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Think ahead to thrive and survive financially as a student

A record number of students are set to go to university this autumn, with applications and offers both up.

As of 30 June, the final deadline to apply, there were 682,010 applicants – up by 4 per cent on 2020.

University is the first place many of us learn lessons on money management, which can stay with us for life. With a little foresight, those lessons don’t have to be harsh.

Costs & loans

Tuition fees alone often mount up to almost £30,000 for a three-year degree even before textbooks and other costs are factored in… and that’s before you’ve even bought a drink!

You can apply for a tuition fee loan, but this can take up to six weeks to process, so if you haven’t arranged this yet you’ll need to get a move on. These loans cover the full cost of tuition fees upfront and are paid directly to the university or college.

When it comes to living expenses, if you’re going to university in the future, you have time to earn and save up to ease the financial burden. If you haven’t been able to plan, you’ll likely need to rely on borrowing to cover them.

A maintenance loan is available to help with some of your living costs like accommodation, transport and food, but it’s unlikely to cover all your costs, so it’s up to you to make up the shortfall.

How much you get works on a sliding scale, based on where you’re studying and what your household income is. Maintenance loans are means-tested, so students from wealthier families will get less. Loans are paid to you in instalments, at the start of each term.

It’s also worth looking into scholarships (for those who excel academically or in sports or music), bursaries and grants (for those from lower household incomes or based on your personal circumstances). Check the UCAS website for eligibility.

How to survive financially

Set up a simple budget/cash flow spreadsheet to show you how much it will cost you each month for the duration of your course. This helps you see how much you’ll need to earn or borrow to ensure your costs are met, and when your tightest financial periods will be.

Set up a second bank account for your spending and allocate yourself a weekly allowance to cover all your variable spending needs such as shopping and going out. Pay this to yourself on a Wednesday and when it’s spent, don’t dip into your reserves, or your good planning will go to waste.

The cost of university education is something that stays with many students for decades, which is why I created the Student Survival Guide several years ago. Updated annually on my website, it helps students not get buried by a mountain of debt and expands on some of the information above.

5 things you need to know

A little planning goes a very long way as a student. Here are five ways to help minimise the financial burden.

  1. Keep your budget updated regularly, it’s better to ask in advance for help than when you’re already in over your head with debt.
  2. Shop around on everything from laptops to trainers using a site like Idealo – the savings you make will add up quickly and really help your cash flow.
  3. Unless you’re taking a car to uni get a 16-25 railcard for £30 a year, or £70 for three years, and you’ll save 1/3 on all rail travel – which will add up to a lot.
  4. Insure your things – NUS say 20% of students fall victim to crime whilst at university, with the average incident costing £900.
  5. Learn easy, healthy and cheap meals to cook – eating at home can save a small fortune versus eating out or takeaways.

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Financial Education for the nation... and its children