Scholarships? What are they, how do you apply, who gets them, and let’s be frank, the question most parents want answered – how much will I save if my child gets one? At this time of year, in certain demographic sectors, scholarships are front of mind – everyone knows someone who has one (and your child is much smarter/a better musician/dancer/sportsperson/more deserving!), no-one really wants to admit to pursuing one (in case you’re seen as not being able to afford fees or a pushy parent) and the rumour mill goes into hyper-drive about the value of any scholarship offered and how easy or hard it is to obtain.
So what does a parent need to know about scholarships in Australian schools?
What is a scholarship?
Technically, a scholarship is a source of funds for maintaining or supporting a scholar. A scholar, in turn, is usually taken to mean someone who excels academically or in a particular subject area. Some countries and schools may call a scholarship a bursary. Some others, especially in Australia, will consider a bursary to be independent of any ‘scholarship’ ability and more to do with the short term financial need of a particular student or family.
They can be offered at any year level and in any school. The reality however is they tend to be offered mainly in Independent schools and mostly at secondary level. Some larger private schools will offer primary school scholarships. These normally have an academic or music excellence focus. They will generally be for entry at around Year 5 and only for a two or three year duration.
A scholarship is different to the entry test for a selective school although parents may see their child’s success in gaining a place at a highly regarded selective school as equal to, or greater in value than, a scholarship at a fee charging, private school.
When are they offered?
Scholarships often open for application in Term 4 with most tests and/or interviews conducted in Term 1 of the following year. The scholarship test is sat by your child in the year preceding entry – that is, your child may be currently in Year 6 and will sit a test for Year 7 entry, or will be in Year 9 and will enter in Year 10 and so on. For those scholarships that do not require a test, applications will normally be shortlisted, interviewed, trialled or auditioned (Sports/Music/Performing Arts/General Excellence/All-rounder type scholarships) in Term 1.
The offer may not be made until Term 2. That is, you may not know if your child has successfully obtained a scholarship until 6-9 months before they are due to start in the year of entry. For some parents, this may be too much of an unknown. For others, especially if the school offers a scholarship that is open to students already at the school, it may be a nice surprise.
How do I apply for my child?
The first port of call is the school website. If a school offers scholarships they will indicate this on their website and will often participate in some form of advertising whether print or digital. If you cannot find information about scholarships on their site, then a phone call to the enrolments person will clarify the availability of any scholarship.
ACER (Australian Council for Educational Research) offers a scholarship testing service for independent schools and parents. Their tests consist of a series of academic ability tests used by independent schools to select students for the award of a scholarship. To sit the test, applicants must register and pay for each school. The application/s can be made online.
Edutest is also used by schools for Primary School level scholarships, academic/selective entry tests, and for entry into secondary levels via scholarship offerings at private schools. The application/s can be made online.
Schools may also offer their own application form plus testing or interview requirements. For those families with a child attending a public school in NSW, the Public Education Foundation also offers scholarships each year to assist students financially for items such as tutoring, school supplies, laptops, school excursions and incidental fees.
Most schools will charge a fee for each application which covers administrative and testing costs. The fee will normally range from $50 to $200.
How much discount do I get?
Scholarships are not a discount like a sibling discount or a reduction for pre-payment of fees. They offer a reduction off the normal school fee rate – usually ranging from 25% to 50%, rarely 100%, and for a fixed period of time such as ‘for entry from Year 10 to completion of Year 12’. Remember, they will, without exception, still require some financial contribution from you – from uniforms, stationery and books through to Parents & Friends or building fund levies to transport, co-curricular costs, school camps, ICT, and so on. See our article on 5 questions to answer when choosing a school and the section ‘Can I afford it?’
Some schools will advertise for scholarships outside of the ‘normal’ scholarship season. If you see a school advertising any time in Term 2 or 3 for a specific year level, especially for entry in the following year, you might be right in wondering if it is an enrolment hook. Scholarships are sometimes used in this way as a marketing tool to enable a school to generate enquiries and perhaps ‘do deals’ that enable them to top up certain year levels or correct gender imbalance in a specific class. These ‘scholarships’ often get offered with conditions – you can have 50% off for Child A so long as Child B also enrolls at the same time….
Who gets them?
This is the million dollar question. At the end of the day, the awarding of a scholarship is at the discretion of the School. Some schools have scholarships funded by donors or philanthropic organisations who may be involved in the selection process. Some will only ever award a scholarship to an external student, some capitulate to parental pressure and offer to a current high flyer under threat of a transfer to a competitor school. It would be nice to think that only students who were high potential or high need or both received this type of support. Unfortunately, some schools have muddied the waters for others by using scholarships as a crude marketing and enrolment tool and some parents rather cynically ‘shop’ their child around for the best ‘deal’.
Most schools will give an indication of the number and value of scholarships available. Don’t let a small number put you off! A school can always choose to offer more – a scholarship can be funded philanthropically but it is more likely in Australia that the school is funding the scholarship out of general revenue. In this case, the Principal is likely given a budget line of ‘scholarships and bursaries’ which allows him or her to access a discretionary fund to a set amount each year. This allows schools to offer places to students who may apply for entry outside of the ‘normal’ entry points or who will ‘add value’ to the school community in a variety of ways.
Is it worth applying?
Yes – provided it is a school that you actually want your child to attend and you are realistic about the possibility of not being offered a scholarship. That is, you should have a back up plan so that your child has surety about their next year/s of schooling. Remember, it will usually cost you a fee to apply ($50 to $200) and if this is a barrier then consider whether that school is right for you; if the scholarship application fee is an impost it is likely the other ongoing costs may be a burden and place unnecessary stress on your family.
You should also consider the scholarship criteria – be realistic about your child and their strengths and weaknesses. Excelling at one thing is usually a good start but many schools now require more than just strong academics or great sport skills. A good example of the type of scholarship criteria that a progressive organisation will demand comes from the Tuckwell Scholarship offered at the Australian National University:
Receiving a Tuckwell Scholarship is not just about your intellect. It is about your desire and determination to use your natural abilities to realise your full potential so that you can make a difference in the world. Scholarships are awarded based on four criteria:
- academic potential and achievements to date;
- other significant achievements to date, of any type;
- demonstration of the Attributes of a Tuckwell Scholar; and
- a desire to eventually give back to Australia.
All criteria will be assessed in the context of your school and family life.
Finally, how committed will you and your child be to ensuring that you meet any Scholarship obligations? For example, some scholarships will require that your child gives first priority to the school sports team or music program over any outside organisation or selection in State or Nationals type events or performances.
The scholarship process can be a positive one for parent and child. Sitting the test or attending an interview can be good experience for future interview scenarios and if you are open to more than one school option, you may uncover a school for your child that is a great match even without a scholarship.
Not strictly a Scholarship Test but this may be useful – Practice Tests for Selective Entry High Schools Victoria