University is definitely a significant experience, if you choose to go. It might be the highest level of education in your life, and it will affect your options in the future.
It’s important to think about the practical side of things, as well. After all, this is probably the first time you’ll live by yourself, and you want to make sure that you are well prepared. Maybe you’re even a bit worried about going to university – some people say it can be hard to support yourself economically.
Whatever your feelings about university, this article is here to inform you about how much you can expect it to cost, as well as ways to provide for yourself financially.
University costs are comprised of tuition fees and living costs. The former is capped at a maximum of £9,250 per year for students in the UK, and the latter is approximately £8,245 per year. For UK students, Tuition Fee Loans and Maintenance Loans are repayable loans offered by the government, however these may not cover your full costs, and bursaries, scholarships, and the DSA can be used to help provide for your expenses. International students will often have to pay more for courses, and are not eligible for loans from the UK government. However, they may have other options, including scholarships, private funding or loans from their home country.
This is quite a complicated topic, so make sure you read all the way to the end to find out all the details about how much university will cost.
How Much Does University Tuition Cost?
The first thing to consider is tuition fees – the bulk of your university costs and arguably the most important part. Tuition fees are charged by your university in exchange for key parts of your academic life, including the lectures you attend, facilities, essential field trips and use of specialist equipment.
But if you haven’t decided on a course yet, the maximum amount for a standard undergraduate course can still be worked out, according to the location of your university and your home region in the UK.
This is due to the current system which caps tuition fees at a certain price and can be seen in the table below.
Maximum tuition fee per year
|University Location||Students from the same region||Students from a different region within the UK|
For example, if I were a student who had previously lived in England, and wanted to study in Northern Ireland, I could have to pay tuition fees of up to £9,250 per year, totalling £27,750 for a 3-year course.
Additionally, England uses the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF), in which universities are assessed by a panel of experts on their undergraduate teaching quality, learning environment, and outcomes. They are then given a gold, silver or bronze award.
Universities which have achieved a TEF certification are able to charge the maximum amount of £9,025, whereas those which have not are capped at £9,000. However, this is only applicable in England, and not in Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland.
Moreover, an accelerated degree, which usually takes place over 2 years instead of the normal 3 or 4, may cost up to £11,100 per year. This is in recognition of the fact that more teaching time is required in order to cover all of the necessary content in less time.
How Much of Your University Tuition is Covered by a UK Student Loan?
Most students do not pay tuition fees up front themselves and instead apply for a Tuition Fee Loan. This is provided by Student Finance and is paid directly to the course provider in three instalments: the first two payments are of 25% each, and the last payment makes up the remaining 50%.
In general, the vast majority of students are eligible for a Tuition Fee Loan which covers the full cost of their tuition. However, it is important to be aware of some necessary criteria, which are as follows:
- You must be studying an eligible course, such as a first degree (BA, BSc or BEd), or a foundation degree. If you are unsure whether a course is eligible, contact your university or student finance body.
- Your university must be recognised as one which can award a degree. If you are unsure of this, you can check on the government’s official list.
- For part-time students, your course must have an intensity of 25% or more.
- In most cases, you must be doing your first higher education qualification. However, students who have stopped studies, changed course, or are repeating a year may still be eligible for a loan. Those who already have a degree may also be able to receive limited funds.
In addition, students who attend private universities will get less funding, as they are only able to apply for loans up to £6,165 per year (or £7,200 for an accelerated degree). In practice, though, there are only a select number of private universities in the UK, and most students will attend a public university.
How Much Does it Cost to Live at University?
The second largest expense at university will then be your accommodation. As you might guess, this has no fixed price as it is entirely dependent on the type of housing, and universities will have different bands of accommodation.
As well as this, the cost will vary between locations, with the most expensive accommodation often being located in large cities such as London.
Students typically spend their first year at university living in Halls. The price of this can differ within one institution, based on the room size or type you choose, and whether it is catered or non-catered. However, it does tend to be more expensive than other accommodation options.
Alternatively, you may choose private accommodation, which can be a significantly cheaper option. This is due to the fact that prices vary more, so it will be easier to find a place with lower housing costs.
On the other hand, bills for gas, water, electricity and internet may not be factored into the rent costs, so you may have to make space for these in your budget.
Moreover, you will need to pay for transport, especially if living in a cheap room, as the price of housing generally decreases when you are further away from the university.
