How to finance your varsity studies

For many school-leavers, how to finance university study is the first and most challenging question they face.

It is only a lucky few who can lean on their parents to cover their tuition. The majority of prospective students have to look elsewhere to fund their studies.

There are essentially three financing options: the state’s National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS), bursaries and scholarships that are usually specific to particular areas of study and universities, and bank loans.

This scheme falls under the auspices of the department of higher education and training and is available to students for programme of study at universities and further education and ­training (FET) colleges.

Applicants have to be South African citizens who have been accepted by a public university or FET college for either a first undergraduate university degree or a national certificate programme at an FET college.

You will need to meet the requirements of NSFAS’s “financial means test”. This assesses household income, number of dependents of the household studying and the costs of study, among other factors, to assess whether your family can make any contribution to tertiary costs.

NSFAS spokesperson Bonny Feldman told the Mail & Guardian that funding is available in the form of a loan, which students repay once they start working and earn more than R30 000 a year. The current interest rate on repayments is 5,2%, but up to 40% of the loan may be converted to a bursary if the student succeeds academically. In 2009 the maximum loan amount for each student was R47 000.

The cut-off date for NSFAS applications is determined by the university. In most cases, it is March of the academic year, but many ask students to apply before then.

A bursary is financial assistance given to students, usually to study in a specific field, as determined by the sponsor. They differ in amount and duration, depending on the conditions of the bursary. Recipients are selected according to various criteria set by donors, including academic merit and financial need. The bursaries often have employment conditions attached to them.

Scholarships are normally awarded to students based on outstanding academic achievement, such as distinctions in grade 12 or first-class passes if the student is already attending a tertiary institution. Scholarships do not normally require the recipients to repay the cost of tuition and very rarely have employment conditions attached.

  • Prospective students can contact NSFAS on 021 763 3232 or email [email protected]

  • The Bursary Register is a private publication that is published every year and provides information on a large number of bursaries and scholarships offered for Southern African students by education institutions and companies. The 2011 edition is now available. Phone 011 672 6559 or email [email protected]

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