Private School Scholarships, Bursaries and Financial Assistance

Your child is growing up. You may be mourning the loss of the simple days of Grammar School Christmas plays and celebrating birthday parties. Drilling multiplication and division facts may not seem that bad anymore as you look at the more complex maths homework your child now brings home. However, there are many things for both you and your child to look forward to in this new stage.

Education is one of the key factors for success in a person’s life. If you are like most parents, you want your child to have every advantage possible, with a quality education that trains them to think critically and prepares them for future jobs. However, the best schools often come with a high price tag, which may leave you concerned that you will have to settle for a less than ideal education if you are not in the upper income bracket. There is good news though because nearly a third of students in private schools in the United Kingdom currently receive financial aid. If you are worried that your child’s education may suffer if you cannot pay the fees for a private school, take your time to thoroughly research scholarship and bursary option to see what might work for you.

Most scholarships and some bursaries are awarded based on merit so it is good to begin preparing for entrance exams as soon as possible so that your child will feel confident and able to show what they know. To receive a scholarship, your child will need to demonstrate high academic scores that will make the admissions team want them to attend and contribute to the school. Even if their academic scores are average, they may still qualify for a financial aid based on a high skill level in another area, such as music, art, or sports.

In addition to demonstrating they deserve to be at the school, the family will also need to demonstrate that they cannot afford to pay the fees associated with the school. Financial aid is often awarded to students who the school would be proud to have in attendance, but who would not be able to be there without the financial assistance. Be prepared for some very pointed questions about your financial status. Even if you are not sure that your child will qualify in one of these areas, it is important to carefully look into the financial aid offered by the specific schools you are looking at. You may be surprised by the kinds of things that can make a student eligible for a scholarship or bursary beyond academics and family income.

Differences Between Scholarships and Bursaries

Though there are many similarities between scholarship and bursaries, there are a few important differences. Usually, you should begin your quest for financial aid by seeking a scholarship. If a scholarship is awarded, it will only cover a percentage of the fees, usually 10%-40%. However, the scholarship may cover other costs aside from the tuition fee, such as books, uniforms, costs of trips, etc. A scholarship may also make the student eligible for special services such as tutoring.

If you have explored the scholarship options without success, or the percentage awarded is still not sufficient for your family’s budget, then you should pursue a bursary. A bursary could cover up to 100% of fees not covered by scholarships. A bursary may also require your child to demonstrate that they are gifted in academics (or in the arts or athletic field), though there may be other reasons for receiving a bursary such as the student having a disability, representing a minority ethnicity, and more. You will also have to go through many more tests to prove your inability to send your child to the school without the benefit of a bursary.

Scholarships Explained

Scholarships are merit based, often calculated from the entrance exam. Though it is possible some schools may require a separate test, it is important to take the entrance exam as seriously as possible to be in the best position for a scholarship. A scholarship will usually only cover a percentage of the fees (10%-40%) which will vary from school to school. A scholarship is a good option if your child performs well in school and you have some concerns about affording their education but are in a position to pay for at least part of the tuition fees.

It is also important to note that though most scholarships are awarded through the school directly, some are awarded through the government or independent organizations. This is particularly true of specialized scholarships in areas such as art or dance.

To give your child the best chance of receiving a scholarship, we suggest:

  • Make a Plan: Scholarships are typically awarded to students aged 11 and 13. It usually benefits you and your child to begin the process as early as possible. Start researching about two years out to decide which schools you and your child prefer, how much assistance you will need, what scholarships are available, etc.

  • Set Your Child Up for Success: Meanwhile, your child can begin studying for the entrance exam. If their best chance is through a specialty area, they can focus on their violin lessons or dance classes while still maintaining acceptable scores in general academics. If an interview is required, practice this with your child, helping them think through their answers to potential questions so they do not feel put on the spot in the real interview.

  • Set a Schedule: Because the deadlines to apply for different schools and specific scholarships vary, use the research you have already conducted to create a schedule so that you do not miss any application dates. You can also note when the entrance exams should be taken and what the deadlines are for any scholarships you may apply for aside from the ones offered by the school.

