The basics
Study abroad : Student Finances

Scholarships, bursaries and grants: Guide to types of financial aid

What financial aid is there for international students? Read our guide to the different terms you may have heard of...

Bursaries, grants and scholarships to study abroad

You might not realise it but there are a lot of different forms of financial aid out there for international students; you just need to do your research to find these opportunities. However, these often have slightly different names from one country to another, while referring to awards for students studying at a range of levels, each with their own terms and conditions....very confusing, right?


Below we clear up any confusion, outlining what each type of financial aid refers to so you can chase the one which can help you:



Academic scholarship

A scholarship is a foundation to provide financial assistance to students. It is essentially free money to put towards higher education costs (either all or a portion of). There are a variety of ways to achieve a scholarship, as they can be awarded based on a student’s current academic achievements, their potential in the future or for a particular extraordinary service which they have provided their local community. 



Sport scholarship

Also known as an ‘athletic scholarship’, this financial aid award is given to those who show excellent skills in one or a variety of sports. Sports scholarships are primarily available in America where college sports are wildly popular and can bring in huge revenue to the institution through game ticket sales, merchandise etc. College football in particular sees many students who wouldn’t otherwise get to go to college, obtain a university-level education while also playing for their college. As well as performing to a certain standard on the field, sports scholarship students must also keep up their grades; if they fail to do so, then they can lose their scholarship.




A bursary is financial aid award that is made by an institution or other academic group to aid in a student’s education. The term ‘bursary’ is primarily used instead of ‘scholarship’ in the UK. A bursary is also based on the needs of the applicant, whereas a scholarship is usually performance based; this means the institution or awarding body will look at the student’s background and their family’s financial status. Bursaries do not require repayment after graduation.




In the past, a ‘fellowship’ was a term used to describe a group of individuals that were given the opportunity to work as peers in the pursuit of a particular study or focus of knowledge. In many English speaking countries it’s a term that’s used to describe an individual that has reached the academia elite, usually PhD level. In terms of scholarships, a fellowship is often a very prestigious financial award for students based on academic merit which allow them to carry out their research at an institution; usually they’ll have to propose their thesis, what they wish to study and why it’s valuable to the field.




A ‘grant’ is a specific term used for some types of scholarships, bursaries and even fellowships. The difference is that a grant is awarded by a Government corporation, foundation or trust to the student. In America, there can be grants awarded to students where the student has to pay the money back after graduation in some instances, but with other grants this isn’t the case. Depending on the different government bodies, it varies as to whether the student will receive a subsidised (not required to pay back) or unsubsidised (needs to be repaid) grant of financial aid. Make sure to read the fine print! Often these are awarded by a corporation with the hope that the student one day joins them in an official role upon graduating, so receiving a grant can be an excellent foot in the door for the future.



This is the only financial assistance option that will always expect repayment. A loan is not free financial aid, but merely ‘credit’ which accumulates interest, ultimately causing the borrower to owe more than the original amount used in the first place – however once you’ve completed your studies, you should be receiving an income once you’re employed which will help with repayment. Domestic students in the UK take out a student loan though this isn't necessarily available to international students. Some banks will offer loans to students for their studies though this will depend on a range of factors, including who your bank is and their policy, your (or your family's) financial status and more.



Whatever you decide, it's reassuring to know that there are a range of financial aid options available for international students. Be sure to read all of the conditions and expectations before you apply or accept any financial aid. Meanwhile earning “free money” sounds great, but it takes a lot of hard work to get that end reward (especially one so lucrative); so be prepared to put the work in!



Find a scholarship abroad on Hotcourses Abroad



Read more:

Read our guide, 'Top tips for successful scholarship applications' to help you get that all-important scholarship.

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About Author

Bursaries, grants and scholarships to study abroad

Paul Ellett is the editor for Hotcourses Abroad. His role is to plan, produce and share editorial, videos, infographics, eBooks and any other content to inform prospective and current international students about their study abroad experience. When he's not thinking about student visas in Sweden and application deadlines, Paul is an avid fan of comedy podcasts and Nicolas Cage films.