TLDR; Don't let money worries put you off (or pull you out of) a degree. While you're right to be cautious about costs, opening your eyes to the support and strategies on offer will get you further than panic.
The truth about tuition fees
Like Kimye, tuition fees hog the headlines, so you're probably well aware UK universities can currently charge up to £9,250 a year for undergraduate degrees - in fact, it's become the norm.
But most students will not have to pay fees up-front thanks to Student Finance from the Student Loans Company. You can also take up the offer of a Maintenance Loan that is supposed to cover living costs.
You only start repaying the loans once you've left your course and keep earning. Repayments are a percentage of earnings over the income threshold (set to be £25,000 in England and Wales from 2018), deducted just like a tax. Anything you don't repay after 30 years is written off.
Student Finance isn't perfect, but it's a more reasonable deal than most are led to believe in terms of tuition fees. The biggest financial challenge for students has nothing to do with the fees...
The problem is the Maintenance Loan
The average student spends £821 every month at university, on everything from rent and bills to books, buses and burgers. That can be as much as £221 a monthmore than the average Maintenance Loan, which illustrates that the Loan isn't enough for most students to live on.
Until the Maintenance Loan becomes more realistic (or universal - not tied to parental income), the shortfall needs to be topped up from other sources. There are plenty of options, that don't have to involve hardship...
11 ways to cover the costs of being a student
- The Maintenance Loan is actually designed to be topped up by household income above a certain limit, so have the conversation early on. Can your parents or partner afford to sub you extra cash if you need it?
- If your folks can't cough up cash, they may be able to help in other ways: leftovers, laundry, donated furniture or a monster grocery shop once a term all help!
- Spend an hour sifting student money sites and earmark any scholarships, bursaries, allowances and awards you may be eligible for. Then try them all.
- Don't include non-taxable income (such as ISA interest and some state benefits) when applying for means-tested Student Finance or university funding - it could mean getting less support than you're due.
- Rent can demolish some students' Maintenance Loan or living allowance in one go. Paying less for housing (downsize, share with others, or live at home) could make a massive difference to your cash flow.
- Whatever you buy, get it for less. Shop around, use voucher apps, and/or buy through a cashback site. It almost goes without saying, but always ask if there's a student discount!
- Set a budget for living expenses and stick to it. Get yourself a prepaid debit card if you need to: top it up weekly with what you know you can afford and, if you run short, learn to go without.
- A growing number of recruitment apps offer on-demand shifts to suit your schedule but if suitable roles are thin on the ground, ask what's going at your university (admin, departmental support, or even open days and inductions).
- If you're entrepreneurially minded, there's no shortage of jobs you can start yourself to make extra money, from starting a website to pet-sitting.
Get back-up funds on better terms
- If you really need to borrow, a fee and interest-free overdraft is hard to beat: used right, they won't cost you a penny for over-spending. They usually only come bundled in student bank accounts, so shop around or switch to the biggest buffer going.
- Talk to your university's welfare officer about any hardship funds or emergency loans available. Don't wait until you're in dire straits; find out now and it'll be one less thing to flap about later!
There's no doubt going to university is pricey, but don't get hung up on the size of your student debt. The one thing that's likely to throw a spanner in the works - everyday living costs - is also the one thing you've got most control over.