Understanding student finance can seem like a daunting task. For those in search of opportunities to make their university dreams a reality, the application process for financial assistance can be complex and full of red tape. This does not have to be the case though; with enough planning and knowledge of the process, finding financial support for university is absolutely possible. Below, EDUopinions has outlined the most important aspects to consider and when to apply for student finance, making your journey in higher education easier and more affordable.
How does student finance work?
At nearly every institution, and certainly in every country, student finance is different, with varying eligibility requirements, costs of education and opportunities for support. That said, most financial opportunities at the university level will fall within two categories: merit-based and needs-based. Within both of these categories, there are scholarships, bursaries, grants and loans depending on your academic/work achievements and your family’s financial situation.
Scholarships and grants are non-repayable and often last the duration of your degree. Loans must be repaid, but for students in Europe the repayment scheme is often flexible and usually only begins once you make a living income after your degree.
What is the eligibility?
Most needs-based student finance is dependent on your or your family’s income. Many universities set a maximum yearly income which qualifies students for assistance. This number varies from place to place. Another caveat to student finance is that it is often dependent on citizenship/residency, meaning that universities often only give needs-based assistance to nationals of their country. However, an increasing number of grants and loans are now available for students within the EU.
Merit-based financial opportunities operate differently, in that they target students who meet some non-financial criteria. This category of student finance is very broad, with scholarships/bursaries available for students with excellent grades, from specific countries or even whose parents work in a specific industry. It is worth doing research into merit-based funding, as there are many different types of opportunities and almost always something for everyone. If you cannot find a scholarship in the country where you are studying, look into scholarships in your home country which may support students going abroad.
When should I apply?
Ideally, you should apply for whatever financial assistance you need before the start of your degree. Many universities offering financial assistance to students from the beginning of their studies provide the same level of support each year. That said, things change and it is possible you may need more support at some point during your degree. In that case, most universities will allow you to apply mid-way through your programme, but many scholarships and bursaries are intended only for students in a specific year of study, so it is best to research those individually to know when is the best time.
In terms of knowing at what point during the year to apply for student finance, the summer is the ideal time to sort out your situation. That gives you enough time to understand what support you can get from where and can help you budget and plan ahead for the academic year. Of course, if you fall upon financial hardship at some point during the school year, planning ahead may not be an option. In this case, you should look into your university’s emergency funding opportunities, which could provide you with a grant to cover your tuition fees or rent and living expenses for the time being.
How much will I get?
The amount of assistance you will receive greatly depends on where you study. Many maintenance loans in Europe can be around €3000 – €5000 per year through government schemes. If you plan to apply for aid from your university, the amount you receive will depend on your financial situation and how much fees cost. In the UK, where home tuition fees for undergraduates can be more than £9,000, those with household income under £16,000 are eligible for a £3,500 bursary. This is just one example, however; the amount of needs-based assistance you receive will depend on a variety of factors.
In terms of merit-based assistance, this amount also varies widely. Some scholarships may only give pocket money, providing a few hundred Euros-worth. Others may cover the entire cost of your programme. Understandably, opportunities which provide for the full cost of attendance are often very competitive, so it can be helpful to apply to several at once. In general though, most scholarships in Europe will give you between €1000 and €2000, which can really make a difference even if it does not cover all your expenses.
How long does the application take?
Applications for financial opportunities also depend on a variety of factors. For needs-based assistance, usually, some sort of proof of your financial situation is required. While this is a fairly straightforward process, it can take a few weeks to hear back from your institution or the government. If your application is successful, your funds will usually be transferred directly to your university, which will then be distributed to you or applied toward your tuition fees.
As for merit-based opportunities, the application process is often more involved, usually requiring an essay or two, transcripts and/or references. In addition, because there are a limited number of scholarships which can be provided, waiting for a decision can take a few weeks as well.
Hopefully, the above points about funding your studies will be of help to you in your university journey. The most important thing to take away is that although the world of student finance may seem complex, there are always ways to find assistance. Often times it may take some creativity or out-of-the-box thinking, but enough foresight and hard work can seriously (and literally) pay off.
If you are looking for student finance information in the UK then you will also find this article on how to navigate grants, loans & scholarships in the UK extremely useful!