In the first piece of our eight-part series on surviving and thriving in your Postgraduate Certificate of Education, we will be looking at the subject of financial aid. It’s not easy to be a teacher, we all know, and the government is always encouraging citizens to get into the profession.

In order to gain what is called Qualified Teacher Status (QTS), graduates have to pass the PGCE, a 12-month full-time (or 24 months part time) course in which they expand their knowledge and gain critical teaching experience through school placements. On the surface it seems straightforward, but there are many difficulties to overcome. Before you even get to the questions of the required academic rigor needed for the course, and the personal fortitude needed for work placements, there’s the question of cost.

How much does it cost?

The standard charge for UK students is £9,250, and up to £16,000 for international students. It sounds a huge sum, and it’s natural for many to wonder just how they are going to pay for it all. What options exist?

· Take on part-time work to raise money

· Apply for a student loan

· Apply for a government bursary or scholarship

Many are inclined to take on part-time work to avoid adding debt to the existing pile accrued during their undergraduate years. It seems intuitive, and means you maintain some income while you are preparing for what will hopefully be a steady and fulfilling long-term career.

Forget part-time work - Consider the financial aid option

Some aspiring educators are very lucky to be able to receive scholarship or bursaries to fund their training (see below for more). These grants are not of equal value, however, so many will either receive not enough to cover all their costs, or very little at all. In these circumstances, we understand the compulsion to work and earn money, but here’s why you shouldn’t:

· The physical and mental drain – Even if you complete the PGCE part time, it will be draining both physically and mentally. Adding the stress of a job into the mix is asking for trouble.

· Your PGCE needs your full attention – The academic side is very challenging, and you will likely need to devote many hours to completing assignments, as well as planning lessons and doing general preparation. You can’t afford distractions.

· You can finish your course faster – Not having part-time work means you can finish the course in a single year, get over the initial stress and start your new career earlier.

· Student debt is not like other debt – We should remember that while taking on debt is not ideal, at least student debt isn’t like credit card debt. You only pay back when you are earning, and even then it’s in small and manageable amounts.

Interestingly, the apparently “easier” route of a part-time PGCE while maintaining a part-time income is, underneath it all, the much more difficult and stressful route. Conversely, the apparently “scarier” route of taking on some student debt and facing the intensive 12-month course head on is, in the long run, a less stressful approach.

Financial aid comes in two main forms. The first is a “Tuition Fee Loan” which covers the costs of your tuition up to £9,250. In addition, you can get a “Maintenance Loan” of up to £12,010 for living costs. You can find more information on available loan programs at the “Get Into Teaching” site.

Bursaries and scholarships

The page has great information on eligibility for the various bursaries and scholarships that can go to funding your PGCE studies. There are two main things to remember from the information given:

1. Not every subject comes with the option of a scholarship/bursary

2. Not every package is equal in terms of how much money you receive

The essential difference between the bursary and scholarship is that the bursary is awarded on the basis of need, typically worked out on your current household income. The scholarship is awarded based on merit, typically by looking at your highest awarded degree level.

The differences, however, are less important than the common factors, which is that before anything else, they are only open to people with a 1st, 2:1, 2:2, Master’s or PhD. They are also only available to candidates specialising in the following subjects:

· Science – Chemistry, Physics. Biology

· Maths

· Languages

· Computing

· Classics

· Humanities – Geography, History, RE, Business Studies

· Arts – Art, Design, Music

· Design & Technology

· English

· Primary with Maths

It should be noted that these also don’t offer equal amounts of support. A teacher wanting to specialise in primary education with maths, for example, can get up to £6,000 as a bursary. Those looking to do chemistry, languages, maths or physics, on the other hand, can get as whopping £26,000 bursary plus up to £6,000 in “early-career payments,” totalling support of £32,000.

Focus and Dedication are Key

At the end of the day, in taking on the PGCE, you are entering a year-long preparation for a challenging career ahead. To be the best teacher you can be, you owe it to yourself and your future students to be 100 percent focused and committed to your course. This is why we recommend exploring financial aid options instead of any part-time work.

Don’t miss the second part of our series, which will discuss the importance of the academic aspect of the PGCE.