Students: how to find bursaries, grants, and scholarships

StudentsBursaries, scholarships and grants could give a financial boost to students worried about funding the cost of university.

University can be a fun and enriching experience. But it can also be very expensive.

For many this will be their first experience of trying to juggle living and studying costs on a very tight budget. So what sort of extra student finance is available to help fund the experience?
Maintenance Grant
Your basic entitlement as a full-time student is a Tuition Fee Loan (of up to £9,000) to cover the costs of your course and a Maintenance Loan, which is between £4,375 and £7,675 depending on where you live and your family's income, and is designed to help with living costs.

But you can also apply for a Maintenance Grant if your family income is less than £42,600 a year. This grant can be worth up to £3,250 so it's definitely worth applying as this is money you don't have to pay back! However, the Maintenance Loan you receive will be reduced to offset any grant payments. So rather than extra money, it subsidises how much you have to borrow.

Special Support Grant
If you are eligible for means tested benefits like Income Support or Housing Benefit then you may be able to get a Special Support Grant instead of the Maintenance Grant.

The same amount is available but getting it won't reduce your Maintenance Loan.

Money from your University
Most universities have a variety of scholarship and bursary schemes available to students over the duration of their degree. You could be eligible for one or more depending on your course, academic ability or circumstances.

You never know what generous benefactor might have set up a scheme for people just like you!

Take a look at the University of Reading where I studied, for example. The support available includes bursaries and scholarships for those who are high achievers, good at sports, come from a low income family, have a disability, have dependent children and for those that are the top performers in end of year exams.

National Scholarship Programme
Most colleges and universities are now part of the National Scholarship Programme, a scheme designed to help students from disadvantaged backgrounds.

If your family income is less than £25,000 you could get help with tuition fees, accommodation and a bursary of up to £1,000. For full-time students the amount that could be funded on top of any other fees or bursaries is £3,000.

Access to Learning Fund
Universities and colleges in England have a Hardship Fund, more commonly called the Access to Learning Fund, to help all students in financial trouble during the holidays or academic year.

The amount will be based on circumstances and you can apply using the student services at your university or college after starting your course.

Leaving care
If you were in local authority care and are about to enter higher education you could be entitled to extra money. There is a chance you could get a one-off bursary from your local authority of £2,000 and even a grant from your university or college. Make sure you contact both to see what you will be able to receive on top of your Maintenance Loan.

Disabled students
Extra help is available for students with a disability. These are paid on top of any other student finance. Conditions such as an ongoing illness, mental health problems and learning difficulties like dyslexia qualify for Disabled Students' Allowances as long as the condition affects your ability to study.

How much you get depends on your specific needs. If you need specialist equipment students can get up to £5,161. For a non-medical helper a full-time student can get up to £20,520 a year and those with general needs have access to up to £1,724 a year.

Students with children
For those going into full-time higher education with dependent children there is extra help available in addition to the student finance package.

You could get a Childcare Grant of up to £255 a week, the Parents' Learning Allowance offers up to £1,508 a year and you may even qualify for Child Tax Credits depending on your circumstances. None of these forms of financial help need to be paid back.

Adult Dependants' Grant
If you are in full-time education and there's an adult that depends on you financially, like a family member, you could get some help with the Adult Dependants' Grant. The amount is determined using the income of your dependants but the maximum is currently £2,642.

Charitable Trust Grants
If you need more or have been unable to meet the criteria on these various forms of funding then charitable trusts are worth a look.

Luke Bexhill, a post graduate student that wanted to study for a PHD, managed to raise £40,000 from charitable trusts. He then wrote a book about it called The Alternative Guide to Postgraduate Funding, which is updated for each academic year, providing tips on how to do the same.

There are numerous other books that have directories of charitable trusts that provide grants and awards like the Educational Grants Directory and the Grants Register.

Courses that pay you to study
You will have probably already made your mind up about what to study. But it is worth bearing in mind that there a number of courses out there that will pay you money to study certain subjects instead of the other way round.

For example, on most NHS degrees and social work courses you can get help with tuition fees and grants from the Government. Teacher training courses also offer some funding (up to £20,000) depending on the subject you choose to teach and your degree class.

Getting extra money
There are plenty of ways to find extra funding no matter what course you plan to study or what your background may be. Make sure you explore all the different types that are available from your university or college as well as the Government and charitable trusts.

Don't forget to also take advantage of the great things that make it cheaper to be a student like the NUS card, cheap travel, discounted cinema and exemptions from things like council tax.

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