When looking at higher education, the first question you may be asking yourself is 'can I afford to go to university?' Now that fees cost £9,250 a year you might think you cannot afford it, but this is not the case because the government will cover most of your expenses with a series of loans.

Student Finance

When attending university you are offered two loans; a tuition fee loan and a maintenance loan, for living expenses. The tuition fee loan is fixed and covers all your fees, however the amount offered in your maintenance loan and grant depends on a number of factors including where you live, where you study and your parents' income. In addition to this, there are different university tuition fee schemes and financial support for students resident in England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales. For more information, select the country you reside in (not the country you are attending university in!).

Repaying the Loan

If you are looking to undertake a three-year undergraduate degree with the new fee regime in England, you'll be averaging more than £44,000 in debt. This may make you very nervous. However, if you feel that university is the right option for you, don’t let the debt hold you back. In fact, don’t think of it as debt at all, treat it as a sort of graduate tax. After all, your loan repayments come out of your salary at the same time as tax, and they will only start when you are earning over £27,295. If your salary later goes below £27,295, you lose your job, or you choose not to work, your repayments will cease once again. Furthermore, if you fail to repay your loan within 30 years, any remaining debt will be written off.

Every time you borrow money from the bank, you have to pay back the original sum, plus some extra, that the bank charges. This is called interest. In England and Wales, the interest rate is fixed at RPI (inflation) + 3%. This can all get a bit complicated, so if you want to better understand how much you'll pay back, use the Complete University Guide’s nifty student loan repayment calculator.

Student Finance England offers a number of loans and grants including:

  • Tuition Fee Loan of up to £9,250, paid directly to the university.

  • Maintenance Loan of up to £12,667 depending on circumstances, paid triannually into a designated bank account. For a breakdown of current allowances see the Student Finance website.

  • Other Support- There is additional support available to disabled students, carers, care leavers, students with young children and those studying certain courses such as NHS degrees, social work or teaching.

  • University Support- Many universities run scholarship and bursary schemes for exceptional students or those from poorer backgrounds. You can find details of this in the finance section in our UK Universities section.

You need to apply online for any government loans and grants by 31st May 2021.

Student Finance Wales offers a number of loans and grants including:

  • Tuition Fee Loan of up to £9,250 to help towards tuition fees.

  • A mixture of Maintenance Loans and Grants of up to £13,375 depending on circumstances such as where you live and your parents’ income. Your loan needs to be repaid, whilst your grant does not.

  • Other Support- There is additional support available to disabled students, carers, care leavers, students with young children and those studying certain courses such as NHS degrees, social work or teaching.

  • University Support- Many universities run scholarship and bursary schemes for exception students or those from poorer backgrounds. You can find details of this in the finance section in our UK Universities section.

You need to apply as  early as possible to make sure you get your money on time for your course starting, but not later than 9 months after the start of your academic year. You do not need a confirmed place at university or college to apply.

Student Finance Northern Ireland offers a number of loans and grants including:

  • Tuition Fee Loan of up to £4,630 for those studying in Northern Ireland (NI university fees are £4,630 per year for local students) and up to £9,250 for those studying in the rest of the UK.  

  • Maintenance Loan of up to £6,780 per year, depending on circumstances. For a more detailed breakdown, see Student Finance Northern Ireland.

  • Maintenance Grant/ Special Support Grant of up to £3,475 per year depending on household income and circumstances.

  • Other Support- There is additional support available to disabled students, carers, care leavers, students with young children and those studying certain courses such as NHS degrees, social work or teaching.

  • University Support- Many universities run scholarship and bursary schemes for exceptional students or those from poorer backgrounds. You can find details of these in the finance section in our UK Universities section.

Studying in the Republic of Ireland

Students from Northern Ireland, studying in the Republic of Ireland can get a repayable Student Contribution Loan to cover the cost of their contribution charge (€3000), which must be paid upfront. All other financial support, except the Tuition Fee Loan, remains the same.

Repaying your loan

In Northern Ireland students have to begin repaying once their annual salary exceeds £19,390. You are charged interest on the amount you owe is linked to inflation and subsidised by the Northern Ireland Government The loan is then written off after 25 years.

You need to apply online for any government grants and loans by 8th April 2022. 

For more information, please see Northern Ireland's Guide to Financial Support for Full Time Students 2022/23.

Students studying in Scotland will have their fees paid automatically by the government, if they register with the Student Award Agency for Scotland.

