How Many Distinctions Are Required for Bursaries in South Africa

How Many Distinctions Are Required for Bursaries in South Africa?

For top academic achievers hoping to secure a bursary for their university studies, one key question arises: How many distinctions are required to be eligible for bursaries in South Africa? Unfortunately, there is no universal answer, as this depends on various factors.

Bursary providers set their academic requirements based on the qualification, institution and other criteria. Some bursaries prioritize sheer academic performance, reflected in distinctions. Others focus more on financial need or potential demonstrated through extracurricular activities and leadership.

Understanding what distinctions thresholds apply to different bursaries can help you target opportunities suitably matched to your academic record. This guide examines the distinction requirements students can expect from various bursary sources.

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Distinctions Needed for University Bursaries

South African universities themselves offer merit bursaries for top-performing students, with criteria set by each institution.

Undergraduate Bursaries

For undergraduate studies, universities typically require the following:

  • 5-7 Distinctions – For general academic excellence bursaries awarded to students across disciplines. This threshold recognizes all-round excellence.
  • 3-5 Distinctions in Relevant Subjects – For merit bursaries in specific faculties like Health Sciences, Engineering, Accounting or Law. Here, your performance in key subjects for your degree carries more weight.

Postgraduate Bursaries

At postgraduate level, universities pay more attention to your undergraduate results:

  • 75-80% Average – For coursework Masters and Honors degrees, a strong overall aggregate is essential.
  • Specific Distinction Subjects – For research degrees, your performance in undergrad subjects relevant to your research topic is considered.
  • Academic Awards – Having graduated cum laude, summa cum laude or top of your class gives you an edge.

The more prestigious the university, the higher their academic requirements for bursaries tend to be.

Distinctions Required for External Bursary Providers

External companies, government departments, SETAs, non-profits and trusts also provide bursaries, each with their own eligibility criteria.

  • 5+ Distinctions – Top achieving ‘A-students’ with straight distinctions or higher have the best chances at corporate bursaries from major companies.
  • 3-4 Distinctions – Smaller business bursaries are accessible with slightly fewer but still excellent distinctions.
  • 50-85% Average – Some government and SETA bursaries consider broader success beyond just distinctions, but high marks definitely help.
  • Specific Subject Distinctions – Where bursaries align to certain fields like teaching or engineering, your distinctions in those key subjects carry more weight.

The more competitive the bursary program, the higher the academic requirements typically are in terms of top marks and distinctions needed.

Factors Beyond Distinctions That Matter

While critical for academic merit bursaries, distinctions are not the only eligibility criteria considered by many bursary programs:

Financial Need

Bursaries targeting disadvantaged students prioritize financial need first, before academic excellence. Here, your household income, dependents and general background play a bigger role.

Extracurricular Achievements

Accomplishments in sports, culture, leadership, volunteering and hobbies demonstrate well-roundedness and potential.


Some bursaries have specific demographic requirements around age, gender, disability, race or background.

Field of Study

Certain bursaries are earmarked for specific study fields, so your program choice matters.

In these cases, meeting the minimum academic threshold plus showing promise beyond the classroom is key. Distinctions alone don’t guarantee funding.

Tips to Be Competitive for Distinction Bursaries

If you are aiming for academic merit bursaries, here are some tips:

  • Research bursary requirements early – Grade 11 or before – so you know what to target.
  • Choose your Grade 12 subjects strategically to align with your degrees and bursary goals.
  • Work hard from day one of Grade 12 to achieve top marks in every subject. Don’t slack!
  • Get help from teachers and tutors to improve in weaker subjects.
  • Take advantage of exam preparation programs offered by universities and bursary providers.
  • Apply for several bursaries – don’t pin your hopes just on those needing 8 distinctions if you are unlikely to attain that.
  • Focus on bursaries aligned to your specific degree and career goals.

With preparation and a strategic approach, you can put yourself in the running for distinction bursaries that unlock your full potential.


In summary, there is no universal minimum number of distinctions required for bursaries in South Africa. Required distinctions range anywhere from 3 to 8 or more, depending on the specific bursary, provider, qualification level and other criteria. While aiming for excellence, be smart in targeting bursary programs that align with your unique academic profile and career aspirations.


What if I have only 1 or 2 distinctions? Can I still get a bursary?

Yes, some bursaries consider applicants with just 1-2 distinctions, especially if you demonstrate financial need or potential. Cast your net wider.

Do NSFAS loans require distinctions?

No, NSFAS funding is based on financial need, not academic performance. But you still need to meet baseline entry requirements for your degree.

How do distinctions at TVET colleges feature when applying for bursaries?

Your overall college marks percentage is more important than distinctions specifically. Over 75% is considered very good.

If I don’t have the needed distinctions, should I still apply?

Yes, it’s worth applying for bursaries where you meet the other criteria like financial need, diversity or field of study requirements.

What if my distinctions are not in my degree’s main subjects?

Then your application may be weaker for faculty-specific merit bursaries. But general excellence bursaries recognize all distinctions.

Do I need full distinctions or can some be 80%s and 90%s?

Most bursaries accept overall excellence with a mix of distinctions and very high marks. Full distinctions are best but not absolutely necessary.

What if I have distinctions but don’t satisfy the financial need criteria?

Look for merit-based academic excellence bursaries that don’t consider income and financial background.


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