Mail & Guardian
Funding opportunities for postgraduate studies
After deciding to study further, the next big question is usually how to fund a postgraduate qualification. Education is an investment, but not everybody has the financial resources to further their studies. Bursaries and scholarships are one way to foot the education bill.
Many opportunities exist for full or partial funding for postgraduate students based on financial need or academic merit. These options include, but are not limited to: the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS); university funding; sports bursaries; national funding; research councils; corporate bursaries; donor funding; international funding; employer funding; and private funding, such as a study loan.
Not all funding opportunities are equal though, and bursaries can vary significantly in application criteria and offerings. Some may provide financial assistance with no expectations, while others may expect a commitment to work for them after graduation.
The first step in securing a bursary is to establish what options are available in specific sectors or academic programmes. Big companies or institutions often list funding opportunities on their websites. Lists of scholarships or funding opportunities are also available on most universities’ websites. Candidates should carefully check their eligibility for each option before applying.
It’s not enough to look at the bursary criteria — the application process must also be considered. This can range from a simple online submission to academic essays or interviews with funding committees. Take the application deadline into consideration: when it comes to funding, a missed deadline is a missed opportunity!
Remember that a bursary is a contract between the funder and the student; failing to fulfill the obligations and requirements, or meet the expectations set out in the agreement is considered a breach and could result in penalisation or cancellation.
While academic performance is important, it’s not the only way for candidates to stand out. Many universities also offer funding for students who
shine on the sports field. Information about sporting bursaries and the application process are available from the individual universities.
Tips when applying for funding
Start early and throw your net wide. Do not wait until the last minute, and do not limit yourself to a single opportunity.
Become familiar with the funder. Read up about their mission, vision and values. Use the requirements of the bursary programme to align your application.
Submitting an incomplete application is unforgivable, so ensure that all required documents are attached, and have been recently certified.
Include a concise letter of motivation written according to the criteria outlined in the funding requirements. Be confident but honest when it comes to achievements. Look beyond academic performance and include other unique selling points.
Be honest about finances. Dishonesty can result in reputational damage and exclusion from future funding opportunities. Many bursaries require shortlisted applicants to submit to financial checks.
Be sure to spell check and proofread before submission. There are online templates available to assist in crafting the perfect application.
Have a backup plan. A rejection letter is not the end of the world. Most opportunities are offered on an annual basis, and candidates can reapply until successful. Also consider other funding options: student loans, financial help from family or friends, or corporate sponsorships.–