Understanding the Difference Between Scholarships and Bursaries

When it comes to securing your child’s education, you may come across the terms “scholarship” and “bursary.” But what exactly sets them apart? Let’s dive into the world of Independent Schools and shed light on the difference between scholarships and bursaries.


Difference between scholarship and bursaries

Scholarships have long been awarded to students based on their exceptional abilities and outstanding performance. They serve as recognition for academic prowess and can range from covering full tuition fees to symbolic honorary payments. Over the years, schools have increasingly dedicated resources to means-tested bursaries, resulting in a shift away from higher scholarship amounts. However, some schools have the flexibility to adjust scholarship awards, while others must adhere to predetermined levels.

On the other hand, bursaries are granted solely based on financial need. They provide a lifeline for families facing economic challenges, with eligibility determined through thorough financial examinations. Most schools require families to apply for bursaries separately and some schools may have seperate trusts who decides who should receive the bursary. While bursaries may be limited in availability, well-funded schools may extend them to any eligible applicant.


How do you qualify for a scholarship or a bursary

Bursaries are means tested. This means bursaries are offered to top-performing students who meet the financial criteria, acting as enhanced scholarship awards for families in need. Some schools give rough guidelines of families who were awarded bursaries and their financial circumstances to help manage parents’ expectations.

For example, the following examples of bursary awards is taken from  Godolphin and Latymer:

  • 100% bursary awarded to a family on low income, living in rented accommodation.
  • 100% bursary awarded to a single-parent family where the mother works part-time. The family have had to move in with their extended family in order to stay in London.
  • 50% bursary awarded to a family where the father is self-employed, mother works part-time and they have two daughters at the school. They own their own home but have little equity.
  • 30% bursary awarded to a single parent family who was recently made redundant. Living in rented accommodation and has some savings (redundancy payment) which are being used to pay the balance of the fees.


Scholarships, on the other hand, are awarded based on exceptional talent in a specific subject. Most schools offer academic scholarships which children automatically enter when they sit the entrance exams. Many schools also offer scholarships in arts, drama, music, languages or sports. The selection process for scholarships varies across Independent Schools, but most complete a standard test, followed by an interview and a glowing headmaster’s report.

Scholarship award levels can fluctuate, often dependent on the sum of money donated to the school. Scholarship awards can be as little as £60 to 100% of school fees. Most schools prioritize means-tested bursaries, leading to a reduction in scholarship amounts.


What happens once you are awarded a scholarship or busary?

Once awarded, scholarships typically require ongoing performance to be maintained. Scholars are expected to continue excelling academically and contribute positively to the school community. Likewise, bursaries undergo yearly means testing, with adjustments made based on changes in family income or assets. Adhering to certain conditions, such as good conduct and consistent academic progress, is also expected from bursary recipients.


To conclude, scholarships and bursaries provide financial opportunities for families seeking education in Independent Schools. Scholarships honor exceptional abilities, while bursaries offer support based on financial need. Understanding the distinction between these two avenues will help you make informed decisions for your child’s future.

You may find our schools list with details on which schools offer scholarships and bursaries a useful guide to preparing for the 11+ exams.