How students can cash in by playing the scholarship game

College life need not be one of penury, there are more than 300 scholarships available to Irish students, and it’s not just for academic excellence, there are awards for all sorts of pursuits, from singing to snooker


When law student Sinead Davies was anointed a scholar at Trinity College in April on the basis of her second term exam results, her first reaction was that it was something that may spruce up her CV and grease the wheels of the post-college steeplechase. Then she looked at the facts and figures and realised that the scholarship was worth around €40,000 over five years.

“Once I started looking at the entitlements of scholars, I find more and more information about this benefit and that benefit,” she says. “It’s blown my mind.”

As well it might; at the same time as Davis picked up her award, 66 new foundation scholars were announced at Trinity College, each of them demonstrating exceptional knowledge of their subjects . Successful applicants are entitled to up to five years of free accommodation, free tuition and free evening meals during term time. Those who become ‘waiters’ (who say grace at evening meals in the dining halls) receive an additional salary.

“I think in the long run we’ll really feel it,” says Davies, referring to the fiscal advantage. It makes a massive difference to the college experience. Yes, there is pressure to keep to a certain academic standard, but I think that pressure comes from within, really.”

Pot Noodle dinners
When it comes to the glory years of college, several cliches have long existed: Pot Noodle dinners, cut-price cider and the general eking out of a precarious, Withnail And I-type existence. Third level education has always been about making meagre resources go further, but the current crop of students certainly have their work cut out for them in this regard. Disheartening figures emerged in 2013, throwing a harsh light on the real cost of being a student in Ireland. According to a 2013 report, the average cost of going to college in Ireland now stands at just under €10,000 a year.

A study by the Irish League of Credit Unions found that nine out of 10 parents support their child through third-level education, contributing on average €421 a month. Around a fifth of students drop out of college, often citing financial pressure. Worse again, just under a third of students are eligible for full maintenance grants. Add tuition fees and registration costs into the mix, and things get even bleaker.

But when it comes to navigating the choppy waters of student finance, the likes of Davies have demonstrated that there is indeed another way. We’ve long thought of scholarships as being the sole preserve of the exceptionally clever, awarded on the basis of need or academic merit.

But scratch the surface and you’ll find that this may not always be the case. According to the EU Funding Guide, an initiative of the European Commission, there are more than 12,000 scholarships, grants, loans and other funding options available in European third-level institutions (including Irish institutions), worth an estimated €27 billion. The same initiative also claims that more than two-thirds of students in Europe never even think to apply for any type of scholarship.

Whatever one’s personal circumstances, it’s certainly worth a student’s time investigating the options. In Ireland, it’s believed that there are more than 300 scholarships and bursaries available in third level institutions, with a bewilderingly wide set of criteria for eligibility.

And when it comes to getting one’s hands on the prize, it certainly helps to have academic smarts, but for those who perhaps didn’t shine so brightly on Leaving Cert day and have talents in sporting or artistic fields, there is hope too.

“Many scholarships are academic based, but a number of them are awarded on the basis of a particular subject,” explains Malcolm Byrne of the Higher Education Authority (HEA). “The first port of call for any student is to enquire of their college of choice what supports may be in place for their course. You might get lucky and fit the obscure criteria for certain awards. The institutions are always extremely helpful, and the most it will cost a person to investigate is a phone-call or the time it takes to fire off an email.”

Cash for points
Many colleges offer an automatic entrance scholarship sum to students who received a substantially high number of points in the Leaving Certificate (in the case of NUI Maynooth, for instance, anyone who received more than 500 points receives €1,000). The UCC Keliher scholarship offers candidates born in Cork or Limerick (or born to parents of same) an award of up to €1,710 based on their Leaving Cert performance, while NUI Galway’s best and brightest are awarded a €1,700 Excellence Scholarship if they achieve 560 points in their Leaving Cert.

Those entering Trinity College are eligible for one of five Reid Entrance Exhibition awards. Exhibitioners have their commons (evening meal) free, are supplied with a laptop and receive a salary of €6,000 per annum. During the Senior Freshman (second) year, exhibitioners normally compete for Foundation scholarships. Those who fail to obtain such scholarships, but are deemed to have shown sufficient merit, may have their exhibitions extended for two further years.

UCD’s Ad Astra Academy is among the country’s best-known scholarship systems, welcoming 94 scholars into its programme last year. Of these, 61 were academic (22 were elite sports people, 11 were performance arts practitioners). Where once the award was given automatically on the basis of Leaving Cert performance, candidates, from this year onwards, are chosen on the basis of the information provided of their artistic, scholastic or sporting achievements in their online application form (due in July of each year). Six Higher Level A1s in the first exam sitting (or A Level equivalent) are still required. The award is valued at €3,000 per academic year, used to offset the cost of fees or accommodation.

