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Student finance, discounts and budgeting tips for surviving university in a cost of living crisis

Here’s everything you need to know about student loans, grants and bursaries, and other ways to budget money in the cost of living crisis

So you’ve done the hard part – aced your A-levels, got into university, and freshers week is well and truly underway. But, this year, you have to afford everything that comes with the proper university experience while living through a cost of living crisis.

We’re not going to tell you to cut back on luxuries like Netflix and avocado toast (young people get told that enough already). Students shouldn’t have to cut back on their social lives so they can afford to pay for rent or groceries, although the reality is many are being forced to make those sacrifices.

A recent survey by Save the Student found that students’ living costs have increased by 14 per cent since last year. The average student now spends around £924 a month, and in London it’s even higher at £1,089 a month. That means the average student’s maintenance loan falls short by around £439 every month.

If your loan isn’t enough to cover the cost of living, you might have to get financial support or find ways of making money elsewhere. Here’s everything you need to know about how much you can get with a student loan, whether you might be eligible for a grant or bursary, and other ways to budget your money in the cost of living crisis. 

How much can I get in a student loan?

Undergraduate students can get a loan to cover the full cost of their university tuition fees. It’s worth up to £9,250 – depending on the cost of their tuition. It’s slightly less if you go to a university in Wales, where they charge £9,000 a year. And if you’re Scottish and go to university in Scotland, you won’t pay any fees at all. 

Students starting an accelerated degree course can apply for a tuition fee loan of up to £11,100. When studying abroad, you can get tuition fee loans of up to £1,385. When on a work placement year, students can get up to £1,850. 

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Tuition fee loans are paid directly to the university, and you won’t need to worry about paying it back until you’ve graduated and are earning above a certain threshold.

Undergraduate students can also get a maintenance loan to cover living costs. If you are living with your parents, the maximum loan you can get is £8,171. If you are living away from your parents, the maximum is £9,706 (or £12,667 if you are living in London).

You can use the student finance calculator to estimate how much maintenance loan you’ll get. It will also tell you if you’re eligible for extra grants or allowances.

Master’s students can get a loan of up to £11,836, and doctoral students can get up to £27,892. This is different to the undergraduate loan because it’s paid directly to you, meaning you can decide whether you use it on your tuition fees or to cover living costs. 

How do I apply for student finance and what is the deadline? 

The deadline for applying for student finance was May 20 for new students and June 24 for returning students. But don’t worry – you can apply late. You can actually apply for funding up to nine months after the first day of the academic year for your course. 

If your home address is in England, you can apply through Student Finance England’s website. Scottish students can apply through the Student Awards Agency Scotland website. Welsh students can apply for student finance in Wales and Northern Irish students can apply through Student Finance NI. It will take around 30 minutes to apply, and you need to reapply each year of your university course. 

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Can I get a grant, bursary or scholarship to cover my university costs?

With the average student £439 short every month after they’ve received their maintenance loan, it’s no surprise that many look for other ways to cover their university costs. You may be eligible for a scholarship bursary or grant. These don’t have to be repaid so they’re definitely worth a look, even if you don’t think you would be eligible. 

Have a look at your university’s website, or contact their financial support team, to see what scholarships and bursaries they offer. There is a real range, and you can find some based on academic, musical or sporting achievements and others based on your personal circumstances and background. 

Stormzy launched a scholarship at Cambridge, covering the full tuition fees and providing a maintenance grant to at least 10 Black students this year. A number of universities across the UK are offering scholarships to Ukrainian nationals. 

Help may also be available to you through bursaries or charitable grants to help with books, equipment and other educational costs. You can use Turn2us’ Grants Search to find out what grants you are eligible for. 

Many charity grants will help people from disadvantaged and low-income backgrounds, but there are also some more unusual ones. The Graham Trust Bursary Scheme is open to students with the surname Graham, or descendants of the Graham family, who are studying at a higher education institute in Glasgow.

