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The difference between Scholarships, Grants and Bursaries

Looking for a way to finance your studies? Confused about which ones you should go for? Read our guide below as we explain the difference between scholarships, grants and bursaries.

In general, there are three ways in which students can receive monetary support when pursuing tertiary education, either locally or abroad. Scholarships, grants and bursaries offer some form of financial assistance for students who need it or for those who apply (and subsequently qualify) for it. These three are different, in the way that they are awarded to students and also in how they are decided. We tell you more about what they are and how you can apply for them.

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A bursary is a specific amount (in cash) that is awarded to students based on their financial situation, i.e the financial support that they can get from their parents. It is based on a sliding scale, where students whose parents earn below a certain threshold will be entitled to receive more money than someone whose parents earn above it. Of course, if your parents are making money the likes of Bill Gates or Mark Zuckerberg, you obviously won’t be entitled to anything at all. Bursaries usually come directly from your host university and the great thing about bursaries is that you won’t have to pay the money back. Also, most of the time, there’s little to no conditions attached to the award money.

How do I get it?
In general, bursaries can be applied for through your host university’s website, but depending on where you’re studying, check and ensure that you qualify for the bursary in the first place. Universities in different countries have varying rules and regulations about their bursaries and the category of students that they award them to. Occasionally, the country’s government through local authorities do offer bursaries to students, so do charities.

Scholarships are awarded based on excellence- these could be academic, sporting or other talents. The award usually consists of a reduction in a student’s overall tuition fees or extra money to help with living expenses and can be awarded to a fantastic rugby player or a talented dancer. Most universities will have their preference for the kind of scholarships that they offer. For example, a university with a strong sports team would rather offer a scholarship to a sportsman than to someone with straight As in Physics. The reverse would be true if a university has a solid academic track record, they would definitely be offering their scholarships to students with good academic results. In general, most, if not all universities would have a scholarship based solely on academic merit, this is to tempt students with exceptional grades to come to study in their university. If you have excellent grades, then you’ll get the pick of the lot!

How do I get it?
Every university will have an application process for their scholarships, it’s highly unlikely that you’ll be scouted while swimming 50 laps in 30 seconds the way they do in college films. For practical reasons, for a sports scholarship, schools might conduct an audition or test game to ensure that you’re as talented as you claim to be. More often than not, especially for academic scholarships, your 15As are more than enough to satisfy them.

This is a monetary gift that is given for a specific purpose, like studying abroad or undertaking research that costs a lot of money. Grants usually come from the host university and are based on whether your cause is worth the money that you’re asking for. For example, if you’d like to study in Spain for a year and the reason given behind your chosen location of study is “because the weather there is really nice…” chances are you won’t be awarded that grant. Conversely, if you state that the reason behind studying in Spain is “because you want to research the pH levels of the soil around Mount Vesuvius for your dissertation” then you’re more likely to obtain the grant.

How do I get it?
For a specific piece of research like a dissertation, you will need to submit a proposal and plan to the awarding committee. There might be an informal interview or chat about your plans for the dissertation so that they can find out how serious you are about your research. As long as the grant is something that you really need, there are rarely any problems to prevent you from securing it.


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