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Understanding bursary funds: What is a bursary and who can apply?

There are many factors to weigh up when choosing the best school for your child, with affordability usually high up on the list.  There are a number of options available that can make private education more cost effective for families including a wide range of bursaries.

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Whether you’re researching the right school for your family, or looking to ensure your child can continue at their current school, it’s well worth familiarising yourself with the criteria for bursary funds in your area.

Scholarships vs bursaries

The terms ‘scholarship’ and ‘bursary’ are sometimes used interchangeably, but for most schools these are offered as two distinctive streams of funding support. Scholarships are usually offered to students with exceptional academic ability who perform well on the national ACER Scholarship Examination. In some schools, scholarships are also awarded to students with outstanding potential in a specific field, such as sports or music.

‘Bursary funds’ (or ‘bursary fees’) are offered at the discretion of the school, via consultation with the principal or school board rather than an exam. They are designed to assist families of children with high potential who may not normally be able to access a private education.

The specific criteria for a bursary will vary from school to school, but examples include:

  • support for low income families,
  • support for rural and regional families,
  • support for girls or boys to enter non-traditional fields (such as girls in engineering) and
  • support for people from identified cultural backgrounds.  

What will a bursary cover?

Bursary funds are usually provided to pay for a specific part of your child’s education, such as tuition fees, boarding fees or equipment in a specialist area. The fund may be offered for the duration of your child’s schooling or you may be required to reapply annually.

Once awarded, your child may be required to comply with certain conditions, such as maintaining a specified grade average or participating in extra curricular activities to support the school. It is important to understand that a bursary fund is not ‘cash in hand’, but will be contingent on you keeping regular contact with the school about your child’s progress.  

Application and eligibility for bursaries

Step one is to research the bursaries available at your schools of preference; many of these will be outlined on the school’s website, in their handbook or on the School Places Scholarship Finder tool. Contact the principal or finance officer for extra clarification of conditions.

From there, you can expect a bursary application to include a package of forms to complete and an interview with the principal.  As part of this process, you’ll need to disclose personal details that are relevant to your eligibility. These may include:

  • bank statements, pay slips or tax returns
  • birth certificates, citizenship documentation or passports
  • medical history
  • your child’s academic records.

It can be uncomfortable to provide such personal details to a school, but these will be treated in confidence. By gathering a thorough understanding of your circumstances, the school can be sure that they are allocating bursary funds to those who will truly benefit from them.

Schools recognise the value of having a diverse community of students contributing to the life of the school. Bursaries are designed to help students with potential to access the highest standard of education available, whatever their background.

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