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Student finance

How will I pay for university?

The costs depend on where you live and study. The main expenses are:

  • tuition fees
  • accommodation costs
  • living expenses

Tuition fees

Check your finances before you apply to unviersity     © Shutterstock

Tuition fees are what you pay to the university for your studies. They cover teaching (lectures, seminars, tutorials, exams, graduation, etc) as well as the use of university facilities and services such as labs, libraries, a Students’ Union and welfare.

From September 2017, UK universities and colleges can charge:

  • new full-time students up to £9,250 a year
  • new part-time students up to £6,935 a year

There are no restrictions on the amount private colleges or universities can charge.

The cost of tuition varies hugely between the countries of the UK, for example:

  • Scottish students do not pay fees at Scottish universities
  • Welsh students can pay up to £9,000 a year to study in Wales
  • If you're Northern Irish then to study at home you'll pay up to £4,030

 So it’s very important to check what your chosen course will cost at each university before you apply.

Accommodation costs

You can choose where to live while you study. The cost is one factor in your choice.

University accommodation is often in great demand, so some universities give priority to first years. According to the National Union of Students (NUS), costs of university accommodation in 2015/16 averaged around £226 per week in London, £150 per week in Scotland with the lowest costs in Wales at £118 per week. You can find accommodation costs for each University on their accommodation website so check these pages for the latest prices. Arrangements vary – from self-catering to full board, but usually include heating and lighting. So, check what you are paying for!

Privately-rented accommodation from the big student accommodation suppliers such as Unite (UK-wide) or UrbanEst (London) can be more expensive. Another option is a shared house, usually rented through a local letting agent. Either rent the whole house as a group or just lease your room if you don’t mind who you share with.

Living at home could be the cheapest option – it’s up to you to negotiate over this one. Bear in mind, though, that you get a lower rate of student finance.

Living expenses

You’ll need to buy food (if it’s not included in your accommodation), stationery, toiletries, books, etc. You may want to buy clothes or go out, too. The NUS has found that on average students spent around £7,200 on general living expenses in an academic year in 2013/14. If you're from outside the UK and studying on a student visa, you will need to prove that you have enough money to cover your expenses for each month of your course.

Student finance – England

You can apply for:

  • Maintenance loans (full-time students only) are for your living costs, including accommodation. The amount you receive is based on your household income so it depends who you live with. They are paid into your bank account at the start of each term.
  • Tuition fee loan is paid direct to the college or university, to cover your fees.

Loans have to be paid back, grants and bursaries do not.  However, you only start paying loans back when:

  • you have finished studying
  • you are earning over £21,000 (from April 2018 this increases to £25,000)

As it’s a loan, interest is added to your account while the loan is still outstanding. But the rate is low and pegged by the Government. Repayments are linked to the amount you earn when you start working (rather than the amount you borrowed).

Student Finance England provide full information about the student loans that are available.

Student finance – rest of the UK

Finance arrangements are different in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Student finance – EU & EEA students

If you are from a member state of the EU or EEA and you want to study in the UK, you may be able to get a tuition fee loan and help with living costs. You should contact Student Finance England, Student Awards Agency for Scotland, Student Finance Wales or Student Finance NI, depending on where in the UK you are planning to study. The university you are applying to will also help you with student finance.

Student finance – international

If you're a UK or EU national interested in studying outside the UK, you should discuss this with your university to find out what finance options are available to you. You’ll also need to have plans in place to cover your living costs while you are studying. Seek help from the university you are applying to about what options are best for you. The Erasmus+ programme, the British Council and the UK Council for International Student Affairs may also be able to help with information about your options.

If you’re not from the UK, EEA or a EU member state and are planning on studying in the UK there is financial support available from the UK government. You should also check with your chosen University about available support and how this works with your visa. 

Finance for part-time study

If you choose to study part-time, you can apply for a tuition fee loan as long as this is your first undergraduate degree and that for each year of your part-time course, you are completing at least 25% of what you would be if you were studying the same course, full-time. 

Applying for student finance

  • UK students can apply online.
  • Apply early – don’t wait until you have offers from universities.
  • You should apply before the end of May to ensure your finance reaches your bank account at the start of term
  • Don’t worry, though, if you are a late applicant. You can still apply for Student Finance – it just may not be there for the start of term.

Additional finance

You may have to search to find other sources of financial help, but they are there. You should also speak to your University’s student support service. Look out for:

 There is also help for specific groups, such as students who are:

  • care givers


There is nothing to stop you having a paid job while you study at university. The NUS says that ‘the majority of students work part-time during term time’. Make sure it doesn’t affect your studies, though. Most universities recommend no more than 15 hours paid work a week.

Remember, as well, that working during your studies gives you valuable employability skills – customer service, handling money, working in a team, reliability, etc. They can really help you stand out when you start looking for graduate jobs.

Summer vacation

Most universities finish for the summer by the end of May and start again in September or October. You will have to support yourself during those summer months. Your grants and loans are only intended to cover term times. So completing a placement or internship, for at least part of the summer, might be your only option. If you are thinking of working on a research project over the summer the Royal Society of Chemistry can support you with an undergraduate research grant, or an analytical chemistry summer studentship


Last updated: February 2018

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