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Are you captivated by the charms of Cambridge, but concerned about the financial aspect? Are you drawn to the dreaming spires of Oxford, but don’t know anyone from your family or school who’s studied there? There are various schemes and programmes in place to encourage talented applicants from all backgrounds to apply, and to support students financially. In this resource, we’ll point you towards the main options available for you as you think about your application. 

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Access and Participation

Both Oxford and Cambridge run access programmes to reach out to students from disadvantaged backgrounds who may otherwise be put off from applying or not have adequate support to do so. Below, we’ve selected some for you to consider. Don’t forget that you can always contact the Oxford and Cambridge admissions teams if you have any questions about whether a particular programme is right for you and how you can get involved.


  • The Cambridge Special Access Scheme (CSAS) allows students to detail their background and experiences in terms of social, economic, or educational disadvantage in order to help colleges to fairly assess candidates with all the relevant information.

  • The Cambridge Student Union runs GEEMA (Group to Encourage Ethnic Minority Applications) , which aims to ensure that UK black and minority ethnic (BME) students are not deterred from applying, as well as Target Campaigns, which gives 6th formers from the state sector the chance to chat to Cambridge students about the application process.

  • The Cambridge University Access Initiative organises visits, talks, and teacher programmes to widen participation.

  • The CUSU Shadowing Scheme allows students to shadow an undergraduate in their chosen subject

  • The Sutton Trust Summer School is a free, subject-specific summer school that allows students to get a feel for Oxbridge life.

  • For those who don’t gain a place at the summer school, Experience Cambridge is an online course which gives students the opportunity to be set first-year level work by Cambridge supervisors.

  • Take note! Starting from 2020, Cambridge will be implementing a new access scheme, inspired by a similar programme at Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford. Certain applicants from BME backgrounds and poorly-performing schools will be able to take part in a Foundation Year before they start their degree, with the aim of counteracting their educational disadvantage. If you’re applying for entrance in 2020 or later and think you might be eligible, be sure to consider this opportunity. 


  • The UNIQ Summer Schools programme aims to raise the aspirations of students from state schools by giving them an insight into the Oxford experience for a week, similar to the Sutton Trust Summer School at Cambridge.

  • Target Schools is an organisation run by Oxford students to encourage applications from a wide variety of backgrounds. It includes a shadowing programme similar to the Shadowing Scheme at Cambridge, with some pupils even participating in mock tutorials.

  • The university sets access targets in partnership with the Office for Fair Access (OFFA), which change year on year. For example, for 2016-17, one of their targets was  to increase the percentage of undergraduates from neighbourhoods with low participation in higher education to 13%. 

  • Individual colleges have their own access and outreach officers and run their own programmes. If you’re interested in a particular college, get in touch with them to see what they can do for you or your school.

  • For applicants with concerns regarding disability, it’s best to contact the Disability Office on [email protected]

Bursaries and Scholarships 

Both Oxford and Cambridge are able to provide financial support to some students in various ways, to help them with fees and living costs. Note that The National Scholarship Programme (NSP), in which Cambridge used to take part, is no longer running, so make sure you know your options if you’re looking for help with your finances. In addition to the options listed below, many Oxford and Cambridge colleges offer choral scholarships – so if you’re musically inclined, be sure to consider this option!


  •  UK or EU undergraduates with a household income of below £42,620 may be eligible for the Cambridge Bursary Scheme; these bursaries do not have to be repaid.

  • The Cambridge Bursary Scheme also provides European Bursaries specifically for EU students, to help with living costs – so you don’t have to be a UK resident to benefit from financial support. 

  • Additional sources of funding such as college awards and grants may be available from individual colleges. Check out the Cambridge Fees & Finance page to see if your chosen college offers financial support.


  • Oxford also offers non-repayable bursaries for students from disadvantaged backgrounds, with the amount received correlating to household income. For example, students with a household income of £16,000 or less are eligible to receive £3,700 a year. There is no separate application process for an Oxford bursary; if you apply for UK government funding you will automatically be considered for a bursary based on your financial situation provided that you have given consent for the University to access your household income figure, so make sure to tick that box if you want to be considered for financial support.

  • Oxford offers a variety of scholarships, most notably the Moritz-Heyman Scholarship Programme which offers funding as well as internships for UK residents with a household income of £16,000 or less. Visit the Oxford Fees & Funding page  for a full list of scholarships and to see whether you may be eligible.

For specialist advice on any aspect of your application, get in touch with our expert consultants on + 44 (0) 20 7499 2394 or send us your query at [email protected]

pound coinsMany people are under the impression that it is more expensive to study at Oxford or Cambridge. This is emphatically not the case.