Student Finance Scotland offers a number of additional loans and grants including:

  • Tuition fee loan of up to £9,250 for Scottish students studying in England, Wales or Northern Ireland.

  • Young Students’ Bursary of £2,000 a year, for students whose household income is less than £20,999 per annum. This does NOT have to be repaid.

  • Student Loan of up to £5,750 a year, depending on household income.

  • Independent Students’ Bursary of up to £1,000 a year for ‘independent’ students with a household income of less than £20,999 per year.

  • Other Support- There is additional support available to disabled students, carers, care leavers, students with young children or those with a dependant.

  • University Support- Many universities run scholarship and bursary schemes for exceptional students or those from poorer backgrounds. You can find details of this in the finance section in our UK Universities section.

You need to apply for any government grants and loans by 30th June 2021. 

For more information, please see Scotland's Funding Guide

Cost of Living

The cost of living at university can really vary from region to region. However, it is nice to have some rough idea of what you will spend. The table below, from Which?, shows the average expenses per month at university, excluding accommodation.

ExpensePer Month
Transport £80
Food shop £70
Water, gas and electricity £46
Interests and hobbies £46
Clothing £42
Holiday sand flights £89
Bank charges and fees £30
Takeaways and snacks £26
Phone and internet £27
Alcohol and cigarettes £16
Personal care £12
Coffee and tea £6
Other expenses £12

Using this table and your own estimates, you can work out how much you think you will spend. If you know the university that you are attending, you can use the UCAS budget calculator and get a monthly breakdown of how much you'll roughly need to live on in your university. You might also take into consideration factors such as, if you live within walking distance of the university you won't have to factor in transport costs, but if you are doing a subject with high equipment costs, such as Architecture or Fashion you will need a bigger budget for these items.

University Accommodation

If your are looking to live in university accommodation you will also need to alter your calculations. The table below shows the average weekly rent in university halls, nomination agreements (privately owned halls linked to your university) and private providers in 2015/16. Prices will have increased since then but this gives an idea of which areas are the cheapest and most expensive to live in. One thing to note is that rents offered by the university and many nomination agreements will have a shorter tenancy agreements than private providers - about 40 weeks instead of 52. Also prices depend on whether you choose a en-suite room, a catered room etc. Lastly, you will also need to provide a deposit for your accommodation of up to six weeks' rent.

Region/ProviderUniversity HallsPrivate Accommodation
East Midlands £153.11 £120.37
East of England £131.44 £168.08
London £181.62 £250.67
North East £111.55 £149.37
North West £122.80 £128.11
Northern Ireland £118.67 N/A
Scotland £124.00 £158.38
South East £138.99 £148.47
South West £132.54 £163.25
Wales £107.73 £144.46
West Midlands £134.11 £134.49
Yorkshire £122.80 £119.93

Source: Unipol

After looking at the amount of money you can get from the government and the cost of living at your chosen university, you may realise that, as a student you will be hard up. This means that managing your money can be really important. There are two main ways to keep on top of your finances; saving and working.

Saving

Saving never sounds very fun at all but sometimes it is necessary. Also, it does not have to mean never doing anything you want. Instead just by making a few small changes and ensuring that you don’t waste any money, you can save yourself hundreds of pounds every year.Firstly, make sure you are not paying too much for your bills. For example, most people pay about £30 a month for the mobile phone but there are deals out there for all the different smartphones for less than half of this, if you shop around. Furthermore, if you buy your travel in advance, or bulk buy your food and then freeze it, you could probably save as much as £20 a week.  Other than this, the best way to save is just to prioritise. If you really want to go out clubbing every night, you won’t be able to buy new clothes for a while and if you want to go away on holiday, you might have to start shopping at budget supermarkets. Don’t worry too much though, everyone else will be in the same boat.

Working

If you've calculated that you've not enough money to last you the academic year, you may like to consider getting a part-time job.  As well as the money you’ll earn, there are plenty of benefits to working alongside studying, such as gaining transferable skills, boosting your CV and making new friends. There are two main routes to working as a student:

  • Part-time work - if you work 15 hours a week during term time and earn the minimum wage of £6.45 (April 2020) for an under 20-year-old, you could be earning an extra £96.75 a week. If you worked during every week of term time, this would amount to approximately £2,500.

  • Holiday work - if you work the whole of your summer on minimum wage at £200 a week, you'll have earnt £2,000 by the end of a ten-week holiday! In second year you may also think about looking for a paid internship, where you can earn and build up your CV.

Finding a job is not too difficult when you’re at university, because you will have a dedicated careers service to guide you through it.

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