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Can you afford to go to university?

Can you afford to go to university?

June 28, 2019

Attending university is a massive investment. Not only is it three, four, or five years of your life, but it also costs tens of thousands of pounds. The other question, however, is whether you can afford not to go to university? You should also consider how much do you have to pay upfront, and what your options are if you can't get a job afterwards.

Many students worry about tuition fees and whether or not they can afford university. I'm sure you've heard loads and loads of horror stories about the amount of debt you'll be in if you go to university, so I'm going to break things down and make things as transparent as possible for you.

While you're at university, there are going to be two main areas where your money will go: tuition fees and living costs. You can get a loan toward your tuition fees of up to £9,250, depending on where you live and what course you're taking. You can get a further loan to cover your living costs, as well. The tuition fee loan is paid straight to university, so you won’t have to deal much with that, but the living cost loan is paid straight into your bank account, likely on a per-term basis.

The loan to cover your living costs will depend on what type of course you're taking; whether you're doing a teaching course or a medical course; what kind of background you come from; whether your parents are in employment; whether you have support from your parents or partner; how much your parents and partner are earning; whether you're going to university in London; whether you're going to university outside of London; whether you're going to be living at home or living on your own. These loans only have to be paid back once you've left university and once your income passes a certain threshold, currently set at £21,000. Then you only pay it back as a percentage of your income. Interest on the amount is charged right from the beginning, and you will have to pay that off as well.

You do not have to pay for university upfront, nor do you do not have to start saving money straight away. You'll get a loan, and then you’ll pay it back years later once you're earning.

Let's consider an example. We have a student whose parents are both employed. They're each making £20,000 a year, so the combined household income is £40,000, a little bit below the national average. This student will go to university full time, paying £9,250 in tuition fees, and living away from home, outside of London. They will get £9,250 in tuition fee loans each year, and then on top of that, they will also get a £4,920 loan for living costs.

This student will get roughly £14,000 in loans a year. Over a four-year course, taking into account interest, by the time you have to start paying it back, this is going to be around £60,000. It sounds like a lot of money, and it is a lot of money, but it shouldn't be scary.

Somebody who has no parental help, living and studying in London, can get up to £11,000 pounds for living costs as well as £9,250 for tuition fees. They're going to have a loan of £20,000 per year, or £80,000 after four years.

You’ve got massive debt when we're coming out of university, but how much are you going to pay back?

Once you start earning over £25,000, you pay it back at nine per cent of your income over £25,000. The average starting salary for a graduate is £29,000, so you pay interest on the difference between £25,000 and £29,000, that's £4,000. At nine per cent of that £4,000, this works out as £30 a month from a take-home salary of £1,690, not very much at all. Not a massive impact on your daily life. That's a takeaway pizza or going out, or a pair of shoes. If you earn less than £21,000, you'll pay nothing. You don't have to worry about paying it back at all. You only pay it back once you pass £21,000, and then you just make payments for 30 years. After 30 years, it's entirely written off. If you have a starting salary of £25,000, in 30 years, you'll have paid off about 80% of your debt, and then the rest of it will just be forgotten. It is not the horror story that the newspaper headlines are trying to make it out to be. Yes, it’s scary owing £50,000 or £60,000 pounds in your early 20s—it is a lot of money, but the repayments are very manageable. It's a small amount of your take-home pay, and that level of pay might not have been available to you if you hadn’t gone to university and didn't get that degree.


 The Cost of Living at University

University can be really expensive, and in addition to those expensive, you will also have the added stress of managing your finances, perhaps for the very first time. So, can you afford to go to university?

In this chapter I'm going to talk you through estimated costs for each week at university, extrapolated across each year. We will compare this value to the loan you're going to get for your living fees, and then we’ll talk about what you can do with the difference.

The first thing and most important thing to consider is your accommodation. At university, there is often a wide range of accommodation available, from self-catering shared rooms to en-suite rooms which are fully catered, as well as everything in between. These rooms can go for about £100 a week up to about £200 a week, but for this example I’ve gone for a middle range figure about £140 a week. You can expect to spend about £30 a week on food, about £10 a week on transport, and about £5 a week on your phone. Socializing at university is pretty cheap, often for about £30 a week. And then there are all the other things, like stationary, photocopying, pens, and other items that you will need for your coursework, all of which comes out to about £5 a week. All of this together is going to come to £225 a week of living costs while you're away at university.

 

Estimated cost each week:

Accommodation                      £140   

Food                                       £30

Transport                               £10

Phone                                      £5

Social life                                £30

School supplies                      £5      

Total                                       £225

 

While the actual length of courses varies, some terms are very short, some are very long, and holidays should be factored in as well. It's roughly 40 weeks that you'll be at university, so £225 pounds a week for 40 weeks brings us out at £9,000 a year.

There are some additional expenses that you should expect as well. For example, at the start of the course you're going to need to buy some books, which will cost a few hundred pounds. For lab-based courses, you might need to buy a lab coat or equipment. You might also want to buy yourself a computer to use in your room.

