What Qualifies as Financial Need for Students

In addition to your volunteer experience, academics, or other achievements, some student funding opportunities may prioritize students with financial need. Don’t let that deter you from applying! The definition of financial need may be more flexible than you think. To ensure you aren’t missing out on potential opportunities or wasting time applying for scholarships you are ineligible for, here’s a guide on what qualifies as financial need. 

Defining Financial Need

The definition of financial need is flexible. Each scholarship, bursary, or grant will have its own definition of what financial need means. While this can make it sometimes difficult to assess your eligibility, it also means that you may have access to more student funding opportunities than you think! 

Despite the variability in meaning, there are three typical definitions of financial need. Review each one below to see if you might qualify!

Specific Threshold Definition

The first definition of what qualifies as financial need is a specified threshold. In this case, the scholarship committee will name a level of income. If your income is below that threshold, then you qualify for financial need!


Sometimes deciding parties will evaluate family income, in which case the income of your entire family would need to fall below the threshold.

If you live with your parent(s) or guardian(s), you will likely need to ask them how much money they make in a year. If you have more than one parent or guardian, you’ll need to add their income together to get your total annual household income. Sometimes the scholarship may also ask about your savings or other assets (such as if you own a house or car). 

The income level you must meet to qualify for financial need will be different depending on the scholarship, bursary, or grant. For example, the Leonard Foundation Scholarship’s definition of financial need is a total household income of $60,000 or below. Other scholarships may have a lower income or a higher one.

Self-Identification Definition

The second definition of what qualifies as financial need is self-identification. Simply put, if you or your family cannot pay for your post-secondary education without going into debt, you can qualify for financial need here!

Applications with this definition of financial need typically require you to write an essay or statement describing your financial need. Here are some examples of points you can talk about to demonstrate your financial need!

  • Living in a rental home
  • Pursuing over 4 years of schooling
  • Other family members also pursuing post-secondary education
  • Personal or family medical expenses 
  • Only supported by one income for your family
  • If you or your family members are precarious workers or have limited employment
  • Personal or family financial challenges faced over the last four years

This is only a brief list! Many more circumstances could mark you as financial need. 

Relative Definition

The final common definition of what qualifies as financial need is relative. This definition doesn’t simply rely on a single number like the specific threshold definition. Instead, it takes in the context around your financial situation. The funding committee will assess what your education costs versus your ability to fund it. Your financial ability will be determined by a few factors including:

  • Total annual household income
  • The number of people in your household
  • Necessary expenses/cost of living (rent, groceries, utilities, etc.)

A relative definition is more flexible than a set limit definition. If you live with your parent(s) or guardian(s), you will likely need to sit down with them to calculate some expenses for your application. 

So to recap, here are three ways you might qualify for financial need:

  • Specific threshold: you make below a certain income level
  • Self-identification: you can describe your financial need
  • Relative definition: you can explain what your education costs versus your limited ability to fund it

Now go out and start applying!

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