How to pay for university

piggy bank with graduate cap

Tuition Fee Loan

Apply to: Student Finance

Eligible full- and part-time students can borrow for the full cost of their course fees, up to £9,250/year (or up to £6,000 a year at private universities). This money isn’t means-tested, so household income won’t affect how much you get.

The maximum amounts apply students from across the UK who study in England. This means if you’re from Wales and opt to study in England, you’ll get enough to cover the higher fees. However, you can’t borrow a bit extra on the side with this loan: it’s only for course fees and is paid directly to your university.

If you don’t take the Tuition Fees Loan, you’ll need to make your own arrangements to pay tuition, either in full or in instalments.

In Scotland, note that even if you’re eligible for ‘free’ tuition, you’ll still need to apply to Student Finance to ensure you don’t get charged.

Living costs

Maintenance Loan

Apply to: Student Finance

The Maintenance Loan pays for day-to-day living expenses like rent, bills, beans and books. Unlike the fees loan, it’s paid directly to your bank account once a term (monthly in Scotland) and you can spend it on anything you like – which is why you need to be clever about it.

The Maintenance Loan is partly means-tested. Everyone eligible can get some of it regardless of their financial situation, but to get the full allowance, you’ll need to declare household income. For most students, that’s how much their parents earn.

These are the maximum amounts you can apply for this year in England. Don’t forget this is what you could apply for, not what you’ll definitely get!

Maximum Maintenance Loan for English students 2020/21

Household Income

Living at home

Away from home (outside London)

Away from home (London)

















































Note that the higher your household income, the less funding you can apply for: the government assumes you or your parents will plug the gap!

Students who live at home with their parent with a household income of around £58,222 or more will receive a max amount of £3,410.

Students living away from home and outside of London with a household income of £62,249 or more will receive a max amount of £4,289.

And, students living away from home and in London with a household income of £69,977 or more will receive a max amount of £5,981.

NOTE: The numbers are different if you come from, or are studying in, other parts of the UK, or if you started uni before 2016. You’ll also get slightly less money in your final year because you won’t be a student over the summer. Gulp.

There’s extra info about this funding in our guide to Maintenance Loans, as well as more country-specific info in our guides to Student Finance in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

Maintenance Grant

Apply to: Student Finance

Maintenance grants are the golden ticket of Student Finance because – unlike loans – you don’t have to repay them. How much you get depends on your household income and where you live while studying:

  • In Northern Ireland, you could get up to £3,475 a year.

  • In Wales, you’ll get at least £1,000 a year, up to a max of £8,100 (more if you study in London).

  • In Scotland, the Young Students’ Bursary awards up to £2,000 a year.

New starters in England can’t apply for the Maintenance Grant anymore. You’re now expected to take out a larger Maintenance Loan instead. If you started your course before 2016 and already get a Maintenance Grant, don’t panic: your funding will continue as long as agreed.

Special Support Grant

Apply to: Student Finance

In Wales and Northern Ireland, some less well-off students may be able to swap the Maintenance Grant for a Special Support Grant (SSG). You could be eligible if you receive certain benefits, qualify for Disabled Students’ Allowance or are a single parent.

SSG pays up to £3,475 a year in Northern Ireland, and up to £5,161 a year in Wales. Just like the Maintenance Grant, it’s means-tested and doesn’t have to be repaid. Unlike the regular grant, it won’t reduce the amount of Maintenance Loan you can apply for, and won’t affect any benefits you get either.

Making the most of maintenance funds

  • Maintenance funding is doled out in regular instalments, but you’ll need to make it last between payments. Rent or freshers’ week can hoover up an entire loan, so plan ahead!

  • You need to register on your course before funds are handed over. That means you’ll get to uni before receiving your loan, so bring cash to keep you going in the meantime.

  • Including untaxed income in your household income assessment – such as some savings interest / State benefits – could mean you get a smaller Maintenance Loan: our student tax tips explain how to work it.

  • You can ask to be reassessed for funding if your household income drops significantly during your degree – keep it in mind.


Bursaries and scholarships

Apply to: your university

Almost all universities offer a selection of bursaries and scholarships. These are cash gifts you usually don’t have to repay.

Bursaries typically go to students whose household income is below £25,000 a year, though some universities cut off at £40,000 a year. There may also be awards for students leaving care, refugees, and those who financially support or care for others. Payouts vary from book tokens and one-off awards to annual payments of £1,000 or more.

Scholarships reward talents or achievements such as exam grades, music and sport. Some universities also offer incentives to study particular courses, or for students from specific countries. Scholarships can be cash awards or tuition fee waivers (if you’re given a choice, cash is the better deal!).

Your own money

Any cash you bring to the table will make uni life a lot easier. Start stuffing money into a savings account before you start your course if you can – even a few quid here and there adds up.

If working while studying is an option, a part-time job, freelance work, side hustle or student business mean more cash to live off.

Parental contribution

Mother with daughter at graduation

Credit: michaeljung – Shutterstock

Some Student Finance maintenance funding is means-tested, so how much you get depends on your household income. If you’re financially dependent on your parents, that means their income affects your funding.

Crucially, the more your parents earn, the less Student Finance you’ll get because the government expects them to contribute as well – this parental contribution calculator reveals how much:


In reality, many students feel guilty about asking, don’t ask at all, or are left short because their parents can’t help. It’s definitely awkward, but it’s a conversation you need to have with your folks sooner rather than later. Consider the following questions:

  • Can your parents afford to help you? Do they have any conditions about how you spend the money? Will you have to pay them back?

  • If they can’t help financially, how else could they support you? Don’t underestimate the power of leftovers!

Show them our parents’ guide to university if they need more info to make a decision. And, if you’d like more advice about asking your parents for money at university, our guide can help.

Borrowed cash

Apply via: student banking

Borrowing without a plan is like jumping out of a plane with a handbag instead of a parachute: it won’t end well.

A ‘plan’ means thinking about why you’re borrowing, comparing options (credit card, loan, overdraft, saving up), checking the total cost, and planning for repayments.

An interest-free overdraft is one of the best picks for students. Used the right way, they let you borrow cash for free (unlike commercial loans). Use them poorly, however, and you lose the benefit.

Start with our student overdrafts explainer, then pick the best student bank account for your needs.

Always check what extra funding is on offer before dipping into borrowed cash. Already got an overdraft, loan or credit card? Take 2 minutes to see where you stand with debt.

How to budget for the university

  1. Download our budgeting spreadsheet – it already includes the most common student expenses.

  2. List your monthly income: Maintenance Loan, grants, wages, tips, benefits, bursary, parental contribution and any other cash that you’re expecting.

  3. Using your total income as a guide, estimate how much you’ll need or can afford to spend on each expense (here’s how much real students spend).

  4. Play around with the sums until everything fits. The aim is to never spend more than your monthly income. If you need to, find ways to earn more and spend less.

  5. Keep a daily record of your spending, and keep comparing it to your budget. A notebook will do, but a budget tracker makes it a doddle.


Extra sources of funding

empty wallet

Credit: NoHoDamon – Flickr