Will your student finances add up? The lowdown on loans, bursaries and jobs

Student finances might not be what you expect as we adjust to the changing post-covid landscape. With student fees expected to stay the same, there is still financial support for clearing students.

It’s especially important to first think about your wellbeing. The pandemic will mean lots of students’ situations will have changed – including financially. “You’ve got to decide what is the best learning environment for you. We’ve been living in lockdown, and if you’re going in September, will you be able to cope with being away from home?” asks Ruki Heritage, the University of Bedfordshire’s director of student experience.

What and where you study will affect your finances. Can you commute or will you live on campus? And if you live at home, what costs will that entail? UK students coming via clearing apply for loans in the same way, but switching courses may affect your application – where you live and study changes your maintenance loan.

The tuition loan is standard, but the maintenance loan depends on household income. In Wales, all students get the same amount, but a higher family income means it’s more of a repayable loan than a grant. In Scotland and Northern Ireland, it’s a mix of grant and loan, depending on your parents’ income. In England, the higher the income, the lower the loan.

These calculations imply that the government expects help from the bank of mum and dad, if it’s available, so make sure you have honest conversations with parents or caregivers. The student loans website has a student finance calculator, and MoneySavingExpert has built one to work out how much parents need to contribute to fill the gap. “The average parental contribution is £130-140 a month,” says Heritage. “But if parents can’t afford this, the lower the income the bigger the student loan.”

When you apply for a student loan, you provide household income from the previous tax year, but if for any reason – including Covid-19 – it is at least 15% lower this year, you can give these income details, which could mean a bigger maintenance loan.

Martin Lewis, founder of MoneySavingExpert, says that the price tag of university is almost irrelevant. “Too few consider the greater practical challenge of how to afford to live while studying, and then there’s the hidden parental contribution,” he says. “Too many are put off by the high price tag on tuition fees, and the overall ‘debt’ figure they’re left with, which bears little resemblance to what they repay.” You’ll only start repaying the loan once you earn more than £26,575 a year (the current threshold).

Check out uni advice services – there may be scholarships, grants or bursaries to apply for, that are still accessible through clearing, and some charities, councils and businesses offer funds.

If you’re looking for part-time work while you study, the university’s careers and employability service can advise on what work may be available.

Case study: I had two jobs

Shireen Ahmed, 22, a final-year business school student at the University of Bedfordshire, explains how her two student roles help pay her way through studies

I felt it was essential for me to get a job. I have a tuition and maintenance loan, but I still have to worry about my living standards – every student needs equipment and books. Even though I live with my parents, I believe that financially taking care of yourself is a learning process in life, and situations change, so you never know exactly what could happen.

At university I’ve had two main jobs: as a student ambassador, where I welcome students to university and help answer any questions; and one on the marketing team of the students’ union. I’ve been a student ambassador for years, but financially it was a bit of a struggle at times. Even though it was a part-time role, it was only really once a month, and got busier around times like the clearing process.

I decided to join another team to help my finances. I became a marketing adviser for the students’ union, working on all sorts of campaigns. By taking this job, I felt a greater sense of being part of the university and the student bubble, which is important for me as I live at home.

The work was related to my course in project management, and my manager got me involved in other activities to see how the university runs projects and events. This experience helped me launch my own event for this year’s International Women’s Day, a conference to raise awareness for gender equality.

These jobs have helped me both financially and as a person, as I’ve built confidence and met new people from different backgrounds. I’m meeting lots of new students as an ambassador, and they recognise me when I’m walking by. That’s really nice, as it feels like I’ve managed to help someone.

I’ve gained a lot of skills and abilities – that’s the best benefit about it. I used to be a very shy person and used to sit there thinking “I can’t do it”, but slowly I started learning you can do something if you put your mind to it.

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