Another option growing in popularity is private halls, which are purpose–built for university accommodation but are owned by a private provider instead. These will usually include bills in the rent, making it easier for you to keep track of expenses.
However, they can also be unnecessarily expensive as they will often charge more for facilities such as gyms or saunas which students don’t have the time to fully make use of.
It’s entirely up to you which one you choose, but make sure you’re aware of the different options out there if you’re aiming to cut down on costs.
Other living expenses besides accommodation include:
- Food, although you may choose catered accommodation in which prices for food are included.
- Transport; this cost can be minimised by planning journeys in advance or buying a travel card if you commute every day,
- Entertainment, which of course will vary depending on different students’ spending habits.
- Textbooks and/or other course materials. These can often be quite expensive, costing up to £50 or more, so I would recommend that you wait and see if they will be useful, and if possible, buy second hand.
- Other expenses – these could include toiletries, cleaning materials or any miscellaneous items.
The table below shows estimates of average monthly living costs for students in the UK in a variety of universities, according to the data provided by Which?’s student budget calculator. If you are interested, you can use this link to find out data for other universities or adjust the calculator to match your spending habits.
|University||Average monthly living cost
(in non-catered student halls)
|Imperial College London||£890|
As you can see, the costs vary slightly, but on the whole, they are around £850 per month. This translates to £8,245 per year, considering the average contract length for university halls is 42 weeks long.
However, I would like to stress again that you complete your own research, as this is only a rough estimate, and the cost of living will vary between different students.
How Much of Your Living Expenses Are Covered by a UK Student Maintenance Loan?
Maintenance Loans are loans provided by the government to cover your living costs at university.
In England, Wales, and Northern Ireland, they are issued in three instalments which go directly into your bank account at the start of each semester. These instalments make up respectively 33%, 33% and 34% of your total loan.
In Scotland, a percentage of the loan is paid into your account on the 7th of every month.
You’re probably wondering whether you’re able to receive a maintenance loan, but don’t worry, as most students qualify and the criteria are very similar to those for a Tuition Fee Loan.
As stated earlier, the course you are studying – and the provider of that course – must both be eligible for you to receive funding. If you don’t know whether this is the case, check with your university, or see this page for the government’s full list of criteria.
Also, in most cases you will only be eligible if this course is your first higher education course. However, as previously referenced, there are some exceptions to the rule, such as if you drop out or are resitting a year, which could allow you to receive some limited funding.
This is because all students are eligible for funding for the full length of their course and plus one extra year.
There are age restrictions for maintenance loans as well, but these will only apply once you reach the age of 60, and even then, you may be eligible for some funds.
The trickiest criterion is nationality status. As a rule, students must:
- Be a UK national (also known as having ‘settled status’)
- Normally live in the UK
- Have lived in the UK for the previous three years
Technically, you need to fulfil all three of these conditions to be able to receive a loan.
However, people are often able to appeal and receive a loan anyway. There are also exceptions made for those with a specific residency status, including refugees, migrant workers and stateless people. You can visit this website if you would like more information on the subject.
What Size Maintenance Loan Are You Entitled to?
Now we’ve covered the criteria for a maintenance loan, let’s work out the size of the loan you might be entitled to.
This is dependent on three things, the first of which is the country within the UK which you live in. You will apply to the body of whichever country you live in, not the one your university is in.
Next, you’ll probably have more funding available if you live away from home while at university, and can receive even more if you study in London.
Finally, students from a home with a lower household income are eligible for greater funds, and vice versa. This is because it is assumed that families with a larger income will be able to contribute more to the student’s living costs.
These factors are summed up in the following table which shows maintenance loans in England from 2021 to 2022.
|Household Income||Living at home||Away from home||Away from home (inside London)|
|£25,000 or less||£7,987||£9,488||£12,382|
|£70,004 or more||£3,516||£4,422||£6,166|
Bear in mind that this table is not exact, as it shows loans for a band of household incomes, whereas in real life your loan will be calculated from your exact household income.
How is The Maintenance Loan Different in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland?
Maintenance provision is slightly different in other parts of the UK, as students from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are also entitled to a Maintenance Grant. This is applied for at the same time as a Maintenance Loan, but, unlike the loan, this does not have to be repaid.
Also, students from Wales with different household incomes will still receive the same total amount of money (ignoring differences in living situation).
