When it comes to funding your degree, you'll find there are plenty of student finance options available, including support for paying your tuition fees and living costs

Tuition fees

Universities charge tuition fees to cover the costs of running their undergraduate courses. They can also account for registration, supervision, exams and graduation expenses.

Tuition fees are set at different levels depending on where you live, so universities will first need to carry out an assessment to determine your status.

In England, universities can charge up to £9,250 per year for 2021/22 entry - this figure is the same cap as for the last two academic years. It applies to UK students from all regions, as well as students from within the European Union (EU) with settled status.

The Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) was introduced in 2017 so that only institutions that perform well in a new teaching quality assessment will be allowed to increase their fees. Read more about this at how to choose the right degree.

Scottish universities don't charge tuition fees to students from Scotland. But students from England, Wales and Northern Ireland must pay up to a maximum of £9,250 per year.

If you study in Wales, you'll be charged up to £9,000 per year. This applies to all students from Wales, England, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

Universities in Northern Ireland will charge a maximum of £4,530 per year to Northern Irish students, and up to £9,250 to English, Scottish and Welsh students.

In all parts of the UK, fees for EU and other international students are set on a variable scale and are usually higher. University websites display the most up-to-date fee information.

You'll need to fund the cost of study either through student finance, sponsorship or self-financing.

Living costs

Your most significant living cost is likely to be your rent, whether you decide to live in halls of residence or privately rented housing. You should research your student accommodation options thoroughly.

You'll need to budget for any additional bills that aren't included in your rent, such as Wi-Fi access, as well as essentials such as food. Remember to set aside money for insurance, clothes, toiletries, books, course materials, printing, transport (both locally and to get back home) and social activities. Read about what to take to university.

There are many student discounts you can take advantage of. For example, a 16-25 Railcard will give you a third off rail fares for £30 a year, or £70 for a three-year card. Also, for a small cost (£14 for one year, £25 for two years or £35 for three years) a TOTUM student discount card provides access to a variety of useful savings with brands such as Amazon, Boots, Domino's, ASOS and the Co-op.

If you live in a student house and everyone is studying full time, you don't have to pay any council tax. Apply for this exemption by phoning your local council or by visiting its website.

Your living costs will be considerably higher if you're studying in London compared with the rest of the UK.

According to NatWest's Student Living Index 2021 report, the ten most affordable UK cities for students across 21 popular university cities are:

  • Sheffield
  • Cambridge
  • Glasgow
  • Oxford
  • Birmingham
  • Exeter
  • Durham
  • Nottingham
  • Leicester
  • Manchester

These cities were said to offer the best value for money when it comes to the cost of living in relation to monthly income. Unsurprisingly, London was reported to have the highest average student monthly rent in the country - at £619 compared with the UK student average of £518.

Student loans

If you're planning on studying for one of the following qualifications, support is available to help with these costs:

  • undergraduate degree (BA, BSc, etc.)
  • foundation degree
  • Certificate of Higher Education (CertHE)
  • Diploma of Higher Education (DipHE)
  • Higher National Certificate (HNC)
  • Higher National Diploma (HND)
  • Initial Teacher Training (ITT) course.

For Masters courses, see funding postgraduate study.

While eligibility is also determined by factors such as your age, nationality or residential status, those looking to study their first degree on a full-time basis should be able to apply for a repayable student loan provided by the government.

Part-time students studying at least 25% of the equivalent full-time course across an academic year may also be entitled to support.

Student loans are split into two distinct parts: tuition fee loans and maintenance loans.

Tuition fee loans of up to £9,250 a year cover your course fees. You don't receive this money - it's paid directly to the university running your course. Part time students may be able to get a tuition fee loan of up to £6,935.

For those studying for an accelerated degree (a two-year course instead of the traditional three), you could get up to £11,100.

Support to help with living costs is available in the form of a means-tested maintenance loan. The loan is paid directly into your own bank account at the start of term. To help you estimate how much you're likely to receive if you're from England (or the EU and have settled status), visit GOV.UK - Student finance calculator.

For the 2021/22 academic year, you'll receive up to £7,987 if you're living at home, up to £9,488 if you're living away from home outside of London, up to £12,382 if you're living away from home in London, and up to £10,866 if your UK course incorporates a year spent studying abroad.