All of these estimates are going to vary by person. The food cost will range depending on whether you eat meals you've made yourself or whether you eat out. Socializing would depend on how much you drink, how often you go out, and whether you go to student bars or whether you go to ones that make fancy cocktails. The transport costs will depend on whether you're living on campus—which quite a few of you will be doing for your first year, so you'll be able to walk to lectures—or whether you have to get a bus or a train to your lectures. And if some of you are studying in London, the cost of the Tube is actually quite expensive.

A few of the universities have published their estimates for living costs while in attendance. Edinburgh’s estimates are between £7,000 and £13,700 a year, while Manchester’s estimates are about £9,000. The NUS estimate about £13,000 in London and about £12,000 for the rest of the U.K. Birmingham says just below £9,000, and Oxford says a year there will cost you between £12,000 and £18,000.

This money is not including tuition fees. The tuition fees are in addition to these living expenses, but remember, you're going to get your tuition fee loan up to £9,250 to cover your tuition fees. As we discussed earlier, you won't see that money in your bank account, as it just gets paid straight to the university.

The living cost loan, on the other hand, is paid straight to you. For the majority of students, the living cost loan will be about £4,920 per year. This is quite different from my estimate of £9,000 a year for you to live on, which leaves you with £4,080 short over the year, or just over £100 a week, for you to find so that you can afford to go to university. You have three main options for this: parental support, getting a job while you're at university, or saving up during the holidays.

The student loans company often assumes that your parents will be giving you some money. When you apply for your student loan, you tell student finance how much parental support you will be getting, including information such as how much your parents make or whether you're in contact with your parents. If you are not going to be getting any parental support, then the level of loan you will receive will be higher, up to £11,000. 

Saving up is also a possibility. You have long summer, Christmas, and Easter breaks, so you have lots of time in there to work really hard and save up money for the term ahead. If you're going to be working during the term time, the minimum wage for 18-year-olds is £5.90 an hour. To make up that £100, this means you're going to have to work 17 hours a week. The advantage of any work that you do while you're at university is that it looks really good on your CV. The disadvantage is that you won't have as much time to study and you won't have as much time to socialize.

For the majority of you, it will be a combination of all three. There might be some parental support involved, you might get a job, and you might have some savings as well. I know that I worked 15 hours a week in the university library sorting out books. It certainly wasn't the most exciting job in the world, but I did love being in the library! And then on top of that, my parents helped me out a little bit as well.

Believe it or not, the other hard part will come for when the loan is paid out to you. Because the loan is paid on a termly basis, this means that at the beginning of the term, you will have loads of money and everyone will go out that night, and the next night, and the next night, and the next night. And then towards the end of term, you won't have any money, which is when frequently my friends and I would eat ‘tuna surprise’—the surprise being that we couldn't afford tuna so it was literally just pasta and a tin of tomatoes!

Budgeting is tricky, and it's especially tricky if you don’t have any help with it or it's something that you've never done before. There are lots of things you can do to influence how much money you spend a university, and if you budget wisely, you can do it.

 

Lucy’s Story - What I Wish I Knew Now

Lucy is studying Creative Writing at Bath Spa University. Her A-Level were in English Literature (B) Drama (B) and French (D)

I love my university and the course I’m studying, but there are many things I’ve found out along the way that I wish I had known before starting. My first two weeks in university were spent running around like a headless chicken. Due to the size and amount of the rooms the university has, I was never on time for my lectures. It took me a few weeks to familiarise myself with the layout of the university. Had I been forward thinking I would have settled into uni before the studying started. Once I received my timetable, I could have visited each lecture room and made a mental map.

I also recall arriving to university with an absolute ridiculous amount of furniture. I really wanted to make my room as comfy and pretty as I could. Looking back that could have been achieved with half the stuff I brought along. Not only were some of my purchases a complete waste of money, they were also very impractical. I really did not need a £100 coffee machine for my room. The kettle in the kitchen worked just fine. I sold my coffee machine without even using it once.  

I could have saved a lot of money by taking along with me pre-prepared snacks and lunch. I barely had time during the day to sit at the university cafe for a sit-down lunch. Not only would bringing my own food along with me have been a healthier option, I wouldn’t have ended up spending extortionate prices on a chocolate bar and a ploughman’s sandwich. 

This brings me to budgeting. With student loans coming into my bank account as a huge lump sum, I tended to overspend on things that were unnecessary. I really didn't need the same bag in three different colours. Had I budgeted I could have had a fairly comfortable student life without looking for a part-time job.  

One big lesson I also learnt was to make friends. I have a close-knit bunch of friends who I’ve known for years, and I’ve never felt the need to make more friends. Whilst at university, however, making friends is simply networking. It helps to make friends with those on the same course as you, especially when it comes time to creating study groups. These friends are useful in helping you to catch up on any work you may have missed out on due to illness.  

Keeping on top of your work is probably one of the most important lessons I learnt. I now write up my lecture notes in an organised manner a few hours after the lecture has finished. The lecture is still fresh in my mind and the notes still make sense. It helps me to have a head start on exam preparation.

 

I have also learnt that I should enjoy every aspect of university. These few years are character-building years. The good and the bad have allowed me to transform into a somewhat responsible adult.

 

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