Government changes to student finance in recent years have caused some people to rethink their higher education options, reluctant to graduate in debt. A certain amount of student loan debt is unavoidable, but both Oxford and Cambridge are determined that no one should be put off from applying because of financial considerations and they have taken action accordingly.

Furthermore, the collegiate system, which does not cost Home and EU students extra, not only means extra funding opportunities, but also cheaper living costs with college accommodation. Of course, rents vary, but crucially, you don’t have to pay during the vacations, only for the eight-week terms when you are in residence.

Maintenance Bursaries from the Universities

The Oxford Opportunity Bursary (OOB) and the Cambridge Bursary have been developed to help students who are already in receipt of a government maintenance grant, meet their remaining living costs. The bursaries are means tested and awarded on a sliding scale, i.e. the lower your household’s residual income the more money you will receive. These figures are re-assessed each year of your degree, so if your financial situation does not change you will continue to receive the same level of support, but if your needs change this will be reflected in the amount of bursary you receive.

If you qualify for the maximum government maintenance grant, then you will receive the maximum bursary available, and this combined amount is intended to cover all of your living costs. It should therefore not be necessary to take out a student maintenance loan in addition to the statutory student loan covering tuition fees.

The OOB provides an additional start-up fund designed to cover the initial costs of university, e.g. specialist books and equipment, a computer, or items necessary for living away from home for the first time. Whilst the Cambridge Bursary does not provide this initial boost for poorer students, the cut off point to qualify for a bursary, in terms of residual income, is higher than the OOB, so more students receive support.

For the OOB, both you and each of your sponsors (i.e. both parents if both contribute to your household income) must consent to have your financial details shared with the University by signing the relevant part of your application for student support that you make to your Local Authority each year. For the Cambridge Bursary, your College provides you with a form when you arrive in Cambridge.

College Funding

The colleges at Oxford and Cambridge tend to look after their students very well. Although the type of support and amount of funding varies from college to college, often depending upon how relatively rich or poor they are, the following is typical of what most colleges offer:

  • Hardship Funds – for students in financial need. These may be in the form of short-term loans, grants or bursaries.
  • Scholarships, Exhibitions and College Prizes – awarded for excellent academic achievement.
  • Study Grants – to cover accommodation for students staying at university outside of term-time to continue studying.
  • Travel Grants – to cover costs of a trip related to academic work.
  • Book and Equipment Grants – to cover the cost of purchasing essential items for your degree.
  • Job Opportunities – both Oxford and Cambridge discourage part time jobs during term-time, but there are a few approved ways to earn money whilst studying, e.g. in a college library or bar. There is a huge range of full time opportunities during vacations, from retail jobs, through to assisting on summer schools, and research work. Many students enjoy being able to stay in town whilst earning money and preparing for the term ahead.

University access

Oxford and Cambridge aim to offer places to the best students with the highest level of academic potential in their chosen subject.  Both Oxford and Cambridge universities put a huge amount of time, effort and resources into attracting the top students from all sorts of different backgrounds, and are determined that no student should be deterred from applying due to financial or social considerations.  Theoretically, no-one is at a disadvantage – apart from those who don’t apply.

What are the first steps?

The first step for students thinking about applying to Oxford or Cambridge is to attend one of the nationwide Oxford and Cambridge Student Conferences, held in March every year by the universities. Open to all students, these events offer a huge range of information and the opportunity to speak to current students and discuss their experiences. 

In addition to this, both universities run a number of schemes and initiatives throughout the year to attract the best students regardless of background, and to ensure that each and every student is considered individually when they apply.

Merton College Oxford UniversityOxford

  • UNIQ: summer school gives year 12 students from state schools the chance to live the Oxford student life for a whole week – to form their own opinions and decide whether it’s right for them. (UNIQ replaces the summer school previously organised through the Sutton Trust.  Our very own previous Managing Director, Rachel, attended a Sutton Trust Summer School at Cambridge when she applied).
  • Target Schools is a student-run organisation hosting a number of schemes to encourage applications from all backgrounds.  For example, a student-shadowing scheme enabling pupils to come to Oxford for a day, shadow an undergraduate and attend workshops on interview techniques, essay writing, and possibly even mock-tutorials.
  • Oxford, like Cambridge, is committed to accessibility for disabled applicants and students. The Disability Office can be contacted on [email protected]
  • The Oxford FE Access Initiative runs a series of events across schools and FE colleges, including interview workshops, Oxford visits, talks for students from alternative educational backgrounds and staff presentations and workshops. 

Cambridge universityCambridge

  • Cambridge Special Access Scheme (CSAS) is a system designed to provide the Colleges and admissions tutors with the information required to fairly assess each candidate.  Students with particular social, personal or educational disruption or disadvantage are encouraged to apply through the CSAS (form available online), as well as those whose family or school does not have a history of sending students to university or to Oxbridge.  Laying out your personal experience and information to the tutors allows them the opportunity to place your achievements into a wider context, ensuring that they make the fairest evaluation of you alongside your fellow applicants.  The applicant’s school needs to recommend them for the Scheme.
  • Cambridge Student Union runs GEEMA (Group to Encourage Ethnic Minority Applications) and the Target campaigns, both of which are encouraging under-represented groups to apply. Target gives state sector sixth forms the opportunity to have a talk from a Cambridge student about the application process.
  • The Cambridge University Access Initiative has the aim of widening participation, raising student’s aspirations and promoting Higher Education through visits, talks and teacher programmes.
  • The CUSU Shadowing Scheme gives students from schools without a history of Cambridge success the opportunity to shadow an undergraduate in their prospective subject. All accommodation and food is free, and travel often reimbursed depending on an assessment of need.
  • The Sutton Trust Summer School is the counterpart to Oxford’s UNIQ; these are free, subject-specific summer schools that take place over the summer, and give students a mini-Oxbridge environment to become more familiar with life at the university.
  • Experience Cambridge is a scheme for students who have unsuccessfully applied for  a place at the Sutton Trust Summer School, due to applying for an oversubscribed subject. This online course allows students to work on a three week, first-year level academic project designed by Cambridge Fellows.
  • Challenge Days are open to state-maintained school students in the UK in Year 10. These days give students an insight into studying at Cambridge, by providing mini-lectures in a chosen subject area, lunch at a Cambridge college, and a group debate.

Our Access and Scholarship Schemes

Each year, for students applying to Oxford or Cambridge Universities, we run a free Access and Scholarship Scheme. The Schemes provide personalised guidance over the course of a year, including one-to-one time with one of our best subject mentors and attendance on our intensive courses.

Read more about our Schemes here.


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Cambridge music scholarshipsChoral Scholarships

The Choral Scholarship deadline was 15 February every year. Students who have applied for a Choral Scholarship should refer to the Cambridge website for further information.

Organ Scholarships

All candidates wishing to apply for an Organ Scholarship must submit the application form by 1 September every year. You may then be invited to take part in the Organ Trials. The audition will be purely musical and you will be invited back up for your academic interview in December.

There are certain restrictions set by individual colleges as to the academic subject that can be applied for. Further information is available on the Cambridge website.

Instrumental Awards

The deadline for making an application for an Instrumental Award is 28 February every year.

All colleges participate in the scheme and the application process for the scheme takes place once applications for an academic place have been considered and offers have been made. Current students can also apply.

If you meet the conditions of your Cambridge offer, you will be asked to attend an audition which will be held just before the start of the academic year. At the audition, you will be asked to play a set piece of chamber music and do some sight-reading.

For more information, take a look at the official website.



Oxford Music ScholarshipsChoral Scholarships

The application form is available here and must be completed by 1 September each year. You may then be invited to take part in the musical testing (Choral Trial) held in late September.

You will also have to submit any academic written work, sit relevant admissions tests and may be asked for academic interviews in December.

Outline of the choral trial:

  • The musical testing will take the form of a vocal audition (the performance of a prepared piece of vocal music selected by the candidate) and tests to determine sight reading and aural ability.
  • Candidates are requested to bring two additional copies of their prepared piece for the use of the accompanist and the examiner.

For more information visit the official website.

Organ Scholarships

violin and trumpetAll candidates must submit a special application form by 1 September every year.

You will also have to submit any academic written work, sit relevant admissions tests and may be asked for academic interviews in December.

Outline of the practical test:

  • Performance of a prepared piece of organ music selected by the candidate. (Candidates should bring an additional copy for the examiners.)
  • Sight-reading.
  • Score-reading in four parts with modern vocal clefs (G and F clefs only).
  • Transposition of a hymn tune (not more than one tone up or down).
  • Harmonization of a melody (normally a hymn tune or simple chorale).
  • Candidates may also be required to take a short choir practice (with boys’ or mixed voices as appropriate).

Instrumental Awards

Several colleges offer Instrumental Awards to undergraduates in recognition of their prowess and contribution to college musical life. Only undergraduates who are already in residence at a college are eligible to apply.

For more information visit the official website, where more information on Instrumental Awards is available at the bottom of the page.

Government Assistance

Depending on where you live in the UK and your household income, different levels of repayable maintenance loans and non-repayable maintenance grants are available.

English Students

Students from households with incomes less than £42,620 can receive a student loan plus an additional non-repayable grant from the government.

Students from households with incomes less than £25,000 will be entitled to full grant of £3,387; if their household income is between £25,000 and £42,620 they will be entitled to a partial grant of between £3,387 and £50. They can also apply for a maintenance loan.

Scottish Students

Household income Maintenance loan Maintenance grant
£0 – £16,999 £5,500 £1,750
£17,000 – £23,999 £5,500 £1,000
£24,000 – £33,999 £5,500 £500
£34,000 + £4,500 £0


Northern Irish Students

Household income Maintenance loan Maintenance grant
£0 – £19,203 £2,953 £3,475
£19,203 – £30,000 £2,953 – £3,625 £3,475 – £1,215
£30,000 – £41,065 £3,625 – £4,790 £1,215 – £50
£41,065 – £53,035 £4,790 – £3,630 £0
£53,035 + £3,630 £0


Welsh Students

Household income Maintenance loan Maintenance grant
£0 – £18,370 £2,575 £5,161
£18,370 – 30,000 £2,575 – £4,101 £5,161 – £2,099
£30,000 – £50,020 £4,101 – £5,125 £2,099 – £50
£50,020 – £57,188 £5,125 – £3,863 £0
£57,188 + £3,863




Oxford University Assistance

In addition to the financial support provided by governmental programmes, you may aditionally be eligible for either a reduction in the amount you are required to pay, a bursary, or both.

Fee Reductions

Household income Fee in first year Fee in subsequent years
£0 – £16,000 £3,500 £6,000
£16,001 – £20,000 £7,000 £7,000
£20,001 – £25,000 £8,000 £8,000
£25,001 + £9,000 £9,000


Bursary Support

Household income Bursary Additional start-up bursary
(first year only)
£0 – £16,000 £3,300 £1,000

£16,001 – £20,000 £3,000 £500 
start-up bursary 
for all students 
£20,001 – £25,000 £2,500
£25,001 – £30,000 £2,000
£30,001 – £35,000 £1,500
£35,001 – £40,000 £1,000
£40,001 – £42,620 £500
£42,621 + £0 £0


Oxford University Scholarships

In addition to the bursaries offered by Oxford, there is a limited number of scholarships available for both UK-resident and international applicants.

For UK-domiciled students

  • The Moritz-Heyman Scholarship Programme for UK residents from low income backgrounds
  • The Lloyds Scholars Programme for UK residents from low income backgrounds
  • The Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies Scholarship for UK residents from Muslim communities
  • The Palgrave Brown UK Scholarship for UK residents from Norfolk or Suffolk
  • Ahmet Ertegun Memorial Scholarship (for undergraduates) for Turkish nationals resident outside the European Economic Area
  • The Hill Foundation Scholarship for Russian nationals undertaking a second degree
  • Noon Educational Foundation Scholarship for Pakistani nationals resident in Pakistan
  • Oxford Australia Scholarship for Australian nationals resident in Australia
  • Raffy Manoukian Scholarship for Students of Armenian descent resident outside the European Economic Area
  • The Reach Oxford Scholarship for Students from specified low income countries


Scholarships for international students

For further information and details of how to apply, visit the Oxford University Scholarships page.


Cambridge University Assistance

Like Oxford, Cambridge offers assistance to students through a variety of programmes which take into account household income.

The National Scholarship Programme

Through the National Scholarship Programme (NSP), new undergraduates from particularly disadvantaged backgrounds who come from England or non-UK EU countries are eligible to apply for a £6,000 fee waiver in their first year of study. The awards are funded jointly by the government and the University of Cambridge.

There are two ways to be considered for a NSP award: 

1) You are guaranteed a NSP award if you are from a household with an income of less than £25,000 per year and if you also satisfy one of the following criteria: 

  • You have spent more than three months in care
  • You are a lone parent
  • You received free school meals at school.

2) If you don’t meet the above criteria, but your household income is less than £25,000 per year, you may still apply. In fact, you are encouraged to do so. Cambridge expect that those from a houshold with an income of less than £20,000 in particular still have a good chance of being awarded a fee waiver.

Cambridge Bursary Scheme

The Cambridge Bursary Scheme offers UK and EU students non-repayable Bursaries of up to £10,500 over three years or £14,000 over four years to help with living costs. The value of each Bursary is dependent on household income, with the maximum award in 2013-14 being £3,500.

Students with a household income of £25,000 per year or less are eligible for the maximum non-repayable Cambridge Bursary of £3,500 per year.

Students with a household income of between £25,001 and £42,611 per year are eligible for a partial non-repayable Cambridge Bursary.

A higher Bursary of £5,600 per year is available to UK mature students with family incomes of £25,000 per year or less who are also resident in Cambridge throughout the year.

There’s no limit to the number of Bursaries available – every eligible student who applies will receive one.

The Cambridge Bursary Scheme also provides European Bursaries to help EU students meet their living costs.

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