Student finance

How will I pay for university?

The costs depend on where you live and study. The main expenses are:

  • tuition fees
  • accommodation costs
  • living expenses

Tuition fees

Tuition fees are what you pay to the university for your studies. They cover teaching (lectures, seminars, tutorials, exams, graduation, etc) as well as the use of university facilities and services such as labs, libraries, a Students’ Union and welfare.

For 2021 studies, UK universities and colleges can charge UK and Irish students:

  • new full time students up to £9,250 a year
  • new part-time students up to £4,625 a year

There are no restrictions on the amount private colleges or universities can charge. 

The cost of tuition varies hugely between the countries of the UK, for example:

  • Scottish students do not pay fees at Scottish universities, but students from the rest of UK do pay
  • Welsh students can pay up to £9,000 a year to study in Wales
  • If you’re Northern Irish then to study at home you’ll pay up to £4,257
  • International students looking to study in the UK are charged significantly more than UK and EU students but this varies by UK nation and university so please check with your chosen university.

In the Republic of Ireland, Irish students’ fees are free although they may need to pay a annual student contribution fee. International students to Ireland pay but this is setup by individual institutions. 

For 2021 studies, students from the EU, EEA and Switzerland wishing to study in the UK will be charged the Overseas rate.

It’s very important to check what your chosen course will cost you at each university before you apply.

Accommodation costs

You can choose where to live while you study. The cost is one factor in your choice.

  • University accommodation is often in great demand, so some universities give priority to first years. According to the National Union of Students (NUS) and Unipol, costs in 2018/19 averaged around £147 per week and £6,366 per a year. The average in London was £8,8875 compared to £5,928 for the rest of the UK. Each university will list costs on their accommodation website so check these pages for the latest prices and what is included in their costs as this does vary.
  • Privately-rented accommodation from the big student accommodation suppliers such as Unite (UK-wide) or UrbanEst (London) can be more expensive. National Union of Students (NUS) and Unipol state that in 2018/19 the average was £153 per a week. Another option is a shared house, usually rented through a local letting agent. Either rent the whole house as a group or just lease your room if you don’t mind who you share with.

Living at home could be the cheapest option – it’s up to you to negotiate over this one. Bear in mind, though, that you get a lower rate of student finance.

Living expenses

Woman with finance forms and calculator

Source: Shutterstock

You’ll need to buy food and pay utility bills (if it’s not included in your accommodation), stationery, toiletries, books, etc. You may want to buy clothes or go out, too. The National student money survey 2019 found that on average students spent around £376 per a month on general living expenses (excluding rent). The current maintenance loan doesn’t always cover all expenses so it’s important to create a budget and ensure that you can cover your costs whilst studying. If you’re from outside the UK and studying on a student visa, you will need to prove that you have enough money to cover your expenses for each month of your course.

Student finance – England

You can apply for:

  • Maintenance loans (full time students only) are for your living costs, including accommodation. The amount you receive is based on where you live and your household income so it depends who you live with. They are paid into your bank account at the start of each term.
  • Tuition fee loan is paid direct to the college or university to cover your fees.

Loans have to be paid back, grants and bursaries do not.  However, you only start paying loans back when:

  • you have finished studying
  • you are earning over £25,725

As it’s a loan, interest is added to your account while the loan is still outstanding, but the rate is low and capped by the Government. Repayments are linked to the amount you earn when you start working rather than the amount you borrowed. Student Finance England provide full information about the student loans that are available.

Student finance – rest of the UK

Finance arrangements are different in ScotlandWales and Northern Ireland.

Student finance – EU & EEA students

If you are from a member state of the EU or EEA and you want to study in the UK beyond 2021 then there is no longer support available from UK nations student finance. You can find more information and support via UKCISA

Student finance – international

If you’re a UK national interested in studying outside the UK, you will need to check about finance options with your chosen university before you apply. You’ll also need to have plans in place to cover your living costs while you are studying. The British Council and the UK Council for International Student Affairs may also be able to help with information about your options. 

If you’re an International student not from the UK, EEA or a EU member state and are planning on studying in the UK then you can find out information about your options from Save the Student. You should also check with your chosen university about available support and how this works with your visa

Finance for part-time study

If you choose to study part-time, you can apply for a tuition fee loan as long as this is your first undergraduate degree. For each year of your part-time course, you also need to be completing at least 25% of what you would be if you were studying the same course, full time, to be eligible. You can also apply for a maintenance loan which is dependent on where you live, your household income and course intensity. 

Applying for student finance

  • UK students can apply online
  • Apply early – don’t wait until you have offers from universities
  • You should apply before the end of May to ensure your finance reaches your bank account at the start of term.
  • Don’t worry, though, if you are a late applicant. You can still apply for Student Finance – it just may not be there for the start of term.

Additional finance

You may have to search to find other sources of financial help, but they are there. You should also speak to your university’s student support service. Look out for:

 There is also help for specific groups, such as students who are:


There is nothing to stop you having a paid job while you study at university, unless you are studying at Oxford or Cambridge. The NUS says that ‘the majority of students work part-time during term time’. Make sure it doesn’t affect your studies, though. Most universities recommend no more than 15 hours paid work a week. 

Remember, as well, that working during your studies gives you valuable employability skills – customer service, handling money, working in a team, reliability, etc. They can really help you stand out when you start looking for graduate jobs.

Summer vacation

Most universities finish for the summer by the end of May and start again in September or October. You will have to support yourself during those summer months. Your grants and loans are only intended to cover term times. So completing a placement or internship, for at least part of the summer, might be your only option. If you are thinking of working on a research project over the summer the Royal Society of Chemistry can support you with an undergraduate research grant, or an analytical chemistry summer studentship

Last updated: March 2021



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