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Student Funding: Finding Scholarships, Jobs and Loans

Student Funding: Finding Scholarships, Jobs and Loans main image

Finding adequate student funding requires more ingenuity and resourcefulness than ever, writes Elke Schwartz.

Looking for scholarships? Discover the QS Scholarships for postgraduate studies >

With tuition fees skyrocketing at public and private universities around the globe, both domestic and international students need to be creative and resourceful in their approach to finding student funding.

Generally speaking, student funding will come from at least one of four sources: personal funds, scholarships, part-time work or loans. There is not much to write about personal funds – few students are lucky enough to be able to finance their studies solely through personal funds – so I will focus on scholarships, work opportunities and loans.

These can all be effective ways to reduce the burden of tuition fees and maximize the available budget for living costs while at university.

Getting a scholarship

Scholarships are the most prestigious and desirable financial aid a student can seek. They don’t need to be repaid, they are ‘earned’ and, in a best-case scenario, they cover the full cost of tuition fees of an institution as well as some portion of the cost of living during the program.

But they are also the hardest to secure. Globally speaking, there are a large number of scholarships available from a wide range of sources – governments, universities, private organizations. However, applying for them often takes a lot of time and resources, and of course scholarships are often highly competitive.

Getting a scholarship starts with finding the right one to apply for. For most of the world’s top study destinations, there are extensive online databases listing scholarships available to national and international students, of various types.

It is worth searching thoroughly for a suitable opportunity, beyond those immediately available through the university or business school you’re applying to. Charitable organizations, not-for-profit institutions, private companies or individual foundations might have specific scholarship offers for students from developing countries, students studying in a specific subject area or students of a particular minority group.

Examples include the World Bank Scholarship Program, the British Foundation for Women Graduates Scholarship and the QS Scholarships. Few scholarships offer full coverage for the entire duration of study, however, and many students are required to subsidize their grants with part-time work or loans.

Student jobs

Getting a student job can go one of two ways: either it poses a tremendous challenge and super-human feats of meticulous and disciplined time management, or it can actually be great fun.

There are many seasonal opportunities for students both during term and in vacations that will help alleviate financial strain.

Often the best starting place for finding a student job that is fun and rewarding is through the university. Jobs will be often advertised through the careers service, student unions and student clubs.

Working as a research assistant, at the student union bar or café, as an usher at lecture events or as an organizer for university events can present exciting and interesting opportunities as well as a welcome financial injection. Being integrated within the university setting will likely be more rewarding than stacking shelves at a supermarket and allows students to stay more in tune with what is happening in and around campus.

Having said this, there are interesting opportunities outside of campus life as well. Trying to find work that relates to your field of study and/or planned career is highly recommended, to boost your CV and provide valuable work experience.

Also think about how you can capitalize on specific skills you have, such as language, sports or arts skills, to create financial opportunities. Working as a yoga or tennis instructor, a tour guide, a language tutor or entering writing competitions that are rewarded with prize money can offer creative sources of income.

Mareike deWitt, a graduate student from the Netherlands, has been able to draw on her skills during her Masters in Law degree in the UK by teaching a children’s acrobatics class. “It is an incredibly rewarding activity and a perfect antidote to the often dry subject matter of tort law. Being able to run around with little ones for a couple of afternoons per week is not only personally rewarding, but financially too. I can only recommend it.”

Student loans

If scholarships, personal funding and student jobs are insufficient, many students need to consider taking on a loan to make ends meet. Dedicated student loans, usually with lower repayments rates than other types of loan, are common in some parts of the world, such as North America, while elsewhere they’re less easy to come across.

In the UK, for example, student loans are available at the undergraduate level but increasingly hard to come by for master’s and PhD students. Graduate students in the UK and other countries may have to consider a personal loan – sometimes also offered as a personal or professional development loan – in order to pay for tuition fees and living expenses. However, interest rates tend to be comparatively high and repayment conditions not as lenient.

Seeking to fill this void in student funding, a growing number of new and innovative services are emerging, notably including peer-to-peer lending (also known as P2P or social lending). A form of crowd-sourcing, P2P lending provides private loans to individuals and small business or organizations without having an official financial institution involved. It’s run through specialized online platforms, some of which focus on the student market.

P2P lending has the advantage that participants can negotiate the terms of repayment and interest more flexibly than it is often possible at banks and other financial institutions. Student borrowers might be able to secure better rates, while lenders have the opportunity to invest in a project or career they believe in. In addition, P2P platforms can take the awkwardness out of borrowing from family members as they ensure a formalized structure and turn a ‘favor’ into more of a business transaction.

As P2P lending is unsecured, lenders (especially those with no relationship ties to the borrower) are likely to only lend to those with a solid and immaculate credit history and a realistic promise of success. This is as yet a relatively new option for student funding, but seems likely to continue growing in various forms.

Finding student funding can be an adventure, which depending on your approach may be more or less enjoyable! Make sure you’re clear about all the options and possibilities, do plenty of research, and keep an open mind – and with a little creativity hopefully you’ll be able to put together your own unique student funding package. 

This article is adapted from a piece published in the QS Top Grad School Guide 2013/14.

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