Other scholarships, however, place less emphasis on exam merit. UCD, for instance, offers the Irish Language Student Residence Scheme to 24 students that are fluent in the Irish language, attend the college and live in UCD’s Irish House at the Merville Student Residences (up to 40 per cent of accommodation costs are reimbursed).

Good sports
The objective of most sports scholarships is to help students advance a sporting career. As part of scholarships, training, coaching, sports medicine, and financial aid are usually on offer.

And in some cases, the rewards can be found in unexpected corners. Did you know, for instance, that it’s possible to get into NUI Maynooth on a snooker scholarship – the only one of its kind in the world? A number of these €2,000-a-year scholarships are available, supported by the Republic of Ireland Snooker and Billiards Association, affording players a bursary and professional coaching. Rugby, camogie, swimming and GAA scholarships are also available at NUI Maynooth. Among the more obscure scholarships offered by the college is the Michael Osborne Equine Business Scholarships, offered via Horse Racing Ireland.

Gary Hurley, an amateur golfer ranked 37th in the world, is one of the recipients of NUI Maynooth’s ‘platinum’ Paddy Harrington golf scholarship. On-campus accommodation is covered, as is the cost of on-course training (at Kildare’s Carton House) and sports psychology sessions. Additionally, he receives a stipend of €1,000 per semester. Still, he concedes that he has a rather different experience to other students on his business/management degree course.

“There’s definitely a lot more structure to your week,” he explains. “There’s a lot of gym work, golf on Fridays and psychology in the evenings. It feels like you’re doing two courses. You don’t get to go to the Students’ Union bar and have drinks all the time. It can be hard, but I’ve got some good friends who help out when I miss lectures.”

NUI Galway offers Elite Sports Scholarships and Sports Performance Points Scholarships – about 32 in all. Commerce student and soccer star Lisa Casserly is a recipient of a sports performance points scholarship.

“I was offered many scholarships over in America, but I knew NUI Galway was where I wanted to go,” she says. “As part of the scholarship, I have been appointed a personal trainer who has done up a programme which I work from in the gym every week. I was also appointed a nutritionist who gave me a diet plan.

“People sometimes ask me how I manage to stay on top of my studies, but throughout the Leaving Cert, I felt my sport got me through it as I was able to clear my head for that period of time I was out on the pitch.”

At the University of Limerick, Paddy Dooley Rowing Scholarships are awarded to rowers of exceptional ability who can combine an academic course with excellence in sport. The Dooley family, who are from Limerick, decided to establish the scholarship in honour of their father, who captained the Irish Olympic eight, in the 1948 Olympic Games in London. The award is worth €2,000 and is given on a yearly basis.

The Michael Hillery and Jacinta O’Brien Athletics Scholarship is estimated as equivalent in value of €7,000 (students may get their fees for campus living waived, as well as coach access).

At DCU, the Elite Athlete Development Programme awards successful candidates with up to €3,000 in athlete support services.

Several Institutes of Technology also offer sports scholarships: Waterford IT in particular is known for offering a number of awards (worth between €3,000 and €8,000) to outstanding sportspeople. One of the conditions of receiving the scholarship is that recipients play an active role in the WIT sports club. Galway-Mayo, Tralee, Sligo and Blanchardstown offer similar incentives to students.

The power of music
Elsewhere, several students with choral and musical talents get a financial headstart in institutions across the land. NUI Maynooth offers an annual award of €2,000 to one student. Some 18 choral scholarships and symphony orchestra scholarships are offered to musically-gifted applicants at UCD every year, while NUI Galway offers choral scholarships to up to 20 students who form a choral ensemble under the direction of Mark Duley, organist of St Nicholas, and director of St Nicholas Schola Cantorum. Trinity College offers myriad scholarships for music students, too, among them organ and chapel choir scholarships.

Boston College and UCC have come together to establish an annual scholarship affording a music student the opportunity to participate in the highly acclaimed Gaelic Roots Festival and Summer School of Traditional Music. The Brian O’Donovan Music Prize offers the recipient an award equivalent to about €1,270.

Other creatives aren’t left out. NCAD offers four full-fee tuition scholarships for postgraduate study, based on merit and previous achievements. The scholarships are open to four students (one in fine art, one in design, one in education and one in visual culture).

