The Insiders’ Guide: Your 12-step guide to applying for bursaries – with success! By Eleanor Doughty
Considering applying for a bursary, but do not know where to start?
You’re not alone – and you probably have a lot of questions. To help, we have assembled an expert panel to answer some of the most essential queries before you start on your bursary journey.
Rachel Frier, Bursar of Heathfield School, Berkshire
Peter Knell, Bursar of Wells Cathedral School, Somerset
Nicola Jones, Registrar of St Edward’s School, Oxford
Andrew Cook, Chief Development & Commercial Officer of Repton School, Derbyshire
When should parents looking for bursaries think about applying?
We ask for applications to be in by the middle of October the year before their daughter is due to start – but each school varies. We like to have bursary applications in at the same time as we assess their daughters, because if we’re going to offer a place, and the family doesn’t have the finances, we can put that in the letter at the same time.
Some parents think the sooner they apply the better, which doesn’t help us – if they want to apply for a bursary two years before their daughter is due to start, finances might have changed. On the other hand, we get parents who don’t tell us they need a bursary until they have an offer of a place, by which point I’ve allocated the money.
Some parents think applying for a bursary might prejudice them when their child applies for a place at the school, but the process is very separate. Rachel Frier
Do I apply to more than one school?
The key thing is that parents identify the schools that are right for their child. The more applications you make, the greater the possibility that you will find a school which is able to help – but it’s not much use if the school is not right for your family.
If, having done the research, you feel that there are a number of schools that appear to fit the bill, it makes sense to apply to more than one – but don’t do it just as a numbers game, do it because you’ve identified that your child would benefit from each of them. Peter Knell
Am I more likely to get a day bursary or a boarding one?
It makes no odds – in one sense you have more chance of getting a boarding place because we are 85 per cent boarding. It’s about finding the fit between the pupil, the school, and the family. Schools are just like people – they have characters, so you need to get underneath the skin of the school. Nicola Jones
What happens if my circumstances change (for better or worse)?
We can put a financial plan in place if circumstances change. What’s key is the continuity of education for the pupil – especially if they are in Year 11 or 13. If circumstances change, as they have done during Covid-19, we invite those individuals to make the bursars aware. Andrew Cook
Is there extra pastoral support?
Yes, if asked for. You may have people who have never stepped inside this world: they can be embarrassed about asking questions. All pupils joining in Year 9 get ‘the shell guide’ – it contains all the little things you might be afraid to ask about. I give it to parents too. It’s about being warm, open, saying we can help, and that there are no silly questions. Nicola Jones
Who pays for school trips?
For those on transformational bursaries (those providing wraparound financial support) – the school would. For those on ‘normal’ bursaries, it may be that trips are included, and sometimes they might be discounted, and that will be something that admissions and the headmaster would determine. Andrew Cook
Does it matter if my child is not gifted in some way?
No, most of our bursary students are just your average pupil who needs financial support. We look at academic, sporting, musical and drama ability, as well as whether a child will fit in. We want an all-round child of whatever ability, someone who will give it a go. Rachel Frier
Will my child stand out?
No, they won’t. We’re a school of about 730 pupils, and about 100 of those, roughly 14 per cent, have some kind of financial support. We are mindful that people want to have privacy, and we would never disclose anything unless a family was happy to do so. The entire application process is in the strictest of confidence. Nicola Jones
Are boarding fees covered? Can I ask for boarding fees to be covered?
Yes – we would take the same approach for a boarder as a day pupil, and the process is exactly the same. We consider the difference between the net disposable income of the household and the published fees for either day or boarding, and the process is the same, regardless of whether they want to board or not. Peter Knell
Is there an income limit?
We use Bursary Administration Limited (BAL) to assess our applications, which takes away the emotional connection because they don’t know the family. Parents apply to the school, I send them the documents, and then send it all to BAL who look at income, assets, and liabilities, so it’s not purely down to what a family’s income is. We’re looking at the whole picture. I may have to remind parents that we make sure that our funds are allocated fairly. Rachel Frier
Do I still have the same rights as other parents – to complain about poor teaching, for example…?
Yes. Once you join the school, you’re a Reptonian for life – it doesn’t matter where you come from or what your background is. The last thing we want is for young people to come here and feel so over-awed that it has a negative impact on them and their family. That is crucial, as is how we on-board the pupil and the family as a collective, and how we communicate with the family and the parents. Andrew Cook
Is it better to go local when looking for a school with a bursary? Will that be preferred by the school?
Our objective is to provide an excellent education for young people, and part of that is trying to match up the pupils that we think will benefit the most from that experience. We have a specialist music programme, and we want to recruit the best from the pool. It stands to reason that those pupils are not all going to be found within 20 minutes travelling time from Wells. Peter Knell
Tips from the bursar’s office
- Don’t assume that you won’t be eligible for a bursary, says Rachel Friar. ‘Apply by the deadline, and give it a go – what’s the worst that can happen?’
- Be prepared for means-testing, warns Peter Knell: ‘It can feel invasive, but we have a duty to make best use of the school’s charitable funds.’
- The distinction between bursary and scholarship is grey, and parents can hear the word ‘scholarship’ and assume a huge fee remission, says Andrew Cook. ‘Scholarship is about prestige and achievement, whereas bursary is about means-tested financial support.’
- ‘Don’t worry that because you need 100 per cent or more that this will go against you,’ Nicola Jones, ‘At Teddies, the average award tends to be on the 70 per cent side, so we give away more large bursaries than small ones.’
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