guide to student finance

Everything you need to know about student finance

Applying to university can be daunting, especially when you start to think about the costs and the loans you need to cover them. So to help you out, here’s a guide to student finance. Student finance is a great way to fund university, it means that anyone can afford to go. 

Guide to student finance

Source: Newstead Wood

What loans are available?

As an undergraduate, you can get a tuition fee loan and a maintenance loan. A tuition loan will go straight to your university and will cover the cost of your course, whereas maintenance loans are to help you pay rent and bills. You can get extra support if you are a disabled student or have any dependents.

You can also get loans as a postgraduate student, to help you financially whilst you study for a Masters Degree or PhD.

These loans all vary on who’s eligible, and they may be different depending on whether you’re studying full or part-time.

You can check whether you’re able to receive student finance with the student finance eligibility checker.

Tuition fee loans for full-time students

student finance explained

Your tuition fee is set by your institution. In the UK, these are currently usually £9,250 per year of your course. You can apply for a loan to cover this, which you will then have to pay back. However, you only have to pay this back when you’ve graduated (more specifically, the April afterwards) and are earning over the repayment threshold.

If you’re studying for an accelerated degree, you could be eligible for a tuition fee loan of £11,100. Otherwise, it is likely that you’ll be eligible for a loan to cover the cost of your course completely (so £9,250 per year).

How do I know if I’m eligible?

If you are studying for a BA, BSc, PGCE, Foundation Degree, Certificate of Higher Education, HNC, HND, Diploma of Higher Education, or integrated Masters, then you may be eligible for a tuition fee loan. This depends on your personal circumstances.

If you are a UK national, you can apply for student finance – although if you have been living out of the country for a length of time, you will need to provide evidence that this was temporary.

If you have been living and/or working in the UK, the Channel Islands, or the Isle of Man for the last 3 years before your course, you can apply.

You can also apply for a tuition fee loan if you’ve been living in Gibraltar, the UK, the EEA, or Switzerland for the last 3 years, and are:

  • the child of a Swiss national
  • an EEA/Swiss worker, or the family of
  • a Turkish worker

Anyone else from the EU or EEA is unfortunately not eligible for this loan. However, if your course starts before the 1st of August 2021 and you’ve already been receiving funding or applied (pre-Brexit) you will continue to receive funding until you graduate.

Other people who are eligible include anyone granted refugee, stateless, Calais leave or humanitarian protection by the Home Office, or their families.

Additionally, if you have been living in the UK for 3 years and are under 18 when your course starts, or are over 18 but have been living in the UK for half of your life (or 20 years), then you are also eligible.

Finally, pre-settled EU or Irish nationals, UK nationals living in Gibraltar, and those working or with family working in the Armed Forces may be eligible.

How is the tuition fee loan paid?

As we mentioned, you will never have to handle the tuition fee loan. This means you don’t get the chance to accidentally waste it all on a huge ASOS order. Instead, the money goes straight to your university. It will be paid in three instalments each year, at the start of every term. In the first term, Student Finance England will pay your university 25% of the course fee, then again in the second term, followed by 50% at the start of the third term.

Maintenance loan for full-time students

student finance explained

As mentioned above, your maintenance loan covers your costs of living. We’ve gone into detail about how this works here. The Student Finance maintenance loan dates will vary from university to university, as they are based around your term dates.

If your course lasts longer than 30 weeks and 3 days, you may also be eligible for the Long Course Loan, which is an additional sum of money on top of the other 2 loans. This could grant you an additional £65 per week if you live at home, £99 per week if you’re living away (but not in London, £127 for living in London, and £137 if you’re living abroad.

You could also be eligible for the Special Support Grant if you live in Wales or Northern Ireland, you can get this instead of your maintenance loan. It is means-tested and does not have to be repaid. You can only get it if:

  • You’re a single parent of a young person under 20 in full-time education
  • You have a partner who is also a full-time student and one or both of you has a child in their care, under 20, in education
  • You qualify for PIP or Armed Forces Independence Payment
  • You’re deaf and have DSA
  • You are incapable of working
  • You qualify for income-related Employment and Support Allowance
  • You’re over 60

Like the tuition loan, maintenance loans are paid at the start of each term.

In third year (or the final year of your course) you will get less maintenance loan as it does not need to fund you over the summer past your graduation.

If you’re worried about making the payments last from the start to the end of the term, we have some useful tips here.

Postgraduate loans

Master’s Loan

You can apply for a loan to help with your postgraduate studying too. You can get a loan of up to £11,222 as a contribution towards your course and your living costs. This will be spread out across your course.

Many Master’s courses are only a year full-time, but if you choose to study part-time then the course will be split across the years your course will cover.

Eligibility

To be eligible for this loan, the same nationality rules apply as for an undergraduate tuition fee loan. You must also be under 60, and have not studied a Master’s or postgraduate course prior to the one you are beginning.

Students looking to convert their BA or BSc into a Master’s are not eligible for this funding. Likewise, any courses covered by undergraduate loans (PGCE, Master’s of Architecture, ITT) are not eligible.

Doctoral Loan

You can get a loan of up to 26,000 for a doctorate. This has to be repaid, just like the Master’s and undergraduate loans. The loan will be spread out across your doctorate years.

Eligibility

Again, you must be under 60 for this loan. You must not already have a PhD, and if you have received funding or begun a PhD previously but not completed it, you will not be eligible for funding.

You must be studying at an eligible university, and your course must be:

  • A subject specialist doctorate: a formal programme of study such as a PhD
  • An integrated subject specialist doctorates: a supervised research project alongside a taught course
  • Professional and practice-based doctorate

If you are receiving Research Council Funding or Educational Psychological Bursary, you will not be eligible.

What does means-tested mean?

