Guide to Scholarships and Bursaries

Everything you need to know about scholarships and bursaries

For parents who are new to the independent school sector, the world of scholarships and bursaries may be a complete mystery. The nature of scholarships and bursaries has changed in recent years, so it’s well worth understanding what they are, the differences between them, and how they can contribute to your child’s education.

What is a scholarship?

In essence, a scholarship is an award which recognises a child’s talent in particular areas, which are typically academic, sports, drama, music, art & design. The prize for this award will be additional teaching, support and mentoring for your child whilst they hold the award.

Historically, scholarship awards have included some form of fee remission, or discount, but this is becoming less common. Schools recognise that the value for pupils lies in the additional support they receive to nurture their talents, rather than a nominal discount (even if that is welcomed by parents!).

Alongside additional learning opportunities, scholars can often get involved in their relevant school departments. They may have responsibilities which enable them to share their talents, for example, in supporting younger pupils. This helps your child to develop other, softer skills and help them to feel that they are contributing in a positive way to their school. There may be some other benefits, such as social events, trips and activities which are specifically for scholars, but this will vary from school to school.

Being awarded a scholarship is a great achievement that carries some cachet with other educational establishments and employers. This is because it is proof that your child has been recognised for their unique talents.

Closely linked to scholarships are ‘exhibitions’. These are similar in that they recognise a child’s talent in an area but are usually awarded at a younger age or at a lower level, where expectations of the holder may not be as high.

How do you achieve a scholarship?

Every school will have their own approach to assessing and awarding scholarships. Usually, in Senior schools, scholarships are awarded at Year 7, Year 9 and Lower Sixth and will be open to current pupils, which adds to the element of competition.

Assessments will also vary, with some schools offering an academic scholarship based on your  child’s performance in the entrance exam; others will require a separate assessment. Assessments for sports and the creative and performing arts generally involve an interview and the opportunity to demonstrate a skill and/or knowledge, or present a portfolio of work.

For Year 7 and Lower Sixth scholarship applications, they may run alongside the general admissions process. However, all schools will require your child to be registered with them in order to apply for a scholarship. 

In Year 9, because the admissions process takes place some time before a pupil actually joins the school, the scholarship process may not take place until after they have accepted a place. This can be tricky if your decision to accept a place is based on your child receiving a scholarship!

What is a bursary?

A bursary, or ‘fee assistance’, is essentially a discount on the school fees, which results in a partial or fully funded school place. There may be transformational bursaries of over 100% available. This is to account for the additional expenses of attending school, such as uniforms. Bursaries are usually, but not always means-tested; again, this will vary from school to school.

For many independent schools, the purpose of providing bursaries is to provide opportunities for children from less affluent families to benefit from a private education. However, there is generally an expectation that the pupil will bring something to the school, such as excellence on the sports field or in the classroom. Therefore, some schools will tie-in their bursary process with their scholarship programme.

How do you get a bursary?

In most cases, your child will need to be registered with the school to apply for a bursary, so a registration fee may be required.

Means-tested bursaries can require a lot of time and patience! The school is likely to ask for very detailed information about your household income and assets. Your home may be visited by external assessors, before a final decision is made.

Most schools will have limited funds available for bursaries and they have to account for several years worth of reduced fees for each bursary they award. Therefore, you can expect schools to be stringent on deadlines and ensure that you follow the process every step of the way. 

It’s also important to note that bursary awards are very likely to be reviewed on an annual basis whilst at the school, with awards changed or withdrawn based on changes in circumstances.

There is a lot to consider when applying for a scholarship, exhibition or bursary, but the time that you invest in researching what each school has to offer will be well worth it as your child reaps the benefits that each can bring.

For details of our Scholarships and Exhibitions programmes, please visit our Scholarships and Exhibitions page. For details of our fees and bursaries, please visit our Fees and Bursaries page.

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Coming to a new school is not easy, especially when you do not know anybody, and I did not know a single person at Pangbourne! I was quite insecure when I joined, but Pangbourne really helped me get over that insecurity with their kindness and acceptance. From the first day I was feeling that I’m at home.

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