We have lots of information on the ApplytoUni site on what student finance is available to help with tuition fees and living expenses. But how exactly do you apply for student finance, when should you start applying, and how does the process of applying for student finance work from your initial application to the arrival of the cash in your bank account?
What follows is a step-by-step guide on how to apply for student finance correctly, so that you can make sure that your money arrives promptly for you at the start of term. This guide applies to students in England, although similar processes exist in Wales and Northern Ireland. The process for Scottish students is slightly different, as there are no course fees in Scotland.
You can apply for student finance to help with the cost of university if you are a UK citizen and are studying on an approved course. Most first degree courses qualify for a loan to cover your fees, plus either a grant or a loan for living costs. This includes BA, BSc and BEd degrees, along with a number of other qualifications. EU residents, UK residents and overseas students will need to meet certain criteria to qualify for student finance.
You may not be able to apply for student finance if you already have a qualification of equal stature and/or have received financial support in the past. There is also an upper age limit of 60 years old for maintenance loans, although you will still qualify for a tuition fee loan.
You should apply for student finance as soon as possible, as it can take many weeks for applications to be processed, especially at peak periods. If you leave it too late, your money may not come through in time for the start of term, and you will struggle to pay your fees, accommodation and living expenses.
The Student Finance England (SFE) website will tell you when applications have opened for the next academic year. SFE set a deadline for applications to guarantee processing before the start of your studies. For the 2013-14 academic year, the deadline was 31st May. You can apply for student finance after this date, but you may not get your money in time. In fact, you can apply for student finance up to nine months after the start of the academic year. (Note that this may be different from your course start date. For most establishments, the academic year starts on the 1st September, even though many courses will not start until October).
Many students put off applying for finance until they have secured an offer for a university place. However, you can start your application for student finance without an offer, as soon as you have begun the UCAS process.
The student finance application process is an ongoing one, and so the sooner you start it the better. SFE can be processing your personal details and verifying your parents’ income while you are waiting for offers, and you can then add the exact details of your course and your financial requirements as you get them.
Most applications for student finance are done online. You can apply using written forms if you prefer, but the online process is much easier, both to complete and to modify.
If your parents or partner need to complete part of the student finance application, then they will be given their own log in details. This is for data protection purposes, so that they do not have access to all of your details (although they probably already know them!).
Your parents or partner can either complete the forms at the same time you do, or they can complete their part of your student finance application at a later date. In this case, their log in details will be emailed to them to use at their convenience.
It is up to you to make sure that this part of your student finance application is completed. Delays with this section are one of the most common problems with student finance applications, as parents are often distracted by work and other responsibilities, or simply forget to complete the forms.
As with your own details, you must update your parents’ or partner’s details if they change during your application, for example if your parents have another child or if your partner’s work circumstances and income change.
Make sure that you send any documents that are requested as soon as possible. If you are asked for original documents, such as your birth certificate, then you should send these by registered post for added safety. Better still, get a copy of your birth certificate from the local registry office. If you have a current UK passport, you do not need to send this in, the system can work from your passport number.
If you receive a letter reminding you to send something you have already sent, you should wait seven working days before ringing to check that it hasn’t been lost. You can check your account online in the meantime to see if the document has arrived.
If you are simply asked for more evidence for your student finance application, but are unsure what is needed, you can find out by logging in to your account and following the links.
It takes four to six weeks for student finance applications to be processed, assuming that you have completed the form correctly and submitted all the required evidence. If you make mistakes on the form, or delay the submission of evidence, then this will significantly delay your application, so it is worth spending the time to get it right first time.
You can monitor the progress of your application by logging in to your online account, but SFE will not take phone calls about the progress of your student finance application during the initial processing period.
Once your application has been processed, you will receive an Online Declaration and a Notification of Entitlement by post. This will have the most recent details of your course and funding requirements, but it is not binding to that course. These documents merely confirm that your student finance application has been accepted in principle, and set out the terms and conditions of your offer.
You should sign the Online Declaration to accept these terms, even if you know that the exact details of your studies will change.
When you finalise your course details, you will receive a new Notification of Entitlement, but not a new Online Declaration, as you have already accepted the terms and conditions.
Remember, you can update your application at any time as the details of your studies become clearer and you finalise your course, address and bank details. Simply log on to your account and
click on ‘make a change to your application’. When you make a change, your tuition fee loan amounts are automatically recalculated in line with your confirmed course fees.
Income based student finance applications are usually based on the last complete tax year, however if your parents’ or partner’s income for the current year is likely to be more than 15% less than the year that was assessed, then you can apply to have this changed too, as long as you can provide suitable evidence.
You can update your details online or by telephoning SFE on 0845 300 5090.
Student finance is paid in two ways:
You will receive a payment schedule telling you when your money will be paid into your account. This normally arrives in three installments, at the start of each term. Your payment schedule will be stored in the correspondence section of your online account for you to view at any time.
You should note that you will not get your first payment for the year for at least a few days after the start of term. This is because your university or college has to confirm your attendance to SFE before a payment is made. You should make sure that you have allowed for this by taking enough money to see you through the first week or two.
No one wants to be stranded without cash at the start of their university experience, so it makes sense to avoid the common mistakes that could delay your student finance application.
If your student finance application is delayed for any reason, then you should not panic; hopefully you will have arrived with enough money to keep you going personally for a week or two. However, you do need to get in touch with the student finance team as soon as possible to explain your situation.
You will not be the first student to experience delays, and they will have procedures in place to extend deadlines for tuition fees and accommodation bills. Chances are they will be very understanding, but they can only help you if your talk to them, so don’t hide your head in the sand, get in touch as soon as you can and explain your situation. Your bank may also be able to arrange a temporary overdraft if you can prove that your funds are on the way.
You can also write to SFE at:
Student Finance England
PO Box 210
Students from other UK countries should contact their own Student Finance body: