Although receiving that acceptance letter from a university is an exhilarating and positive moment, it can sometimes fill parents and students with apprehensive dread, posing the question: How do I pay for this? There is no way of getting around the fact that university is expensive. So the next question – Can I get financial aid at UKZN?
Financial Aid at the UKZN is available. You just need to go out and apply. At UKZN, for example, the average tuition fees are about R27 000 a year. This can be more (or less), depending on your course. UKZN recommends that your budget is R67 200 a year for your tuition, residence fees, meals and books (at least in 2015). Although this seems like an unattainable amount for some people, you mustn’t let it get in the way of achieving your dreams. As with many other institutions, there are opportunities for financial aid at UKZN.
Financial support can come primarily through four different means:
- bank loans
- or a university’s internal financial aid.
UKZN has many different scholarships and bursaries on offer and there are a lot of externally-funded routes too. The type of funding I want to focus on is university-funded financial aid, because this can often be the most confusing.
What is Financial Aid and how does it work?
Financial aid is quite a broad term and can essentially mean anything that offers assistance in paying for your studies (in the case of university). However “Financial Aid” has come to specifically mean assistance given by the university NSFAS funds to help. UKZN, like most institutions in South Africa, is heavily subsidised by the government. Every year the powers that are in the government and other organisations designate an amount of money for “Financial Aid” in the country as a whole and specifically at UKZN. This is then administered through the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (or NSFAS). NSFAS administers all the “financial aid” funding at all government-funded universities.
Financial aid from NSFAS comes in the form of a loan or a bursary, which may cover all or part of your expenses. Although both an NSFAS loan and bursary essentially pay for your studies, a NSFAS loan will need to be paid back, whilst the bursary does not. A bursary is generally paid back in the form of you working for the same number of years that the bursary was provided for. Bursary for 3 years= work for them for 3 years.
Financial aid is given only to the most high academic achievers or financially needy students and you will need to be able to prove both of these criteria in detail. The amount awarded also depends on your needs and may not cover your entire university-related expenses. Financial aid is only awarded for one year at a time, but depending on your university results, you may be automatically granted funding for the following year or you may need to reapply. The re-awarded amount is also very dependent on your grades.
The terms and conditions surrounding financial aid at UKZN is aimed at getting you through university and into the working world with the least amount of financial burden.
Important Things to Remember:
- NSFAS does not charge interest on your loan whilst you are at university and they only start charging 12 months after you have completed your studies.
- You are also only expected to begin paying back your loan once your salary reaches a certain threshold.
- As a motivating factor, if you achieve good marks, up to 40% of your loan can be converted to a bursary.
How do I apply and do I qualify?
At UKZN, if you are registering for the first time, you must tick the “Requires Financial Assistance” box on your CAO form when you apply. If you have already registered before, you will need to contact the NSFAS directly.
Financial assistance is awarded on academic merit and financial need – meaning the higher your marks and the less able you are to pay your fees, the higher your chances of being awarded.
As a general rule of thumb, families who earn less than R150 000 p.a. (before expenses) qualify for financial aid but this does not guarantee it. Also, if you are awarded an additional bursary or scholarship, your NSFAS funding will generally be reduced. The specific marks required are harder to quantify because this will depend on your family income – for example if your family earns close to the R150 000 threshold, you will need exceptionally high marks (think well over 90% in Matric) to be considered.
When you receive your acceptance letter, you will be offered a place with or without financial assistance. Unfortunately this does not guarantee that you will be funded automatically. This means that you have been selected to apply for financial aid. The Student Funding Office will send you a Financial Aid Assistance form and a list of documentation needed. Bear in mind that the forms are generally exhaustive in nature and take a long time to fill out. The documentation is extensive as well – expect to need verified copies of ID’s, bank statements, salary slips, proof of residence, grant proofs and other documentation – for a full list see the NSFAS website. Although this may be quite a process, it is well worth it.
Okay, I’ve got financial aid, now what?
The university will require you to sign a declaration accepting your financial aid and informing you that ultimately you are responsible for your student fees account. This means that if you only receive a partial loan or bursary, you will be required to settle the outstanding amount. If you do not, you will not be eligible for funding in the next year nor will you be able to access your results. This has often been a contentious issue at UKZN, where students are under the impression that their entire university expenses are covered by financial aid.
UKZN has designated Financial Aid Officers for each College on each of the campuses. They will be within your respective College Administrative Offices. Financial Aid Officers are your best friend when it comes to financial assistance of any kind and it is wise to treat them with respect and an extra friendly smile. They will literally see a hundred students in a day at the beginning of semester, clambering to get their applications in or demanding various services. Because of this, if you see a Financial Aid Officer during peak season, he or she will most likely be very tired of students who are rude and expectant. Most are very friendly and helpful – it is just that you will probably see them when they are under a lot of stress. Financial Aid Officers will help you with your application and offer advice – so become their friend. One way of doing this is to try see them a long time (as in a few months) before the deadline. This way, you will avoid queues and have a better chance of getting a less harassed officer.
Financial Aid Officers will also help you once the money has been deposited into your account. Generally, this can take a few months, even to the end of May. If you have accounts that are due and the money has not yet been put into your student account, your Financial Aid Officer will be able to help you out.
The last thing to remember about financial aid is that you will only re-qualify if you pass all your courses with 65% or more.
I wasn’t awarded financial aid, now what?
Firstly, you can appeal. Your Financial Aid Officer will help you with the process but it can be long and tedious. Also your chances will not be high – unless it is based on a technicality. But there are other means of financing your studies. UKZN has a close relationship with EduLoan who administer student loans. You will have received an EduLoan form with your acceptance letter or any fee statements you receive in the post. All the major banks offer competitive student loans although a parent or guardian’s surety will be required. As mentioned before, there are many bursaries and scholarships available both internally and externally.
If you only have a partial bursary and are trying to keep costs to a minimum, it can help to stay with friends or family who live near UKZN. This will save you a substantial amount on res fees. There are also many second-hand book stores in and around both Durban and Pietermaritzburg as well as online. For example, the University guidelines state that you should budget about R7 000 for textbooks, but this can easily be cut back if you can find second-hand textbooks or better yet, sell your old ones too.
Luckily UKZN is phasing in the Moodle medium for notes, which means you will not be charged for your pre-printed course notes. They have also managed to negotiate some deals with suppliers of laptops – through the Student Technology Programme – which will help you with technological costs.
FYI: Another option is to simply register for fewer courses and do your degree over a longer period. This will allow you further time to find part-time work to finance the courses you do.
Personally, as someone who managed to get funding through various sources for the whole of my undergraduate degree at UKZN, I would recommend putting as much effort as you can into as many different sources of funding as you can find. Financial aid is great but it is quite an effort. This is also true for most other sources of funding, such as scholarships or loans. A big tip is to make sure that you have provided exactly what was asked for, in the required format and that you remember to cross your “t” and dot your “i’s,” as cliché as that sounds.
Many applications are thrown out before they are even looked at purely because the student forgot to submit a particular requirement. Ultimately, the university and NSFAS want to support you. They want you to get your degree and graduate, so help them help you and it will definitely smooth the process over.