organisations, learned societies or the Armed Forces.

If your student has a particular university in mind, it is worth searching on the university website for scholarships, bursaries or other financial awards. If applying to Oxford, Cambridge or other collegiate universities, check out what the individual colleges offer too.

Look out for The Guide to Educational Grants 2020/21 (Ian Pembridge, ISBN 978 1 78482 063 3) in libraries. Your local college or university library might have a copy or, if you work in a large sixth form or college where lots of your students want to apply for funding, you could purchase a copy for your department. The guide includes funding for study, as well as funding for the costs associated with getting started with apprenticeships, self-employment, gap years and overseas voluntary work.

When to look?

When to apply varies from scheme to scheme and this aspect, much like applying for a degree apprenticeship, can make it more of a challenge to support students through the process. Students might need to apply early in Year 13 or in August once a university place is confirmed, depending on the scheme; some require re-application every year. Starting early is good advice, but students will also need to be persistent and proactive in their search.

Consider ways to remind students about scholarship funding regularly throughout their sixth form or college studies; and highlight any schemes tor targeted groups, where relevant.

Top tips

  • Encourage students to make funding a consideration in the university search, but not the only consideration.
  • If students provide consent to Student Finance England to share information with their university (they’ll need to tick the box on the student finance application), they will receive automatic notification about their eligibility for some financial awards.
  • Students need not limit themselves to a university’s own scholarships. There are plenty more out there.
  • Students need to closely check the criteria and then make a targeted application, filling out the form carefully and accurately.
  • A good application takes time. It’s not about box-ticking. Students may be asked to write a short piece on how the scholarship might help or what they intend to do with the funding.
  • Pay close attention to any application deadlines.
  • Students may be asked to provide references in support of applications for funding, so consider how you might make this process work at your school or college.