Personal Finance

How to pay for university

Tuition fees and living costs can seem intimidating to soon-to-be students, but it doesn’t have to be. Here’s a detailed guide to paying for university in the UK.

There are a few ways you can go about paying for university. From student finance to bursaries, scholarships and grants, it can be complicated for soon-to-be university students. But don’t let money put you off from going to university—everyone is entitled to some kind of financial support to help you get into higher education.


Student finance

Student finance is the route most students go when funding their university education. Available for both undergraduate and postgraduate courses, student finance will typically provide a means tested repayable loan along with grants to help pay for tuition fees and living costs.

It’s worth mentioning now that student finance is different depending on what part of the UK you’re from—England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland each have their own different rules. It’s also different for students from Jersey, Guernsey and the Isle of Man.

A newer type of funding, called Future Earnings Agreements, is another option to help you pay your tuition fees. Unlike typical student loans, FEAs mean you pay back a percentage of your salary for a set number of instalments - typically 60 monthly (5 years’) instalments. Unlike a traditional student loan, there’s no interest added.

How to apply for student finance

To apply for student finance you need to register with your respective student finance company, which is different for England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland. The easiest way to apply is online, and you’ll need your personal details, household income, national insurance number, and bank details to hand.

If you don’t have a confirmed place at a university, you can just use your preferred choice. If it changes at a later date, for example you end up going to a different college or university, you will be able to change it yourself.

When to apply for student finance

For new full-time students, the deadline is often around the end of May or start of June, but this can change slightly depending on what part of the UK you’re from. It also depends whether you are a new or continuing student, and when your course is due to start. Generally, the dates relevant for most people are below:

Student Finance England

The deadline for new students when applying for funding for 2021/22 from Student Finance England is 21st May 2021. The deadline for returning students is 25th June 2021.

Student Finance Wales

The deadline for new students’ applications to Student Finance Wales is 4th June 2021. The deadline for returning students is 25th June 2021.

Student Finance Scotland

The deadline for all students’ applications to the Student Awards Agency Scotland is 30th June.

Student Finance Northern Ireland

The deadline for new students applying to Student Finance Northern Ireland for the 2021/22 academic year is 15th April 2021. The deadline for returning students is 25th June 2021.

How much student finance can I get?

The amount of student finance you can get depends on your circumstances and how much you want. You can get maximum funding via a tuition fee loan to cover the entire fee cost, or you can take a specific amount if you want to make up the rest yourself or via grants and scholarships.

But with maintenance loans, it’s means tested. This means the less you’ll receive the more you’re above the household income threshold. It also varies slightly depending on which part of the UK you’re from. For example in Wales, students get the same total amount but the proportion of support that comes out of a grant changes depending on household income.

This means it’s difficult to give a definitive figure. But for a full-time student in England applying for a course outside London with a household income of £40,000, they can get £9,250 Tuition Fee Loan and a £7,450 Maintenance Loan to cover living costs (per year).

A different household income, type of degree, what you’re studying, and whether you have financial dependents can all increase or decrease the amount you receive.

How many years of student finance you get depends on the length of your course. For instance, if your course is 3 years, you will get support for 3 years. However, you will need to reapply every year in case your circumstances change.

When does student finance get paid

Student finance gets paid in three installments over the course of a year, with the first installment near when you officially start the course. If you apply late however, you may receive your payments late, too.

This also means that you need to budget to ensure the money lasts throughout the year.

Can you get student finance for a masters

Yes you can get student finance for a masters degree via a Postgraduate Loan. Generally these are the same as undergraduate loans, but they can work slightly differently.

If you’re in England, you could get between £10,906 and £11,570 depending on when your Postgraduate course starts. Like with undergraduate loans, the amount you receive differs based on whether you normally live in England, Scotland, Wales, or Northern Ireland.

Future Earnings Agreements are another option for postgraduate loans. With FEAs, you could cover the cost of tuition fees in full, without having to worry if the fees are more than the maximum you can borrow with traditional student finance.

How much can I borrow with a future earnings agreement?

With a Future Earnings Agreement, you can borrow up to the total tuition fees for the postgraduate degree. So, if the fees are £20,000, you can borrow up to £20,000.

This is a key difference to a traditional loan, which is capped. Traditional student loans for students in England are capped at £11,570, and £18,025 for Welsh students, which may not cover your postgraduate tuition fees in full.

How to pay tuition fees without student finance

If you’ve decided that taking on a student loan is not right for you, it’s possible to pay the fees from your own pocket or aim to get funding via scholarships, bursaries, or grants.

University bursaries UK

A university bursary is a one-off payment typically to help with living costs. They are often offered by Universities themselves to help students from low income households or with difficult circumstances.

Can I get a bursary for university

Many universities and colleges will offer bursaries to help students from particular backgrounds to be able to study. This can include individuals from low income households, those with disabilities or from particular communities and countries.

How to apply for bursary for university

When applying for bursaries, there are three main conditions to look for. This includes the award amount (how much is paid and how it can be spent by the recipient), the eligibility criteria (do you meet the requirements) and the application process.

The normal process is a simple online application, but there may be extra steps for competitive bursaries. For example, you may be required to complete a writing task or attend an interview.

How much is a bursary for university?

The amount of a bursary can vary widely. Some bursaries are based on a tuition fee discount, such as a 10% or 20% discount. Others can be lump sum fixed cash bursaries of several thousand pounds.

If you’ve been in local authority care, you can also apply for a one-off £2,000 bursary from that local authority.

University scholarships

Scholarships are similar to bursaries but are awarded based on academic performance and excellence.

Can you get a scholarship for university?

Almost all universities will offer some kind of scholarship programmes to attract top talent to that university. Awards can be in many different forms, such as one-off payments to help with living costs, regular payments, or tuition fee discounts.

How to apply for a UK university scholarship?

You can find scholarships for students via universities’ websites, and international students can find specialised scholarships via certain directories such as Study UK.

University Grants

A grant is a non-repayable gift of money based on certain criteria to help you attend university, either by contributing to tuition fees or essential studying equipment for example.

Can you get a grant for university

Aside from the grants given out by student finance, these are usually offered by a range of organisations such as charities and not-for-profit organisations to help certain people attend university.

There are many local grant schemes which offer support to local people trying to get into university, as well as many focused on underrepresented people such as those from certain religious communities, or with disabilities. Or it could even be based on academic excellence.

As these are provided by third parties like charities, they’re stricter about how the grant can be spent. There may be restrictions on whether it must be used to purchase studying materials such as books or laptops, and you may have to prove that it’s been spent responsibly.

How to apply for a grant

You can find grants from certain charities and organisations, especially for those with a special interest in certain people or communities. For example, religious groups.


Student finance closes around the end of May or start of June for new students, depending on what part of the UK you’re from. Returning students will generally have until the end of June to get their applications in.
Student finance opens around February to March depending on what part of the UK you’re from.
Yes, student finance affects universal credit. If you become a student, you will be eligible for a student loan and/or grant instead of universal credit.
You can get student finance for a second degree, so long as it is a different type than the first. For example, a postgraduate masters or PhD following an undergraduate degree. But you cannot get another student finance loan for a second undergraduate degree.
You have to apply for student finance every year you are a student. This is in case your circumstances change such as your household income or bank details.
You can get student finance for however long your degree is. However, if you end up retaking some years, or switch your degree part way through, you can get a maximum of 5 years student finance.
Generally, students who receive student finance will not qualify for housing benefit. But there are some exceptions.
When bursaries are paid can depend on the specific scheme, but they are often paid the same schedule as student finance payments.
Yes, university bursaries are tax free.


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