There tends to be a lot of confusion between the different terms used to describe student funding opportunities. To be fair, this is because many organizations use the terms interchangeably, which means there isn’t necessarily one simple definition for each. In this blog, I am going to run through some of the basic requirements you often see in each of the categories to help differentiate between award types. However, be aware that there isn’t one definition and there are many different ways to describe the different types of funding that are available to students.
Scholarships are the most popular type of student funding because it is free money that is awarded based on a specific merit. This could be academic merit such as entrance scholarships or your overall GPA. However, it could also be based on other merits such as leadership, sports or volunteer to name a few. The term scholarship has changed drastically over time and many organizations will use the term generously as a way to describe money that will go towards education in some capacity. Some scholarships may be awarded automatically, whereas other scholarships may be awarded based on an application, which requires more information. In some cases, you also may have to include a transcript, resume, cover letter or references in order to complete the scholarship application. Some scholarships may also take financial need into consideration depending on the award.
Bursaries and Grants
Bursaries and grants are typically given out based on some degree of financial need. However, the actual level of financial need required will vary based on the organization and application itself. You shouldn’t assume that if something is called a bursary or grant that you won’t qualify because you don’t have a high enough “financial need.” Sometimes a bursary or grant application will simply require you to show that your expenses are higher than your income and others might have a more detailed equation to determine financial need. There are even some awards that are called bursary or grant applications but don’t always have a financial need requirement. Application requirements can also vary based on the grant or bursary itself. Some applications will strictly look at financial need, while others will consider many factors such as volunteer or extra-curricular activities.
Loans can be described as borrowed money that will have to be repaid later on with interest. Many students try to stay away from loans and focus on scholarships and grants because they don’t want to borrow money. This is completely fair and your first choice should always be non-repayable free money. However, if you do take out a loan that is absolutely fine as long as you manage it appropriately. The requirements of a loan generally factor in financial need as the main criteria. There are various types of loans for students including student loans or student lines of credit. I personally prefer student loans because you will have zero interest charged until you graduate or stop attending school.
Keep in mind: Just because a group calls an award a scholarship, bursary or grant, it doesn’t mean that it will have the requirements you see above. Like I said at the beginning, the terms for types of student awards are often used interchangeably, which means that some bursaries or grants may not actually require a large financial need and not all scholarships will be based solely on merit. Make sure you take a very close look at the individual requirements of each application to fully understand what is required in order for you to qualify. Some scholarships and awards are even flexible on the requirements they have put forth if they don’t have enough applicants. If you don’t meet all of the requirements exactly it may be worth asking if you can still apply.