What Does A Bursary Committee Look For?

If you are on the hunt for a bursary to support your higher education, you are likely wondering how to get that big YES. It may seem challenging, going up against competition that may deserve the financial support just as much, if not more, than you. However, there are ways to make yourself stand out.

The most important thing to remember is that bursary committees are looking for candidates that show balance across the board and from the start. Meaning, don’t wait until the last minute to spruce up your credentials and improve your grades – it’s a commitment.

They look at the big picture, and often have varying degrees of requirements to even be eligible, let alone considered as a potential recipient. Not all bursaries are created equal, but they do tend to base their decisions on many of the same core bullet points.


This is hopefully an obvious one. If grades weren’t important, we wouldn’t have valedictorians, salutatorians, Honors programs, Deans’ Lists, or even a GPA. Bursary committees will take your academics into serious consideration when reviewing your application because, well, you want funds to go to school so you should at least show that you cared enough to be dedicated to what school you’ve attended thus far. How else are they going to have confidence in your future studies? Many will even have a minimum GPA requirement to enter the pool of contenders. This is not to say that you need to be at the top of your class, but hey… that wouldn’t hurt.

If you aren’t above-average in all your classes, it would behoove you to at least have decent grades in the area you plan to major – especially if you are applying to a field-specific bursary. Not only does GPA matter for consideration, but if you are fortunate enough to be granted the bursary, you may be required to maintain a certain GPA while in university to keep it for the duration of your undergraduate education.

Extra-curricular Activities

Remember when we mentioned balance? Extra-curricular activities are a major factor when being considered for bursaries because they show that you have interests and skills outside of what can be taught in a classroom. They also plainly show that you are versatile and can allocate your time. However, if you are involved in year-round sports, for example, and your grades are less than impressive, a bursary committee member may think that you will treat your university education the same way. On the contrary, if you are actively involved in a club or a sport and your grades are decent (perhaps not outstanding), you are more likely to be considered because you have BALANCE.

Imagine being on a bursary committee and getting an application for someone with below-average grades and no time spent doing sports, clubs, or other after school-style activities. You’d ask, “then what have they been doing all this time?”

Note: there are many bursaries for outstanding athletics and certain clubs, so you don’t necessarily need to apply for an academic or “general” bursary.

Community Service

Not everyone participates in community service, but those who do have a nice advantage when they apply for bursaries. Volunteer work can indicate how well-rounded and involved you are. Part of growing up, if you will, is becoming an active member of society, and bursary committees are drawn to people who have a cause. You may even find community service/volunteer-specific scholarships to apply to, which are geared toward people who have spent a lot of time helping others.

For most bursary (and university) applications, you will be required to submit an essay which will often ask that you explain how and why you are deserving of the funds. Or, you may be asked to tell a story in which you gave back to the community, put others before yourself, performed an act that was fulfilling… you get the idea. Your community service work is a great way to make a case for yourself. It is also nice to involve yourself in “feel-good” services, regardless of your need for a bursary.

Work Experience

Now, we aren’t talking about all the time you’ve spent babysitting or working at the corner store. We are talking about your learnership experiences. We highly recommend that high school students start exploring the learnership world long before they attend university to get a head start on their resumes and to get an idea of what’s out there before they’re required to choose an area of study.

You would be doing yourself a huge favor by working a learnership or two before applying for bursaries because they can really amp up your application. On top of a bevy of experience, it’ll help sell the bursary committee on your enthusiasm, motivation, and desire to succeed in life and career. You can even secure letters of recommendation from your employers which will only help your chances of being granted the money. Additionally, this type of work experience will help you with the scholarship application process as a whole. Working in a professional setting with people who have been in your shoes will help you refine old skills, develop new skills, and have a better understanding of how education and career are connected. At the end of the day, the committee – who also has this understanding – will know that you’re a person who is driven, which is exactly what they want. Their funds need to be worthwhile.

Bursary committees look for leaders; individuals that were active members of their schools and communities, with strong grades, relevant work experience, and a drive to do more. Distinguish yourself from other applicants by starting early. Don’t wait until the final months of your high school career to get involved and give your schoolwork the attention it needs… start now! The longer your track record is, the better!