  • Be Optimistic yet Realistic: As a parent, you will have to learn the difficult balance between providing enough encouragement and information to motivate your child without causing them unnecessary anxiety. Talk with them about their dreams for the future as well as the things you would love to see them be able to participate in. Be honest about the tough competition, but do not threaten or bribe your child into studying. Encourage them to do their best and see what happens. Let them know that getting into a certain school may be a great opportunity, but if they are not able to, other good opportunities will come up.

  • Keep Looking: If your child does not receive a scholarship the first attempt, do not worry or let your child worry. Give it another try when they are 13 (and there is less competition) or look into some of the other scholarship/financial aid options available

Bursaries Explained

Some bursaries also will require a student to demonstrate high ability in general academics or a specific area of gifting liking the arts or a sport, though not all will. Unlike scholarships, bursaries are primarily intended for students who would be unable to attend the school if they relied solely on their family to pay for it. However, this does not necessarily mean that the family income has to be extremely low for you to qualify. The school will take many things into consideration, such as how many children are in the family, disabilities, parent occupations, gender, nationality, or special circumstances such as the loss of a parent. With this in mind, some of the preparation in applying for a bursary will be similar to applying for a scholarship with more details required to determine eligibility.

When applying for a bursary:

  • Plan: Again, it is important to have done your research and allow enough time to get through the lengthy process. As not all deadlines are the same, you should start your research a year or two in advance so you can note the application deadlines for the bursaries you want to apply for.

  • Prepare Your Child: Even if your child’s best chance at a bursary is not through academic performance, it is still important to allow them as much time as possible to prepare for the entrance exams (or special exams to demonstrate their musical or athletic ability). You may also want to help them prepare for an interview with practice questions

  • Apply Early: As bursaries are typically awarded on a first-come, first-serve basis, it is worth it to apply before the money runs dry. As we will discuss more in the next point, a lot of paperwork is required so may need to allow more time than you expect to gather it all.

  • Get Your Paperwork Ready: Bursaries will often require that the student demonstrates financial need. You will have to prove your income level, even up to details such as the car you drive, the vacations you have taken in the past year, etc. However, there are more factors than financial to consider so it is worth looking into your options. If your child qualifies for disability services, is an international student, or has special circumstances, have all the paperwork in place to prove it. Bursaries may even be granted based on where a student lives, their gender, or other factors that make them unique and would bring diversity to the school.

  • Be Honest: As deeply as you want your child to have the opportunity to go to a certain school, it is never acceptable to stretch the facts to or conceal information to make your child appear more eligible. The testing is extensive and if your initial story does not align with the paperwork, there could be serious consequences. Instead, if your child does not qualify for a bursary, seek other options for financial aid.

What Private Schools Accept Scholarships and Bursaries?

The good news is, nearly all independent schools accept scholarships and bursaries in some form. We recommend researching your top school choices to look at their specific offerings. Nearly all schools offer scholarships, but some at such a low percentage it is primarily a token of esteem, while other schools offer scholarships up to 50%. The majority of schools will offer scholarships in the 10-40% range. You will also want to see who specifically can qualify for scholarships and what scores to aim for on the entrance exam or specialized tests. Additionally, most private schools offer bursaries. The percentages offered are typically much higher, 90%-100% of tuition, if awarded.

However, different schools may have different thresholds to demonstrate financial need or have different requirements for qualifying a student for financial aid. As you are choosing your top school choices, include their financial aid assistance in your research alongside academics and success rate so that you know what to expect. If your top choice does not offer sufficient scholarship, your second or third choice may be able to offer much more financial aid to make your child’s success in a school a real possibility.

Research into individual schools is key as each will have their own guidelines, deadlines, and thresholds. For example, some schools may offer scholarships, but not bursaries. Remember, though your best chances of financial assistance may come from the school directly, check to see if your selected school will accept scholarships from the government or independent organizations in case you need to rely on one of these.


Though academics can be competitive and financially daunting, many students, who in generations past would have been unable to access a quality private education, now have the opportunity. Through the benefits of scholarship and bursaries, schools seek to identify and reward students with exceptional merit and financial need that would make school attendance otherwise impossible. Best wishes as you begin the process.