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How to minimise the biggest costs of going to university

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There’s no shortage of conversation about university tuition fees and how much debt many students go into to pay them off. However it’s less well known that, while student finance covers tuition fees for most students while they’re studying, the biggest upfront costs of going to university are largely not covered by loans. 

Mind the funding gap

After fees, the biggest costs of going to university are - you guessed it - the essentials: accommodation, food, books and travel. Unlike tuition fees though, these costs aren’t covered by the student loan. Students and parents are often unaware that further support in the form of a maintenance loan is issued on a means tested basis. The more parents earn, the less support they get to cover students’ essential costs of living. This loan is typically the only support widely available to parents for these costs. 

Parents who earn under £25,000 in total receive the most support from the maintenance loan. However this year’s National Student Money Survey found that even the parents who earn the least still give cash support to fund their children’s cost of living as they study, particularly students living away from home and studying in London. The average student receives £120.56 per month from their parents on top of all the finance they receive in order to cover costs.

If you’re a carer or going to uni as a care leaver, find out the support available on the UCAS website. (Opens in a new window)

How much will my maintenance grant be?

Work out your maintenance loan amount, and check what other funding you may be eligible for.

On student finance for English, Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish students visit GOV.UK  (Opens in a new window)

As well as read our guide on Financial support for further education.

Costs of accommodation vs maintenance loan

The cost of living, such as rent for student halls or private accommodation, must be paid up front, unlike tuition fees, which are paid after graduation. Further, students will need accommodation for only part of the year, but many private landlords will deal in 12 month contracts, leaving students paying for two or more months rent that they don’t need.

Accommodation costs can vary greatly by location:

  • The average cost of room rental in London per week is £222
  • The average cost of room rental nationally per week is £148.

According to this year’s National Student Money Survey, the maintenance loan covers on average £470 per month of living costs, but students spend £810 per month in living costs, leaving a gap of £340 per month for parents or carers to find, or for students to fund themselves. 

The effects of stretched finances on students

According to this year’s National Student Money Survey, even though 70% of students saved up to go to university, and many rely on part-time jobs more than parents for support, it is still tough to cover costs. The survey found that:

  • 60% of students said that student finance does not stretch far enough
  • 76% worry about making ends meet
  • 34% say that their grades suffer due to money worries.

How to minimise the biggest costs of going to university

The vast majority of students surveyed wish they’d had a better financial education. If you’re getting your results this summer and hoping to begin studying in September, or if you’re currently studying, consider these  options to bring down costs while you study.

Study from home

During the university application process and thoughout Clearing, you can consider your options. Study from home on an online or blended learning course, which allows you to live at home and to have more flexible schedule so that you can balance a part time job.

Study outside London

Costs can vary greatly in different locations - have a look around universities in areas where rent is cheaper.

Check university policy about accommodation

It is some universities’ policy for students to stay in its own student halls in their first year, which means there is no option to find cheaper private accommodation. Check whether your university has this policy and book accommodation as early as possible to secure the cheapest option within those halls.

Research hardship funds

Many universities will have funding for students in financial hardship - check university websites for qualifying circumstances.

Make a budget

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Some university websites break down example living costs in the area. If you’re not sure yet what your costs will be when studying, you can plug the example figures from the university website into our budget planner to help you get started.

Be cost savvy

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Cut accommodation costs

If you’re moving away from home or already renting, use our accommodation tips to start or improve your university renting experience.

How much rent can you afford?

Your legal and financial responsibilities when renting

Help with rent arrears and problems with paying your rent

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