They say that your university years are some of the best of your life, a time when responsibilities are few and parties are plentiful. While this is certainly true, being a student these days can be a costly enterprise and most people need to consider loans, overdrafts or some form of credit in order to help them through. The vast majority of students will leave university in debt – an Institute for Fiscal Studies report in 2012 averaged this at around £44,000 per student (including course fees) – but what are the real costs of studying full time?
Currently, universities can charge between £6,000 and £9,000 in tuition fees and more than half of UK institutions opt for the higher amount. This is without a doubt the most significant cost of being a student and a very good reason not to spend the entirety of your course in the bar.
The cost of accommodation can vary depending on whether you’re living in halls or renting with other students in a private house. Halls accommodation depends very much on the university, whether you opt for self catering or catered and which halls you are placed in. If you choose to live outside of university accommodation then you’re looking at normal renting costs with rent anywhere from £400-700 a month, depending on who you share with and where you live.
Leaving out the rent element of university living, there are a number of other costs that can contribute to weighing down your budget every month. Bills, for example, are an essential cost to bear in mind unless they are included in your monthly rent payments. Gas, electricity and water are the main bills but you’ll also have to consider the cost of phone lines and broadband, which tend to be fairly essential to most students these days. It’s a good idea to use a price comparison website to make sure that you’re not paying above the odds for your bills – you can expect to pay upwards of £40 a month for energy and another £20+ for water, depending on where you are. Internet costs vary hugely and if you’re looking for superfast cable broadband, with TV channels included, then you could be paying almost £100 a month. Full time students don’t have to pay council tax.
This tends to be the cost that students often sacrifice to pay for other things (travel, booze, clothes) but there are many studies that show a healthy diet can improve concentration and attention span, as well as improving academic performance. It’s possible to live healthy (albeit frugally) on around £100 a month but you can spend as much as your budget allows. Steer clear of processed foods and ready meals and instead save yourself money with healthy vegetable soups, rice dishes and stews. If you’re in shared accommodation then it might be worth looking into sharing the cost of essentials like bread, milk and butter.
This is a very broad category and could include everything from paying to stream movies at home to nights out. Student deals and offers, discounts and vouchers are available for all sorts of entertainment options, such as eating out and cinema tickets, and it can be worth investing in an NUS Extra card (£12) to get access to some of the best discounts. If you’re going to watch TV in your student house then remember you need a TV licence (roughly £145 a year) – you’ll be fined if you don’t have one so it’s not worth the risk.
Of course the true cost of university varies from student to student – some are happy to live off baked beans and study 24/7, others have more expensive tastes and nightlife needs. Some more subjective costs to take into account include:
Insurance – if you have a laptop, smart phone etc it might be worth protecting them.
Stationary – for those who haven’t gone digital.
Furniture – if you’re moving into an unfurnished student house you’ll need at least a bed.
Bedding – whether you’re in halls or renting you’ll need a duvet and pillows, as well as covers and pillowcases.
Transport – depending on how far you are from campus, transport may be necessary. Of course you could always invest in a bike and get fit while keeping transport costs down.
Laundry – if you have a washing machine then this costs is low but if you’re using a launderette it’s worth factoring in.
Toiletries – everyone needs toothpaste, soap and a toothbrush and if you’re a fan of personal grooming then you might need to budget a bit more.
Clothes – decide whether you’re a vintage fan or you love the high street and budget accordingly.
Loans via the government-backed Student Loans Company is the simple way to fund your way through university. At the moment you can borrow up to £9000 per year in tuition fees and £7751 in maintenance costs (to cover rent, bills, textbooks, etc). If you were to borrow the maximum each year for a 3 years course you would have borrowed in excess of £50,000. You start to repay the loan once you start earning over £21,000 per year. You pay interest at the rate equivalent to the Retail Price Index while at university (this is added to your loan) and once you start to work the interest rate starts to increase as you earn more.
Alex Hartley is a keen advocate of improving personal finance skills. She's worked at Solution Loans since 2014 and written hundreds of articles about how people can manage their money better. Her interest in personal finance goes way back to...Read more about Alex Hartley