The level of maintenance loan you're entitled to is related to your household income and where you plan to study. The assessment takes into account your own income, whether you're under 25, live with at least one of your parents and your parents' income. If you've had no contact with your parents for over a year, there's the possibility of applying as an estranged student.

There's no upper age limit on student loans, but in most cases, you cannot apply if you've studied at undergraduate level before. For full details on who qualifies for student finance, see Student Finance - Eligibility.

The government has announced that EU students, and those from Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway or Switzerland, may continue to receive a tuition fee loan as well as help with living costs for the duration of their course.

How to apply for student finance

As it can take up to six weeks to process a student loan application, you should aim to apply for your loan by 31 May if your course starts between 1 August and 31 December. You don't need to have a confirmed offer of a place on a course before applying.

The final deadline for funding is nine months after the start of the academic year for your course.

Students from England can register and apply online through Student Finance England. From here you can track your application, check your student finance payment dates and make any amendments to your details.

EU applicants can also apply online for tuition fee support and help with their living costs. However, if you're applying for tuition fee support only, you'll need to download the forms and apply by post.

If you live in Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland you should apply through the following bodies:

Repaying student loans

Interest is charged on student loans at retail price inflation (RPI) plus up to 3%. However, you don't have to repay these loans until the April after you graduate or leave your course and are earning £27,288 or more a year (£2,274 a month) before tax and other deductions. You'll then make repayments at a rate of 9% of your income over the threshold.

There's no penalty should you wish to pay off some or all of your loan amount outside of this repayment threshold.

If you're employed, the appropriate amount will be automatically deducted from your salary at the same time as tax and National Insurance. However, it's advisable to hold onto your payslips and P60 form, as you'll need to produce them if you ever request a refund.

Read more about student loan repayment at GOV.UK - Repaying your student loan.

How to cancel student finance

If your plans change before the start of your course, you can amend or cancel your funding application. You'll have to contact Student Finance England or the relevant administering body to process this.

Once the first term of university has started, as a full-time student who normally resides in England, Wales or Northern Ireland, you'll still be liable for 25% of your tuition fee loan even if you decide to withdraw, transfer or suspend your studies at a later date. This percentage increases to 50% after the first day of the second term and 100% if you start the third term.

If you normally live in Scotland, where tuition fees are paid directly to the university in one instalment, and you plan to withdraw from your course before the set date, no tuition fee loan will be paid to you. After this date, the loan will be transferred to your new course and university.

With maintenance loans, you'll become liable for each instalment as soon as it's paid (at the start of term). This includes any interest accrued, which will be added when you're due to start your repayments.

You should speak to the relevant awarding body, such as Student Finance England, before making your decision. This is because leaving your course early may affect your chances of receiving financial support in future. See our advice on changing or leaving your course.

Hardship funds

Additional financial support is available for:

  • students on a low income
  • students with children, especially single parents
  • students previously in care
  • disabled students
  • mature students with existing financial commitments.

To check your eligibility for extra help, visit GOV.UK - Extra money to pay for university.

You can also get help from your university, as well as charitable trusts. Non-repayable bursaries, scholarships and awards are available for students who'd otherwise be unable to afford to study at this level. Contact your university to find out what's on offer, whether you're eligible and how to apply.

Meanwhile, if you find yourself in financial difficulty after your course has started, your university may be able to provide money from its hardship funds to assist you. Apply through your university's support services.

Student bank accounts

Most high street banks, including Barclays, HSBC, NatWest, Nationwide, Halifax, Lloyds Bank and Santander, have accounts aimed specifically at students and it's a good idea to open one of these before starting your course.

To be accepted for a student bank account, you'll need to have your university place confirmed - but once you have the evidence to prove this, you can make use of the benefits before starting your course.

When you're deciding which bank to choose, don't just pick the one with the best free gift. While incentives such as student rail cards and other discounts are always welcome, the size of the 0% overdraft facility will prove to be the greatest help when money is tight.

Browse the websites of the major banks to find the best option, get independent advice from consumer website MoneySavingExpert.com or use comparison websites such as Compare the Market to help you reach a decision.

Read our tips for student banking and dealing with debts at saving money as a student.

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