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A simple guide to student finances

29th August 2019

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A university friend and I once spent one of our many allocated reading hours working out the average cost of one English Literature lecture. It came to about £75 per lecture - a painful calculation that meant we missed very few explanations of Virginia Woolf or William Blake’s masterpieces from then on.

Tuition fees

No matter your university subject, British students starting their undergraduate degree at an English university in 2019 will pay up to £9,250 per year in tuition fees. The same goes for Northern Ireland, unless you’re a resident there - then it’s capped at £4,275.

Scottish students attending a university in Scotland study for free but if you’re heading north from the rest of the UK, the £9,250 fee still applies. Universities in Wales charge slightly less, capped at £9,000 per year.

In other words, unless you’re a born and bred Scot studying in Scotland, you’re probably going to need a student loan to cover your tuition and another to help you with living costs while you study.

Caps for 2019 tuition fees

I go to university in...
Scotland England Wales Northern Ireland
I am Scottish £0 £9250 £9000 £9250
I am English £9250 £9250 £9000 £9250
I am Welsh £9250 £9250 £9000 £9250
I am Northern Irish £9250 £9250 £9000 £4275

Student loan for tuition fees

There are several types of student loans. The primary one covers the costs of tuition.

Each country within the UK has its own system: English students apply through the UK Government website, Scottish students go through Student Awards Agency Scotland (SAAS), Welsh students head to Student Finance Wales, and if you’re from Northern Ireland, it’s Student Finance NI.

If you’re eligible for student finance, the organisation you’ve applied to will pay the fees directly to your university. If you’re a first year student, you need to register at your university or college before the funds are paid out on your behalf. So when you register on your course at the start of your first term, take your Student Finance Entitlement letter and your Payment Schedule Letter with you. Your college or university will then confirm your attendance, verify your National Insurance number and payments will be automatically released.

Student loan for living costs

The second loan that most students will need is called a maintenance loan. This is paid into your bank account. How you spend it is up to you: rent, food, transport, shopping - just try not to blow the whole thing by buying rounds in Freshers Week.

In fact, this may not be possible as your maintenance loan may not arrive until after your university term has started. You can check when it will arrive with the organisation you apply to. But it may be worth having some savings built up to tide you over if you’re going to have the first few weeks without it.

The amount you receive as a maintenance loan depends on how much your parents earn and you’ll need evidence of this so make sure you have this to hand before you start the application process. You’ll also need proof of identification, such as a passport. To find out how much you’ll be offered, if you’re from England, have a look at the Government’s student finance calculator.

You only start paying your student loan back once you earn a certain amount. The earliest this will begin is the April after you finish university, but only if you earn more than the threshold. If you decide to drop out, you’ll only owe money for the terms that you started, and any further loan payments you received for living costs.

Deadlines for student loans

The deadlines to apply for student loans are between April and June before the Autumn term begins, depending on whether you’re in England, Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland. If you miss the deadline, don’t panic - you can still apply but the money may arrive late. The latest you can apply is nine months after the start of the academic year (September - October).

Bridging loans

For those who are late applying for student finance, your maintenance loan may only arrive several weeks into term. If you’re struggling, make an appointment with your university Student Finance Advisor. They’ll be able to talk everything through if you’re worried and may be able to grant you a bridging loan, which is usually about £50 paid weekly until your loan arrives.

Special Support Grant

If you’re on income or housing support or have a disability or learning difficulties, you may be able to apply for a Special Support Grant (SSG). Applications are also open to students who are single parents.

Student Finance can feel like a bit of a money maze, but there are plenty of resources out there to help you including Save the Student, Money Saving Expert and Money Advice Service.

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