UCC offers a rather unusual prize to students of the college’s School of History. A prize for the student who writes the best undergraduate dissertation or long essay on either Irish diplomatic history, or the history of Church-State relations in Ireland, is awarded yearly.

In UCC, the Matilda Ryan Scholarship is offered to two students pursuing French in the university. The current value of the scholarships is €2,500.

UL’s Marie Duffy Awards provide financial support to aspiring dancers, musicians and choreographers, to the tune of €1,000, with an eye on the world of Irish dance.

Those with a nose for business and technology, meanwhile, will find plenty of opportunities to offset the cost of college. In UL, the Kemmy Business School/Northern Trust Outstanding Scholar Awards are worth an estimated €60,000.

The Analog Devices Scholarships offer a stipend of €7,000 for UL students enrolled in their Bachelor of Engineering in Electronic and Computer Engineering. Recipients of the scholarship will also be eligible for education placement at Analog Devices.

The top graduating engineering student from the University of Limerick will also be eligible for the Hank Krabbe Medal and an accompanying stipend of €5,000. At the same college, there is €50,000 in funding available, thanks to Microsemi Ireland, to help support excellence in engineering. The Ennis-based company offers four scholarships, valued at €12,000 each, open to all school leavers, one each year over four years.

Women on technology-related courses across the country are also invited to apply for the Intel Shannon Women in Technology Programme, which aims to support students with a stipend of up to €3,000 per year.

And what of instances in which students are in financial difficulty? The Bank of Ireland Millennium Scholars’ Trust has been established in UL to assist students with an excellent academic CV, who may be facing financial difficulty which may interfere with them reaching their full potential.

Sponsored by JP McManus to the tune of a reported €30 million, the all-Ireland scholarships were established during the boom. At the time, McManus famously stated that the Celtic Tiger will not be around forever and that education will be the key for success in more difficult times. Since the awards’ inception in 2008, 494 scholarships have been awarded to date (each one valued at €6,750 per year).

Participation in the scholarship scheme is confined to those who are exempted from paying the Leaving Certificate examination fee in Ireland or are in receipt of the Educational Maintenance Allowance in Northern Ireland (other criteria apply).

There is no application process in the Republic of Ireland as the award is based on Leaving Cert exam results and eligibility (see to check eligibility). It’s also possible for all-Ireland scholarship recipients to apply for a SUSI maintenance grant. Receiving of the State-run SUSI grant is not affected by the receipt of several scholarships (see for more information).

International students wanting to come and study in Ireland aren’t left out of the chase, either. The Sean and Sarah Reynolds US Undergraduate Scholarship is available to one American Trinity-bound student commencing a full-time undergraduate degree in 2015 (as a one-off award). Valued at $50,000, the award is used to cover non-EU fees for up to five years. Students of any nationality who have completed their education in India can apply for the Waterford Institute of Technology’s Indian Wicket Scholarship. The other Institutes of Technology have devised the Ireland Homecoming Study Scholarship for the children, grandchildren or great-grandchildren of Irish emigrants.

Brazilian students with a view to studying at UCD’s School of English, Drama and Film are invited to apply for the Maria Helena Kopschitz Scholarship. The award will cover the international fees for the MA in Anglo-Irish Literature and Drama, as well as a €14,000 bursary to cover accommodation costs.

Thanks to a number of memorial awards, some colleges in the US give preference (and a hefty financial leg-up) to students of Irish descent, among them the Joseph T.P. Sullivan Scholarship at Fordham Law School in New York, The Elizabeth Reed Annis Endowed Scholarship at University of Southern California School of Architecture, and the Boland Scholarship at Georgetown University in Washington DC.

Big daddy
Arguably, the big daddy of the international scholarships for Irish students wanting to study abroad is the Fulbright Award, designed to allow students to pursue post-grad studies for a year in the US. The accolade is peer-reviewed and awarded to high fliers, and is therefore a genuine boon on a student’s CV. The financial amounts involved aren’t too shabby, either: the University of Pennsylvania’s Law School Fulbright scheme, for instance, offers a $25,000 (€23,580) grant.

So far, so lucrative … but there’s no such thing as a free lunch (or, for that matter, a free education). According to golfer Gary Hurley, some students have difficulty justifying the effort involved in keeping up their end of the bargain.

“I knew a couple of guys on a rugby scholarship and they gave them up because it all became too much,” he says. “They had part-time jobs too, and they had to ask themselves whether the benefit was worth the effort. It is fairly strenuous work alright, but it’ll really stand to me when I turn pro, hopefully in September. Besides, it’s a real help to my parents.”

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