Paying for university – 5 tips

Written by on 21st October 2016

Why bother saving for university – isn’t that what student finance is for? Yes and no, say the money gurus at Save the Student: here’s how to pay (or pitch in) for university costs.

While the Tuition Fee Loan covers course costs, 70 per cent of students* say the Maintenance Loan – the bit that covers daily living costs – isn’t enough to live on. That can mean hard times on campus, especially if you’re not expecting a shortfall at all.

Whether you’re thinking about where to apply for uni, have just started at your dream learning establishment, or your kids are, it’s worth knowing what the deal is. This article can help.

  1. Don’t get caught short

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The maintenance money the government, by way of student finance, doles out is tied to household income (which usually means how much parents earn). The higher the household income, the less you’re entitled to in Maintenance Loan or Grant. Like it or loathe it, that’s how the system swings – so it’s important to get a handle on the sums.

Start with this contribution calculator to see how much student finance you could get and, crucially, how much the government expects students or parents to chip into the pot.

2. Get the bigger picture

The cash available from the Student Loan or any grants or bursaries going will only get you so far. Just how far depends on how well you allocate it.

Once you know what to expect from student finance, jot down all the things you’ll need to spend it on (and how much): rent, bills, books, groceries, clothes, transport, moving costs,  snacks and stationery for starters! While that might sound intimidating, it’s the best way to spot – and plan for – potential problems.

Heads-up: rent can easily gobble up most of the Maintenance Loan but, as an essential cost, it is one you should aim to pay off first (along with other priority costs).

3. Find ways to plug the gaps

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It doesn’t have to be disastrous if student finance runs on the skimpy side – other official funding is on offer.

Start with the university: ask what support or back-up is going, including bursaries, grants, scholarships (not just for academic achievement, by the way!) and hardship funds (for emergencies).

There may also be industry or career funding relevant to the subject being studied, too: think NHS, social work or teaching bursaries, golden handshakes and other incentives. Your council or school may have schemes to support particular groups of students, or may be able to push you in the right direction. If all else fails, the Turn2Us grants calculator can help you sniff out charity funds.

4. Get saving

Saving your own cash to pay for university is no mean feat on thin-as-air interest rates – but setting cash aside is still a bonus if it staves off a cash crisis later on.

Use the contribution calculator to see what you’ll have to cough up, then work out how much to save each month to cover the shortfall (after Student Finance and any other funding going).

Having extra set by can take the worry out of things and mean less skintiness while studying. It also provides a bit of a buffer if you’re landed with unexpected costs or emergencies. Think ‘little and often’ and put away what you can afford: it’s never too late to start.

5. Share it out

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Not all students can get a job while studying, while not all parents can magic up extra cash – deciding on a plan together can make for less trauma and more tactics:

  • Don’t be put off by the Student Loan: yes, it has to be paid back, but only if students earn enough later on. If it’s the difference between going to uni or not, it’s worth considering
  • If a term-time job is off the cards, don’t forget freelancing: it was made for students! There are loads of businesses you can run from a dorm room – you don’t always need start-up cash (but you will need discipline and determination!)
  • Don’t waste cash (obviously). Make all your purchases ‘considered buys’ – check it works with your budget or savings plan, and if you can get it cheaper with a discount, voucher or cash back. That goes for bills and bus passes, too
  • Whether it’s spare Maintenance Loan or loose change down the back of the sofa, keep up with your savings plan – and keep an eye out for better interest rates or free cash for opening accounts
  • Have a back-up (because things don’t always go smoothly). If you need to borrow, go for a 0 per cent student overdraft before pricey commercial loans
  • Have a chat, chew the fat, spill the beans – the more you talk about how the money’s going, the less overwhelming it is, and the more likely you’ll be able to handle whatever comes your way.

*The National Student Money Survey 2016 (conducted by Save the Student in June 2016 and based on responses from more than 2,000 students).