Top tips for financing yourself as a student

Picture this: you’ve found the perfect three-year course to study at a top university. You love the location, it’s friendly and welcoming, and it will really help you on your pursuit of your dream career. But in return for those unforgettable years of knowledge building and finding your purpose in life, there is a price to pay - a heavy debt of around £27,750 after graduation.

The day-to-day life of a student is also expensive with most paying over £450 a month in rent and a maintenance loan offering very little room for anything but the bare essentials. You don’t want to be in the position of struggling to pay tuition fees back if it’s going to be a while until you achieve a high enough salary to do so. So what is a student to do, if they want a degree minus the looming debt?

Thankfully, there are a few alternatives available for funding your university studies.


Educational Charities and Trusts

Charities can provide supplementary help in funding a degree, such as The Prince’s Trust Development Awards, which can help 17-25 year olds with course fees if they are unemployed, or in work or education a limited amount of hours a week. If you’re at sixth form or college and looking to go to university, the Helena Kennedy Foundation Awards scheme offers a bursary of up to £1500 for disadvantaged students.

It’s important to check your eligibility for charity funding. Charities will fund specific groups of students, and this could mean a number of things: background or social class; a particular course of study; above or below a certain age; from a particular country or part of the UK; or from a defined occupation or industry. Charity funding is usually easier to access if you are a first-time undergraduate student.

You can look at a list of specific charity schemes in directories such as the The Guide to Educational Grants 2016/17 or the Directory of Grant Making Trusts 2018/19.

Much like supermarket shopping, search around as much as you can for the best deals. We also recommend asking in your library if they know about any smaller, local trusts. Once you’ve found one you like, send them a letter asking if they will accept you so you can get that green light.



In today’s technological climate, anyone with basic knowledge of the internet can use crowdfunding sites to get funding for their cause. Crowdfunder is the leading crowdfunding platform for the UK, with over 1000 shareholders. Crowdfunding works by setting up an online crowdfunding page, promoting it across the world wide web, and hoping the generosity of family, friends, or just complete strangers will help you towards your goal.  Crowdfunding may be a great idea if you don’t fit into any particular criterion for grants or scholarships, but is definitely one of the harder routes to take. However, if you’ve got a flair for marketing yourself and have a story to tell, it may just be the method for you.

One way to crowdfund is getting your friends and family to shop online with sites like Funds4Uni (a partnership of easyfundraising and The Scholarship Hub). People can support you whilst doing their normal online shopping for themselves. They firstly go to the easyfundraising website, follow the link to the retailer they want to shop with, and when they purchase something a donation will be collected for your cause. It’s usually available to students at any level, including if you’ve already graduated – making it a great way to pay back that pesky loan as well as save it up.

According to the site, the average family could raise around £800 in a year with this method. Depending on the amount you need it could be a great way to get yourself on track with little work.


Alternative Loan Companies

If you need more money than you have been given by the government to aid your studies, alternative loan companies may be the option for you. They can offer emergency loans of around £350 for you to use and pay back once your next government loan comes in. Some are also run by ex-students, such as Smart-Pig, meaning they may have a better insight than the government into the financial difficulties of being a student. Smart-Pig loans also benefit students in that the daily interest on the loan stops once it reaches half of what you borrowed.


Wide Criteria Scholarship

CastleSmart offers a £6000 award to students who show passion for their course of study. Any student can enter their Youtube video competition, in which they must talk about the course they’ve chosen, what they hope to get out of it, and their post-graduation plans. All fields, degrees and courses are considered – all that matters is passion!


Studying Abroad

One appealing possibility students often consider in solving the big money problem is going overseas. Of the 37% of undergraduates and postgraduates who said they were considering overseas study in a 2014 British Council survey, a majority said the reason for their decision was the significant rise in tuition fees in 2012 (The Guardian, 2014).

Is it cheaper for UK students to study overseas? Mostly, yes. The UK is the fifth most expensive country to study in, according to The Telegraph’s 2015 survey, with students spending on average £21,000 a year or more. It may even have now risen in the rankings since tuition fees increased to £9,250 this year. Studying for a year in China or France would cost three times less than in the UK at around £7000. This also includes a massive decrease in living costs. If you study abroad you’ll be able to reap the benefits of a gap year – such as experiencing a new country and culture – whilst getting your degree for a fraction of the usual price. Statistics show that studying abroad is getting more popular by the year: according to the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA), 27,405 UK students made the decision in 2015-16 versus 22,100 in 2013-14.

On the other hand, if you’re thinking of studying in the popular destinations of Australia or the US, these countries actually have much higher tuition fees than the UK at around £23,000-£28,000 per year. We recommend checking all the terms and conditions for studying in the country you’re considering. Some may make you pay the whole sum upfront or even ask for evidence that you’ll be able to get through the year without taking on a job. You’ll also need to find out if your qualification will be recognised in the UK the same way it is abroad, as you don’t want to be struggling for employment at home if they don’t take your degree seriously!


Paying Back Student Loans

You’ll have to pay back Tuition Fee Loans and Maintenance Loans, but not other financial help such as grants or bursaries. Even if you leave your course early, you’ll still need to pay these back to your university. The current law states that you start repaying your student loan once your annual income is over £21,000. The point you start paying will either be the first April after you leave your course, or if you study part time, April four years after the course started. There’s also no penalty for paying some or all your loan off early!

Repaying your student loan also depends on your type of employment. If you’re an employee, you need to tell the Student Loans Company (SLC) you want to pay back by direct debit. If you’re self-employed, you’ll need to state on your tax return that your loan will be paid off in the next 2 years. So what do you repay? You’ll pay back 9% of your income over the minimum amount of £21,000. Interest (3% plus inflation while you’re studying) starts being added to your loan once you receive your first loan. This interest will change once you start receiving income.

Finally – how do you repay? If you’re an employee, your repayments are taken out of your salary along with tax and National Insurance. If you manage yourself, HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) will calculate from your tax return how much you should pay, and it will be paid at the same time as your tax. If you work abroad, this is a helpful resource for terms and conditions. If you go abroad for more than 3 months, complete an overseas income assessment form. If you think you’ve been charged but you earn less than £21,000 a year or you’ve already repaid in full, contact SLC to apply for a refund.


If you’re at a loss as to how you will pay for your university studies, we hope this will be a helpful resource. Remember – always check criteria for funding schemes, and the terms and conditions for overseas study and repaying your student loan.