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Postgraduate Scholarships – A Guide for 2020

A wide variety of scholarships, grants and bursaries are available for Masters degrees and other postgraduate courses. Universities, charities and government funding bodies all provide support for further study.

It's important to understand the difference between these different options and how they fit in with other types of Masters degree funding. This quick guide will help you do that.

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What are postgraduate scholarships?

Put simply, a postgraduate scholarship is an amount of money provided to a single student to help them cover the cost of a Masters degree (or other type of postgraduate course). Unlike a postgraduate loan, a scholarship doesn't need to be repaid.

You may also come across references to other types of funding. The difference between scholarships and bursaries isn't always clear, but here is a rough guide:

  • Scholarships are competitively awarded to the 'best' students who apply for funding (they're sometimes referred to as being 'merit-based')
  • Bursaries are often awarded to students who from specific economic or under-represented backgrounds who wouldn't otherwise be able to study at postgraduate level (they're more likely to be 'need-based')
  • Studentships are usually awarded for PhD level work as funding tied to a particular research project

Don't worry too much about how a scholarship or bursary is labelled: if there's funding available for your course and you're eligible, apply!

How much are Masters scholarships worth?

The value of a Masters scholarship varies (and so does the cost of a Masters). Some are only meant to contribute towards your fees or your living costs. Others provide 'full funding' that covers all (or, at least, most) of the expenses you should face during a postgraduate degree.

University scholarships

Most universities, in the UK and elsewhere, offer some form of funding for their Masters students.

They do this in a few different ways:

  • Alumni discounts provide a reduction in course fees for Masters students who have previously completed an undergraduate degree at the same university. The typical discount is 10%, but you may be able to get more if you graduate with a first.
  • Fee waivers remove the tuition fee for your Masters. The university doesn't charge anything for your course, but you'll still need to cover your own living costs.
  • Academic scholarships are usually fairly substantial funding packages, awarded to the best students who apply for a particular Masters. Often there are only a handful of scholarships available for each course, but that shouldn't stop you applying (remember that postgraduate courses are smaller to begin with!). Some universities offer wider scholarship schemes across all their subjects – these are usually referred to as 'vice-chancellor's scholarships, or similar.
  • Need-based bursaries are usually designed to support students from specific backgrounds and to widen participation in postgraduate study. Common examples include scholarships for disadvantaged students, or for international students from particular countries.

You can find out more about these options, or take a look at current scholarship opportunities, in our guide to university funding for Masters study.

International scholarships

Some Masters degree scholarships are specifically designed to support international students.

Common examples of international Masters scholarships include:

  • University awards are similar to the scholarships discussed above. They may be offered to students from specific countries, or available to all international postgraduates at a university.
  • National scholarships are offered by governments, ministries of education and other national funding bodies to encourage and support people to study abroad in a particular country. Good examples of these are the UK's GREAT Scholarships and Commonwealth Scholarships. Other countries offer their own international scholarships through organisations like Germany's DAAD or Sweden's Swedish Institute.
  • Exchange schemes are set up between two or more countries to help their students study abroad at each others' universities. A good example of this is the US-UK Fulbright Commission.

International scholarships tend to provide full-funding, covering fees, living costs and sometimes travel expenses too. You can read more about them in our guide to international Masters funding.

Scholarships and grants from charities and trusts

Plenty of other independent organisations also provide postgraduate funding. Some of these endow scholarship programmes at universities, but most accept direct applications.

Examples of these organisations include large bodies such as the UK's Wellcome Trust as well as local heritage groups, medical research charities or outreach and investment schemes funded by commercial companies.

The funding amounts and eligibility criteria for charitable scholarships vary almost as much as the organisations offering them. You can find out more by reading our guide to Masters funding from charities.

Combining scholarships with other Masters funding

In most cases you can freely combine postgraduate scholarships with other funding such as Masters degree loans, part-time work or even other scholarships.

Some awards, such as fee waivers, are designed with this in mind (as you'll need to find additional funding for living costs). On the other hand, the full cost of a Masters often means that students need to top up their postgraduate student loans with additional scholarship funding.

How to apply for a Masters scholarship

Different types of postgraduate scholarships will have their own application requirements and it's important to check these before you start (or query them if you aren't sure).

What you'll need

In general, you'll need the following to apply for a scholarship or bursary:

  • Details of your course – make sure to say which Masters you want the scholarship for (if it isn't already obvious). Some funding awards may only be available to students who've already been accepted for study (check this before you apply).
  • A personal statement – this is a bit different to the personal statement you use for your Masters application. A personal statement for a funding application should focus on explaining why you're the right person to receive this support.
  • Evidence of funding requirements - some need-based scholarships will only be available to students who can't otherwise afford to study. Certain funding bodies (such as small charities and trusts) will be more likely to support you if you already have other funding in place (and just need help 'getting over the line').

Some more prestigious and competitive scholarships may require more detailed information such as academic transcripts, references or even career proposals. Always check the requirements before you apply.

Application tips

The following tips should help you apply for Masters scholarships successfully:

  • Plan ahead – a good Masters funding application takes time to put together and you may want to apply for more than one scholarship option. Don't rush things.
  • Check eligibility criteria – scholarships are usually more specific than other types of postgraduate funding: is yours only for graduates of a certain university, for citizens of a specific country, or for students with particular backgrounds? Checking these details will ensure you aren't wasting your time.
  • Think like a funder – scholarships don't just exist to help pay for Masters degrees: they also have wider aims, such as supporting work on particular topics or widening participation in postgraduate study. Use your application to show how you fit the bill for a particular award.

Overall, the best advice is to start your funding search early and tailor your application for each scholarship. It may take less time to simply send the same request to lots of funders. . . but that time is probably wasted.

Check out our guides to other types of Masters funding, or read funding news, advice and stories on our postgraduate blog.

Last updated 12/06/20

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