Tips on Financial Aid at UCT – What you need to know

University is expensive, but to make you feel a bit better, a silver lining does exist. With a helping hand to find the right sources and information, funding options are available for South African citizens. So here are some tips on financial aid at the University of Cape Town

Sending your children to university is quite an emotional step for many parents. Education is expensive, especially in South Africa, and studying at university is becoming subsequently more difficult due to high education fees. What many South African citizens don’t know is that there are funding opportunities available for those who are in financial need and who are eager to study. Everyone deserves an opportunity to study and become educated at university. Here’s an introduction to what you need to know about UCT’s financial aid process.

Getting started:

If you are a South African citizen in financial need or show good academic potential, then applying for funding is a possibility. The application process for financial aid at the University of Cape Town includes an application for a National Student Funding Scheme (NSFAS) loan and a UCT bursary.

Upon applying for financial aid, it is important to remember that the applicants are assessed according to their family income. Funding will vary according to the applicant’s financial situation. The financial aid process is more about admin than anything else. You need to fill out in depth forms but once completed, it’s well worth the wait and effort.

Undergraduate and postgraduate funding go through separate processes. Depending on what funding you are looking for, there are opportunities to apply both on the premise of financial need, or merit – or both. Scholarships and bursaries are also given to students if they are in good academic standing, which means good marks do pay off.

How does it work?

South African citizens can apply from the financial aid office at UCT middle campus or fill in the online form.

Financial aid applicants are checked under certain eligibility criteria:

  • South African citizenship or permanent residency (conditions apply)
  • Your financial situation
  • First undergraduate qualification
  • Applicant must not be under administrative order

Once you qualify for the criteria, an expected family contribution (EFC) is calculated for you, which will then need to be paid to UCT. The EFC is calculated in regards to your family income and financial situation. This will be the only amount you need to pay for the year, which could end up being R3000 for the year depending on your family income etc.

Your financial aid consists of a UCT bursary funding and a loan from the NSFAS. The UCT bursary does not need to be paid back, but the loan does. The NSFAS encourages students to pass all their courses, because if all courses are passed, students only need to pay back 60 percent of the remaining loan to the NSFAS. The NSFAS loan does not need to be paid immediately and no interest is added onto the loan until one year after the student finishes university. In turn, once awarded with financial aid you are given the chance to study at a minimal cost.  Take advantage of this and do the best you can. For more information and to apply for financial aid at the University of Cape Town click here.

When does it happen?

UCT and the NSFAS need to receive applications by latest October 2015 for the academic year of 2016 (subject to change). You can submit your application for the following year any time before the deadline. From my own personal experience, I would do it as soon as possible so you can gather all correct documentation, forms and save time. For scholarships, bursaries and postgraduate funding, letters of recommendation may be required which may take some extra time. Therefore the earlier you apply, the better.

Key points to remember:

If you aren’t awarded financial aid, don’t fret. There are other funding opportunities available and students are advised to make means to find other funding to cover their tertiary education. Once you have completed your financial aid application forms, your documents are sent not only through UCT but also to GAP funding. GAP funding is financial assistance that is based on a course fee bursary and a NSFAS/ UCT loan. This means if you don’t meet the eligibility criteria for financial aid and you are in a good academic standing then you may still be eligible for GAP funding.

Check out SA’s biggest bursary listing on the EduFunding platform.

My advice:

The financial aid process can be frustrating and frightening simultaneously. If you are in financial difficulty, the constant thought of finding a way to afford your studies may loom over you. Although a comforting thought to know is that in the end universities are here to help you and want you to get an education. Don’t be afraid to ask for help or advice. If you are unsure of the process or you want to query your account, speak to the financial aid staff at UCT. There is help, you just need to ask.

Be patient and be sure to follow up with the financial aid office. Delays in processing and misfiling does happen so remember that everyone is human. Following up with the office is the best way to make sure your application is still on its way. The admin process is long and tedious but in the end if you are rewarded with funding, you end up saving a lot of money.

Opinions from students at UCT:

“I think it is most important to be aware of the submission dates for the various applications.  They are usually at the busiest time of the year, and can easily be overlooked. The funding page on the UCT website is up to date, and will let you know the upcoming due dates.  Once you have identified which funding you are eligible for, (via the website or financial aid handbook) you need to start collecting all the documents a couple of weeks in advance. Some documents take longer than others, for example getting references from lecturers and applying for copies of your transcripts, so you need to leave adequate time for these.  Lecturers are usually very willing to write you a reference if you give them enough time.  If you are successful with the application, the money usually only enters your account a couple of months into the year.  If you are reliant on this money to make the first fee payment, it is possible to get a letter stating that you have been funded to notify the fees office.” – Christine de Beer (postgraduate)

“I think the main thing that people need to realise is that it is a lot of admin to do, but in the end it’s worth it. There are always a lot of forms to fill out, but the amount of money you save is incredible. Parents should also know that it’s quite a lengthy process to go through and quite a lot that they require, but it’s worth it and can save you quite a lot of money. The funding from UCT is really awesome because if you pass your courses, you get something like 60% off the loan. It really helps and I ended up paying something like 15 grand for my first year in total (and had a bursary after that, so basically paid nothing).” – Daniel Donaldson

“I honestly had such a great experience with UCT’s financial aid. It was a very smooth process. I applied online from the UCT website and handed in forms (make sure you make the deadline). The staff in the office were great and very helpful. I was given a decent bursary based on my family’s financial situation which helped us a lot. All round, the process was long but smooth and I am very impressed with how efficient it was. There is a huge amount of aid available, one just has to ask!”– Anonymous

“I didn’t get financial aid but instead got GAP funding, which is aimed at students that are able to pay some fees but not all of them. So I got a R10 000 scholarship and a R20 000 bursary, which I only needed to pay back at a later stage. I only accepted the scholarship though, so that is possible too. My mom paid the rest of the fees for me. You automatically get considered for gap funding when you apply for financial aid so there is no additional admin needed. They will evaluate whether you are eligible for GAP funding. I would advise everyone who struggles to pay UCT fees to apply – the application is worth it even if it is a bit tedious. And even if you might think you won’t get financial aid, you might still get gap funding which is already very helpful.” – Anja Schwär