The government also offers grants for students with children – see the Childcare Grant, Parents’ Learning Allowance and Adult Dependents’ Grant – and for disabled students in the form of the Disabled Students Allowance

Medical and dentistry students may be eligible for NHS bursaries and a grant to cover some travel expenses. Nursing and midwifery students can get the NHS Learning Support Fund and social work students can get social work bursaries. You can also apply for extra funding if you’re a teacher training student.

Where can I get student discounts?

Many major retailers and companies offer student discounts. When at a shop counter, it’s worth asking whether they do a student discount because you might just get some money off your purchase. 

There are some great discounts out there for students. Amazon offers six months of Prime free for students, and after that it’s half price at £4.99 a month. EE has a 20 per cent discount on phone plans, you can get three months free of Apple music and Voxi offers one month free for students. 

If you sign up for Unidays and StudentBeans (both are free), you can get a huge range of discounts – usually ranging between 10 and 20 per cent. There are plenty of limited-time offers too, so it’s worth keeping an eye out for the best deals. 

You could also get a Totum card, previously known as an NUS card. This gives you access to more than 300 student discounts and you’ll also get an official student ID card, which is accepted in over 130 countries. It’s £24.99 for all three years of your university course which gives you access to the card. 

Alternatively, it’s completely free to sign up to Totum digital – you won’t get the physical card, but you’ll still get access to more than 300 online discounts from major retailers like ASOS, Amazon and Apple. If you’re more of an online shopper, this is probably the best option for you as you won’t need the card. 

How can students make money?

If your loan isn’t stretching far enough and you’re not eligible for a grant or bursary, you will probably have to start looking for other ways to make money. Many students will be looking for part-time jobs at this time of year. Big Issue Recruit has a database of thousands of jobs, including many part-time jobs which could work for students. It’s a new service launched to create opportunities, particularly for people who traditionally face barriers to employment.

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Save the Student also has a database of more than 15,000 part-time student jobs. You might also find local shops, restaurants and bars looking for staff when the university term begins. A quick search online can help you find these, or you could keep an eye out for ads in shop windows. 

Most universities also have job placements for students which you can fit around your studies. You might want to work as a student ambassador on open days and at official university events, for example, or as a steward in your university’s theatre or arts centre. 

It’s also worth selling your books to students in the year below once you’ve finished using them. Many societies have their own book selling events or Facebook groups where students can sell items to each other – or you could set up your own. Other students sell their clothes on apps and websites like eBay and Depop. 

Find out more ways to make extra money in the cost of living crisis here

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How do I plan a budget as a student?

You’ve probably already been told about the importance of budgeting as a student. Parents and teachers have likely warned you this is your chance to start managing your own finances now that you’ve finally moved out and are making steps into the adult world. But it’s easier said than done, especially in the cost of living crisis. 

UCAS has a budget calculator, telling you how much you are likely to spend depending on your university. Realistically though, prices are going to vary hugely depending on your circumstances and could go up as bills increase over the next few months, so just use this as guidance before making your own budget. 

Money Saving Expert has some tips on planning your budget. Simply put, you want to write down a list of all the incoming money you’ve got (this includes loans, grants and any salary from jobs) and all the outgoings (money spent on groceries, travel, entertainment, rent, bills, tuition fees and course equipment).

Once you’ve worked out what you can afford to spend, you’ll have to track your bank account to make sure you’re keeping to your budget. Many students find online bank accounts like Monzo useful, where you can manage your money on the app. 

If you find that you’re quickly going over budget, don’t panic – there are ways to scrimp and save. You might have to get more clever about your grocery shopping, for example. Last month, chef Tom Kerridge shared his top tips on saving money when cooking with the Big Issue. There are plenty of blogs, websites and recipe books aimed at helping students cook on a budget – we’ve compiled a long list of places to find cheap recipes here.

It might be worrying to think about budgeting in the cost of living crisis, but once you’ve started and got your head around your finances, it will get much easier. If you need extra support, your universities’ financial support team should be able to point you in the right direction to get help.

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