However, what happens is that students with a smaller household income will receive more of their money as a grant which, as stated earlier, is non-repayable, whereas those with a larger income will have a larger proportion of their money as a loan, which does need to be repaid.
In Scotland, the exact value of household income is not used to calculate the value of your Maintenance Loan and Grant. Instead, the funding body divides income into four bands, which are: £20,999 or less; £21,000 to £23,999; £24,000 to £33,999; and more than £34,000.
In addition, loans do not differ based on living situation, so a student living in London and a student living at home could receive the exact same amount of money.
This means that there are only 4 possible total amounts, which are £4,750, £6,250, £6,875, and £7,750.
This may seem a bit confusing, so take a look at the table below which summarises all of this information, as well as providing the minimum and maximum packages available.
|Does the total amount change based on household income?||✓||✓||✓|
|Is the income assessed using an exact value?||✓||✓||✓|
|Do they offer a grant as well as a loan?||✓||✓||✓|
|Does the amount change based on living situation?||✓||✓||✓|
|What is the minimum amount offered?||£3,516||£4,750 (grant of £0)||£8,790 (grant of £1,000)||£3,750 (grant of £0)|
|What is the maximum amount offered?||£12,382||£7,750 (grant of £2,000)||£12,930 (grant of £10,124)||£8,368 (grant of £3,475)|
Students living in England or Wales can make use of these student finance calculators to help them calculate the exact cost of their maintenance loan, although unfortunately they are not available for students from Scotland or Northern Ireland.
Hopefully by now you have been able to estimate the amount of Maintenance Loan you’ll be able to receive. However, will this actually cover all your living costs?
Will Your Maintenance Loan Cover All Your Living Costs?
Many students find that the Maintenance Loan unfortunately does not cover all of their costs at university, and they must make ends meet with the help of funding from parents and/or part time jobs.
In fact, Save the Student’s Student Money Survey reported that 74% of students in 2020 were reliant on part time work for money.
We can estimate the disparity between the loan and the amount of money needed, using the information that the average Maintenance Loan is approximately £6,859 a year, and students spend approximately £795 per month, or £9,450 per year, whilst at university.
This shows an average amount of £2,851 per year which needs to be made up with the help of part-time work, money from parents, or other financial provision.
That is why, further on in this article, I will go into more detail about sources of money, including bursaries, scholarships and grants, which may help you to support yourself while at university.
How Do You Get a University Loan?
Although they are technically separate from each other, you will apply for your Tuition Fee Loan and Maintenance Loan simultaneously, through the Student Finance body of whichever country you live in.
You will need to apply every year of your course, and not just when you are a new student.
Also, I would advise you very strongly to apply as early as possible, as details can take a while to go through, and this will put you in a good position to have your funding in place.
For 2021, the deadline in England to complete your application is the 21st of May, whereas in Scotland, it is the 30th June, and for Northern Ireland, it is the 15th April. The deadline in Wales is expected to be the 31st May, though it may be extended as applications were opened later than usual this year.
However, if you miss the deadline, don’t worry! This is just the cut-off date for when you can receive your first payment ready for the start of term. You will still be able to get your loan, as long you return your application form less than 9 months after the first day of your course.
Students from England will apply here to Student Finance England, by firstly setting up an online account. To do this, you will need information such as your postcode, national insurance number and contact details.
You can then complete the online form after logging into your account. In this you will give information about your personal details, your residence, your course and university, your previous study, and your UK bank or building society account.
The application is also used to determine whether you are a dependent or independent student, if you are eligible for Special Support and allows you to apply for a Parents’ Learning Allowance, Childcare Grant or Adult Dependants’ Grant.
Lastly, there is a section for your parent/carer or partner to fill in their financial details.
- Students from Scotland will complete a similar process through the Student Awards Agency Scotland.
- Students from Wales will apply through Student Finance Wales.
- Students from Northern Ireland will apply through Student Finance NI.
What Are Bursaries and Scholarships?
Bursaries and scholarships are both financial grants which are paid directly into a student’s bank account, and do not need to be repaid. The value offered and the way in which it is paid will vary. However, most will be paid annually at the start of each year.
The difference between them is that bursaries are generally based on financial need and are non-competitive, whereas scholarships are competitive and are often awarded for academic or sporting achievement.
