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How much does it really cost to go to university in the UK?

Figuring out how much university will cost you can be tricky.

If you’re looking to go and study at university, it can be difficult to work out how much you’ll need to pay.

Here’s everything you need to know about the true cost of university. 

How much does it really cost to go to university in the UK?

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The costs of going to university

Going to university can sound expensive. With tuition fees at record levels, there’s no doubt that going to university can see you eligible to pay back several thousands of pounds.

Although tuition fees work more like a graduate tax, and you won’t need to repay them until you’re earning more than a set amount of money per year, it can still be a shock to realise how much money you owe.  

And this is all before you factor in the day-to-day costs of university. You’ll need to find a way to pay for daily expenses, like food, essentials, course materials and rent. Unlike tuition fees, you’ll need to pay your maintenance costs upfront.  

When it comes to planning for the costs of going to university, it’s worth paying attention to what costs you’ll be incurring daily and which ones you won’t need to pay back for many years, as this will help you plan your finances efficiently.  

What are tuition fee costs?

Tuition fees are the headline costs of going to university. Universities can charge up to a maximum of £9,250 per year for your course.

So for a three-year course, you’ll need to apply for a student loan that covers the £27,750 tuition fees for your course.

Depending on where you live, you can apply for a student loan from Student Finance England, Student Finance Wales, Student Awards Agency Scotland (SAAS), or Student Finance NI. 

However, an interest rate is also applied to your loan. The amount of interest charged is pegged at the Retail Price Index (RPI), meaning that if this rises, so will the amount you need to pay back.

As inflation is currently rising quickly in the UK, there are concerns that student loans will grow dramatically as the RPI rises.  

The amount you need to repay in tuition fee loans will be the total of your initial course fee and the interest rate applied. For students attending university for the first time after 2012, this means that many students have a debt of tens of thousands of pounds.  

For international students looking to study in the UK, fees are slightly higher, they can be anywhere from £11,400 to £32,081. 

How are tuition fees repaid?

So while your student loan will be a sizable amount, it’s important to know how you will repay it.

A student loan is quite different from any other loan you might take out in your life. It works much more like a tax than a loan you need to repay by a fixed date.  

By 2022/23 standards, you’ll only start repaying your undergraduate loan once you start earning more than £27,295 a year. This means that you’ll only start paying back your student loan if you go on to earn enough money after university.

It will take years to fully repay your loan, and some people might not even repay the loan in full. In other words, paying back your student loan doesn’t need to be a financial priority until long after you’ve graduated.  

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What are the living and accommodation costs?

The majority of your immediate costs as a student will be maintenance costs.

These costs include rent, food, transport and learning resources and much more. These costs can be substantial, and it can be difficult to predict how much money you will actually need to pay on a weekly and monthly basis.

For this reason, most students opt to take out a maintenance loan from their student finance body. This is added to your student debt and is repaid in the same way as your tuition fees.  

There is no typical figure for how much students spend on maintenance costs. The amount varies a lot depending on where you’re studying — for example, studying in London costs a lot more than elsewhere — and how you manage your money.

By far the biggest cost that students have to pay is rent, with the average rent for purpose-built student accommodation coming to around £166 a week. Private accommodation can be found at slightly more affordable rates, at a weekly cost of around £155.  

There are also some hidden costs to keep in mind too. Depending on what course you’re studying, you might need to pay for specialist equipment or books. Also, if you’re looking to join societies to meet other students, there might also be small fees to pay. 

Is university worth it?

When faced with the costs, a lot of students ask themselves if university is worth the expense.

There’s no easy answer because university is an individual experience for everyone, so while some students on certain courses might feel that university is worth the expense, others might not.  

The up-front maintenance costs can be a lot, but as a student with a degree, there’s every chance that you will be in a high-earning profession in the future.

Studies by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) show that working age graduates earn £10,000 more per year than non-graduates, with this ‘graduate premium’ only increasing as you pursue further education.

So while an upfront expense, your future salary can be drastically improved by going to university and getting a degree. For this reason, you can think of going to university as an investment in your future.  

Tips for saving money as a student

While university can be expensive, there are some key tips for students to manage their money effectively.  

  • Budget: Lots of students don’t budget properly, meaning that they can be left a little short on cash when they most need it  

  • Get a part-time job: Sometimes working a few hours on the side of your studies can help make up some of your shortfalls 

  • Speak to your parents: It’s not unusual for parents to help students out while they study. If your parents are able to, you could speak to them about what options there are for supporting you at university  

  • Speak to a financial adviser: A financial adviser can help you plan for your financial future. Speak to an adviser to see how you can manage your finances while at university 

The true cost of university can be expensive. But knowing what money you need to pay back, when you’ll need to do it and how to prioritise your money can make a big difference.

To explore your options further and see how you can manage your finances at university, speak to a financial adviser.

If you found this article helpful, you might also find our article on student hardship funding and saving for school fees informative, too.

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About the author
Kate has written for leading publications and blue chip companies over the last 20 years.