Before you go

Whether to go to university or not will be one of the biggest decisions of your life. And like all big decisions, it can seem pretty scary. You need to think about what to study and where to go – and if you can afford it. While we can’t help you decide about the first two questions, we can give you a quick answer to the third…

Yes. If you want to go to university, then you CAN afford to go

OK, some of the costs seem pretty huge – like up to £9,000 in tuition fees per year, before you even begin to think about living costs. However, before you start worrying about where you’re going to find the money, remember two big facts:

No-one has to pay fees upfront

The government will provide loans for your time at university so it’s not like you or your parents have to save up all the money beforehand.

You only repay when you earn enough

Once you leave university you only repay the loan if you earn more than £21,000 a year. If not, you don’t repay. And if you never earn enough (although we hope for you that you do) you never repay a thing.

What loans are available?

1. Tuition Fee Loans. These cover the full cost of tuition fees and are available to all eligible first time students. They are paid directly to your university every year by the Student Loans Company.

2. Maintenance Loans. Money is also available for eligible full-time students to pay for things such as rent, food and bills. The way some of this is decided is by means testing, which is where they look at how much your household earns each year, usually based on your parents’ income. In general, the less your parents earn the more funding you’re entitled to. Many students from lower income households will also get a grant (which replaces some of the loan). This works in the same way, except the big difference is it almost NEVER has to be repaid. Applications for loans and grants need to be done separately to your UCAS application. You can normally apply in the January before you go to university and you don’t have to wait until you’ve got a confirmed place to apply. Remember the earlier you apply the better as it means your money will be available at the beginning of term. Applications are made to the Student Loans Company through the gov.uk website: www.gov.uk/student-finance.

What do tuition fees pay for?

Universities and colleges need to be paid for. They have to pay staff to teach and assess you, keep buildings in good condition and provide facilities such as libraries and laboratories. Over recent years it’s been decided that rather than the taxpayer paying, students should pay if they earn enough after graduating.

A £9,000 course won’t always cost more than a £6,000 one

It sounds odd, but it’s true. If you’re planning to go for a course just because it’s cheap, it’s important you understand this first. Once you add in maintenance loans many students who AREN’T higher earners after university won’t repay in full even on £6,000 courses, which means there’s no additional cost in going for a £9,000 course. Try www.studentfinancecalc.com which allows you to see whether it’s likely you’ll be someone who repays or not and see the How do I repay the loans?

The loan is wiped thirty years after you graduate

Whatever you borrow, regardless of what you’ve repaid, in the April thirty years after you graduate/leave university the loan is wiped. You won’t owe another penny. So even if you haven’t repaid everything you borrowed, the rest of the debt is gone.

Part-time students repay tuition fees in the same way

Universities can charge up to £4,500 a year for a part-time course, or up to £6,750 if they offer bursaries or other financial support. Part-time students can get a tuition fee loan that works exactly the same way as for full-time students, but not a maintenance loan, so they have to think about saving up to cover their living costs.

You don’t have to take a loan

You don’t have to take a loan if you already have the money to pay for your tuition fees and living costs. But you could actually end up spending more than needed if you pay upfront because, if you do take out a loan, you might not have to pay it all back before the debt is wiped. Of course paying for the fees isn’t everything. As well as finding innovative ways to cook baked beans – and whatever you’re there to study – managing your money is one of the most important things you’ll learn at university, especially if you don’t want to eat those beans EVERY night of the week.

Student Finance