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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 2014, UK universities and colleges can charge:

  • new full-time students up to £9,000 a year
  • new part-time students up to £6,750 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:

  • most students who live in Scotland do not pay fees at Scottish universities
  • fees for Welsh students are capped at £3,685 a year.

 So it’s very important to check 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 2012/13 averaged around £118 per week outside of London and £157 per week in London. 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 £7,222 on general living expenses in 2012/13.

Student finance – England

You can apply for:

  • Maintenance grants (full-time students only) are paid into your bank account at the start of each term. They are based on your household income (your parents or partner, depending on who you live with).
  • Maintenance loans (full-time students only) are for your living costs, including accommodation. 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 do not.  However, you only start paying loans back when:

  •  you have finished studying
  • you are earning over £21,000.

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 (rather than the amount you borrowed).

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

Student finance – rest of the UK

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

Student finance – EU students

If you are from the EU, you should contact Student Finance England, Student Awards Agency for Scotland, Student Finance Wales or Student Finance NI, depending on where you are planning to study. The university you are applying to will help you with student finance.

Student finance – international

Make sure to discuss with your university if there are any finance options for how you pay your fees. 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 British Council may also be able to help.

Finance for part-time study

If you choose to study part-time, you can apply for a tuition fees loan as long as your course is no more than four times as long as the full time course, e.g. 12 years for a three-year degree.

Applying for student finance

  •  UK students can apply online.
  • Apply early – don’t wait until you have offers from universities.
  • Apply by 31st 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. Look out for:

  • Grants, bursaries and scholarships from your university – some are chemistry-specific; others are for particular items (books, laptops, travel, etc). Check with the universities you are applying to for more info.

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

  •  care givers
  • parents of young children
  • disabled.


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 working, for at least part of the summer, might be your only option.

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