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How to fund your postgraduate studies

Postgraduate studies often require self-financing, however, there are other options. This article outlines postgraduate funding options.

10 October 2022 · Isabelle Coetzee

How to fund your postgraduate studies

Many of us follow a similar path in life - which is, complete primary and high school, go to university or college, and find a job afterwards. For some, achieving that first qualification is only the beginning.

Embarking on postgraduate studies often requires self-financing your studies, however, there are other options.

While the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) ceased funding postgraduate studies in 2021, a recent partnership with the National Research Foundation has enabled NSFAS to facilitate access to funding opportunities for postgraduate students - provided they are studying toward a research-based degree.

Tip: Are you trying to save towards a postgraduate degree? Try our budget calculator to see where you can save.

Financial aid at universities

According to Elijah Moholola, media liaison for the University of Cape Town (UCT), some 10,000 postgraduate students registered at UCT in 2022. 

“Of these, 8,000 are eligible to apply for postgraduate funding,” says Moholola, “this being restricted to honours, masters and PhD courses. Most PGDip programmes are not funded through the UCT Postgraduate Funding Office (PGFO).

“Some 4,000 postgraduate students applied for funding in 2021, and 2,987 received funding,” he says.

Every university offers its own variant of financial aid. Some have extensive booklets detailing bursaries and scholarships, while others have representatives who can explain what’s available.

To help you figure out what's out there, we created a map of South African universities with the correct link to their postgraduate funding programmes.

External bursaries and scholarships

If you’d prefer to find funding outside of your preferred tertiary institution, whether in South Africa or further afield, you can visit the following websites.

Taking out a student loan

If you’re unable to find a bursary or scholarship for your preferred course, you may still be eligible to take out a student loan. You can approach any of the main South African banks for these, along with a handful of private companies.

The following is a list of the most popular choices.

How can you improve your chance of receiving funding?

The UCT Postgraduate Funding Office recommends that students be aware of the following seven factors when seeking funding.

Be flexible. Financial assistance for postgraduates comes in various forms. Some funds are administered by the university and others by external agencies and donors. Students should investigate a range of options.

Keep those grades up. Most postgraduate awards are based on academic merit, with only a few available for financial need alone.

Plan ahead. Start looking for funding opportunities well in advance. Opportunities for funding are often announced months before the deadline to register for a degree.

Keep in touch. Follow @UCTPostgrads on Twitter for announcements about bursaries, scholarships and other opportunities. Details are also available on the Postgrad Hub’s electronic noticeboard. Similarly, you can follow other universities on Twitter (or equivalent) and subscribe to relevant newsletters for updates.

Do your research. The UCT Postgraduate Funding Office offers a range of materials to help students find funding for their studies. Many booklets can be obtained here, or downloaded from the Postgrad Hub. You should be able to find similar material from most other universities.

Prepare for a balancing act. With the exception of a few fellowships, full financial support for postgraduate students is rare. This means financing is likely to involve a combination of scholarships or bursaries, and part-time employment, or loans. When planning their funding, students should consider as many funding opportunities and sources of support as possible.

Ask for help. The PGFO is within easy walking distance from most faculties and departments on the upper campus at UCT. Staff members are available to advise students on the diverse funding opportunities available to postgraduates, and help with the submission of applications for funding. Students should also speak to researchers and potential supervisors as they may have access to grant-holder bursaries. Don’t hesitate to call the postgraduate office of your chosen institution if you need help.

A good credit score can help you secure a student loan. Register here to view yours, for free.

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