Bursaries and scholarships have certain eligibility criteria; however these will differ based on the provider they are being offered by. Scholarships can often be dependent on your grades, whereas to receive a bursary you might need to fall below a certain household income.
To find bursaries and scholarships, you should first consult your university’s website. If you don’t think you’ll be eligible for these, you could also research awards from external agencies and charities. You may want to make use of The Scholarship Hub, a free online database listing scholarships, bursaries and grants in the UK.
If you would like to explore this option further, take a look at this helpful article which explains how to find and apply for a scholarship.
What is the DSA?
Disabled Students’ Allowances (DSAs) are another form of financial support available at university. They are intended to cover any costs incurred as a result of impairments, mental health conditions, or learning differences, and are non-repayable.
DSAs are available for students in many different situations, including those who study at an undergraduate or postgraduate level, and those who study full-time or part-time. Those taking unpaid ‘sandwich’ courses or distance learning courses may also be eligible.
Also, students do not need a confirmed university place to apply for a DSA, meaning that they can apply as early as they wish.
In England, Wales and Northern Ireland, a DSA allowance can be used to provide for:
- specialist equipment, such as a computer
- non-medical helpers, such as an interpreter
- transport if you are unable to use public transport
- other disability-related study support, such as printing
The amount of money on offer differs between these regions. In England, students can receive up to £25,000 per year. In Wales, the maximum amount is £31,831 per year. In Northern Ireland, up to £10,469 is available.
For Scottish students, there is a slightly different system, where the DSA is split into three different allowances: the Basic allowance, the Large items allowance, and the Non-Medical Personal Help (NMPH) allowance.
Overall, the maximum amount available from these three allowances is £21,975 per year, as well as £5,160 from the Large items allowance to last throughout the course.
To apply for a DSA, you must have proof of your condition.
If you have a disability, long-term health condition, or mental health condition, this would usually be a letter or report from your doctor, but you can also fill in this disability evidence form.
If you have a specific learning difficulty, you will need to provide a ‘diagnostic assessment’ from a practitioner psychologist or suitably qualified specialist teacher.
This proof can be sent to Student Finance through your online account, or else by email or post.
Applications are usually completed online through your Student Finance account, although if this is not possible, you can fill in a student finance form.
You will then have a ‘needs assessment’ arranged to help the finance body work out the size of the DSA you are entitled to, and after will be notified of the amount of your DSA.
If you would like to find out more about DSAs, visit these pages:
How Much Does University Cost for International Students?
Unlike for students who are UK citizens, the tuition fees of international students are not capped at a specific amount, so it can be hard to predict costs. However, we can estimate how much a course could costs, depending on a few factors.
Firstly, universities which are thought of as ‘prestigious will likely have higher prices for courses.
For example, Oxford, rated the top UK university in 2021, lists costs for overseas students as between £26,770 and £37,510.
Similarly, St Andrew’s, the 2nd university in the UK, charges £25,100 for overseas students of arts, divinity and science. This price rises to £32,910 for those studying Medicine, as it is a more competitive course.
Therefore, if you are an international student, you will probably incur much higher costs if you choose a high-ranking university, or a well-respected course.
International students also do not have access to Student Finance, meaning that it is not possible for them to take out a Tuition Fee Loan or Maintenance Loan. From April 2021 onwards, this is also being extended to students from the EU as a result of Brexit.
These means that, if you are an international student, you must find a different means of financial support.
What Financial Support Can International Students Have?
However, the amounts on offer and the criteria for these will vary between countries, so please make sure you research what is available in your country.
Another option is taking out a loan from a private company, instead of the government. One company that offers this service is Future Finance.
In some places, this may be under the condition that you work for them for a certain amount of time after graduating.
However, companies are able to charge higher interest rates than the government, so this may make your loan more difficult to pay back.
Many international students will aim to receive their funding through a scholarship, as it does not need to be repaid, and there are a variety available for students studying abroad.
These scholarships can be either global, – open to students from many different countries – country-specific, or offered by a university.
One example of a global undergraduate scholarship is the Albukhary Scholarship. This is open to students from 51 different countries in Africa, Asia, Oceania, and the Caribbean, who are studying full-time at certain UK universities.
However, scholarships may be difficult to find as a lot of them are only open to postgraduate students, and they can be very competitive. It is best to have a back-up plan to fund your studies in case you aren’t accepted, for whatever reason.