Means-tested means that the loan is based on your household income. This is so that the funding goes to people whose parents (or partners, or salary) cannot support them any further. Your student finance, if you’re living with your partner, will differ from what your student finance may be whilst living on your parent’s income. So it may be worth bearing that in mind when thinking of where to live during university. You can see roughly what you’ll get from this Student Finance household income table.

student finance household income table
Source: University of Northampton

When you apply for your student loans, you will be asked to provide household income details (or your parents will be, depending on your living situation). It is important that these get submitted quickly so that SFE can process your loan as fast as possible in time for your course to start.

If you apply with less than 4 weeks left to your course, SFE will pay you your loan without taking your household income into consideration, to ensure that you have money when your course starts. You will then receive your entitlement letter, and the next payments will be adjusted accordingly.

What is DSA?

student finance disabled
Source: UCAS

DSA – or Disabled Students Allowances – is a grant to help with any extra costs that disabled students may have. This does not have to be paid back. At the moment, you can get up to £25,000 a year for support.

You may be eligible for this if you have a long-term health condition, a mental health condition, or a specific learning difficulty.

The DSA can help with day-to-day costs to help with your studying, specialist equipment, and non-medical helpers (BSL translators, for example). It can also help with travel costs.

You can get DSA as an undergraduate or a postgraduate, but you will get slightly less as a postgraduate student.

Dependants’ Grants

student finance explained

If you have children or an adult dependent, you may be able to get extra help.

What’s available?

  • Parent’s Learning Allowance: means-tested funding that helps with course-related costs if you have children. Up to £1,812.
  • Childcare Grant: help to pay for childcare, up to £179.62 per week for one child (or 85% of your weekly costs, whichever is less) or up to £307.95 a week for two or more children
  • Adult Dependent Grant: if you have a partner or adult who depends on you financially, you could get up to £3,100 to help support you both.

Other funding available for full-time students

As well as maintenance, tuition and postgrad loans, you may also be eligible for these. Every little helps, right?

Travel grant

student finance explained

If you are attending a clinical placement in the UK, or studying abroad as part of your course, then you can get financial support when it comes to paying for the travel. Usually, you have to pay the first £303 of your travel yourself, and the amount you can get on top of that is means-tested.

To get this grant for studying abroad, you must be going abroad for at least half a term. You cannot get this funding if you are doing a work placement abroad. You can use it for travel, medical insurance, visas, vaccinations, etc. If you’re abroad for a whole year you can get 3 return trips between the UK and your placement.

Initial Teacher Training

student finance explained

Whilst full-time ITT courses will get usual degree funding, you can also get postgraduate training bursaries from the Department of Education. You can contact them for more info and to apply. 

Leaving or pausing your studies

student finance explained

If university isn’t for you, or you need to take a break for whatever reason, then the first thing to do is speak to your university. You will then, once the decision is made, need to contact Student Finance over the phone or through social media.

Your university will let SFE know that you’ve officially suspended your studies, and SFE will stop any payments scheduled. If during your suspension, you are struggling financially or are caring, or are sick yourself, then you may be eligible for some funding. If you suspended due to health issues, you will be eligible for student finance 60 days after your suspension date.

Depending on when you suspended or withdrew from the university, you may have been overpaid your student loan. SFE will contact you and will let you know how to repay this. Or if you’re returning to university they may reduce future payments.

Likewise, you may need to repay some tuition fee loan. This will depend on when you have withdrawn or suspended and will rely on a conversation between SFE, yourself, and the university.

Upon return to university, if you suspended, your student finance will be reassessed, and you will reapply as normal. If you withdrew in first year, you should be able to get enough funding to cover the rest of your course. Withdrawing in second year or later may mean that you will have to cover some of your costs yourself. This is because Student Finance cover your costs for the length of your degree plus one year, minus any previous years of study.

With postgraduate courses, if you take a suspension period of 2 years or more, in order to return to your studies you will have to provide an explanation.

Advanced Learner Loans

If you are 19 or over and are studying an approved course at Level 3 to 6, or at an approved college or training provider, then you can apply for this loan. The loan does not depend on your income and there are no credit checks done.

The amount available to you does depend on your course, and the fees charged by your course provider. You can choose the amount you want to borrow, which is then put towards the fees. The minimum is £300.

How does repayment work?

With student loans, you don’t have to pay them until after graduation or the end of your studies. During your study period, they will have gained some interest and will continue to do so at RPI plus 3%. RPI is a measure of inflation that is used to calculate the cost of living and wage escalation.

Currently, the UK threshold is £26,575 per year, £2,214 a month, or £511 a week. You’ll repay 9% of whatever you earn over this threshold. So if you are earning £2,250 a month before tax, you’ll pay £3 a month. That’s because you only earn £36 over the threshold, and 9% of £36 is £3. Student Finance will keep your repayment amounts up to date as you change jobs, so you don’t need to worry – likewise, the money will come out before you get your salary, so you won’t have to worry about missing a payment. Unless you’re self-employed, in which case you will pay when you pay your taxes.

After 30 years, the debt will be cancelled.

How to apply for student finance

student finance explained
Source: Finance Viewer

To apply for a student loan, you will need to set up an account on the Student Finance England website (unless you’re in other parts of the UK, then be sure to use their branches of SFE). When you first do this, you’ll be asked to provide proof of identity. This can be either a passport or a birth certificate and signed birth certificate form. If you are a non-UK national, you will need a passport and your biometric residence permit card.  You’ll then need your course details, bank information, and your national insurance number.

Once you’ve applied for a year of finance, you’ll have to provide evidence and information on your household income. You can input this yourself, or enter your parents/partners emails. They can then input their information themselves.

Alternatively, you can print off a form and send the information and evidence to the Student Finance offices.

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