Student Finance - The Definitive Guide

Student Finance Overload 

Every student in the UK who goes to university to study for their first degree can apply for student finance. This pays for your tuition (direct to the university) and you could also apply for a maintenance loan.

Students embarking on long courses, such as medical students and vet medicine students, disabled students and those with children can also qualify for extra funding.

Picking your way through all of the information available on different types of funding can be hard. We have put together an at-a-glance guide to student finance, with links to the relevant website to signpost you on your way.

Student finance – how to apply

The student finance department you need to apply to varies depending on where your family home is in the UK:

Information you need to supply

Student Finance GuideAll applications from UK students are completed online and you will need to supply one of these to prove your identity:

  • Your UK passport number(you don’t need to supply the actual passport or a photocopy).
  • OR Your original birth certificate or adoption certificate. As this is an original document, it’s a good idea to send it special or recorded delivery. It will be returned to you but this could take some weeks. You can obtain an official duplicate of your birth certificate from the General Register Office.

Your parent/s or household also need to provide information so that you can get the full loan that you are entitled to:

  • Evidence of earned income and also any income from investments and savings (for most people this will be their National Insurance number). For self-employed parents or partners a tax return, any pay slips and a P60 will be required.
  • Evidence of single parent status. This can be a copy of the Decree Nisi or a Council Tax bill showing that they have a single householder’s discount.

Timing and deadlines

It is important to apply earlier rather than later because student finance can take months to process, irrespective of the student finance division you are dealing with. If your course is due to start during September (not earlier) you can apply from the beginning of that year and your deadline is 31st May.

You can still apply after this date, but student finance cannot guarantee that your money will be available when you start university. This could mean that you will experience significant financial hardship.

Note: that you don’t need to have had an offer of a place to submit your application for student finance.

How much will you get

  • Tuition fees:these have been capped at £9250 per year for all UK universities. Some universities charge less; those in Scotland, for example, charge no tuition fees for Scottish students. Other universities may charge different amounts for different courses.The tuition loan that you receive will cover the entire cost of your tuition and will be paid direct to your university.
  • Maintenance loans: these are dependent on your household income and where you intend to study and live


Using a student finance calculator

As the tables show, there are many variables that need to be taken into account to find out how much money you will receive to live on at university. 

The easiest way to find out what you are likely to get is to use the online information from student finance.

Special grants and bursaries

Additional grants are available from student finance and directly from your university for students who experience financial hardship or who have special needs because of their family circumstances or a disability. See our guide to student loans.

Process of application

Your application for student loans and grants are usually made online. It makes sense to keep a written record of your log in details and the dates you logged in and the information you have provided. It is all too easy to go through and fill in a long online form and then not remember what details you have given and which you still need to supply.

You will also need your parent/s to support you in your application by providing the details of their income and circumstances. If you apply well before May 31, you can also access help from your college if you run into difficulties.

Making sure you get your money

Student Finance HelpYou will need to confirm your acceptance of your place with UCAS and your university but then you need to check that you have taken all the steps to ensure your maintenance and tuition fee payments are made on time, shortly after the start of term:

  • Did you apply online and send in all the necessary supporting evidence?
  • Did you send your passport number or your original birth certificate to prove your identity?
  • Have your parent/s or household members supplied all the evidence of their income that they need to provide?
  • Does student finance have your National Insurance number AND your bank account details. Quite a few students don’t get their money on time each year because they forget this – if student finance does not know your bank details, they have the money ready but they can’t pay it to you!
  • The final step is during your enrolment at university, which takes place in the first week. Once you are enrolled, your university confirms that you have taken up your place (they communicate directly with student finance). This releases the money, which should be paid into your bank account within a few days.

This final step is very important and as your maintenance loan will not be paid immediately, you need to make sure you already have some money in your bank account to cover you until it arrives. Many students need to supplement their maintenance loan by getting part-time work or by receiving support from their parents.

Parental support at university

Your parents cannot be made to support you financially at university, even if they can afford to. This is purely voluntary. It is a good idea to handle this as maturely as possible and arrange to sit down with your parents/guardians/partner during the summer and work out what support they can offer you. If you are lucky enough to have parents with a high income, you will need to discuss the amount of money you will receive from student finance, your accommodation costs and your likely living expenses to work out a reasonable deal that you are both happy with.

Many students with the full maintenance loan may still find they are short of money once the bulk of their finance has gone on their accommodation. Most parents will try to supplement your money as far as they can but there will be limits.

Some students will also find that, no matter what their circumstances, parental support is not available, so supplementing your maintenance payments requires you to study and work.

Taking a part-time job at university

Definitive Guide to Student FinanceIf you know there is going to be a significant shortfall between the income you will get from maintenance payments and parental contributions, you need to plan ahead. You may have already done a combination of part-time work or work experience. Make sure that your summer planning includes getting an up-to-date CV prepared that lists all your experience and skills.

Do some research online, or in person if you can, in the area where you will be living to identify opportunities for work. By the time you arrive at university, this can give you a head-start that can be all-important. Many students will be looking for work and places are inevitably limited.

Student support should be able to help and your university may even hold a job fair. Go along to that and find out all you can in your first week about work opportunities and arrange interviews if you can. If you don’t manage to get a job, keep trying. Put aside some time at weekends to send off applications, take CVs in and talk to people about job openings.

Students are able to earn up to £8,105 that is not taxable; anything over that up to £34000 is then taxed at 20%. If your term-time job takes tax and national insurance at source you will need to fill in a tax form and you then may receive a rebate.

What if your maintenance/tuition loan is delayed?

Students do apply late for student finance and the supply of relevant information from parents can be problematic. If you arrive at university and contact student finance and find out that you will have another six to eight weeks to wait, what should you do?

  • Go to see student support at your university as soon as possible– in Fresher’s week if possible. They have seen it all before and will be able to advise you about what you need to do.
  • Contact your university student finance department and explain the situation. Although tuition fees need to be paid by a deadline, if the university knows there are special circumstances, you may be able to negotiate an extension. The same thing goes for paying your accommodation bills. The first of these is usually due in the November but if you maintenance loan still hasn’t come in by then it is best if the university has been told to expect your payments to be late/
  • Go to see your bank and arrange a student overdraft so that you have money to buy food and live.
  • Try to get a part-time job to supplement your overdraft.
  • Get any help you can from parents/family.

Mature students and financing a university course

If you are mature student and you have never been to university before, you can apply for student finance. If you have children, are over 60 or have a disability, you may also be able to get extra grants.

If you have previously taken a university degree course, you are not eligible for any support from student finance. If you apply for, and are accepted on a course, you will need to pay your tuition fees yourself and support yourself financially throughout your course.

Paying back your student loans

You don’t need to worry about this before or during your time at university. From 2012, students in receipt of tuition fee and maintenance loans will only start to pay back their loans once they have graduated and when they are in a job that pays £27,295 per year or more.

Your repayments are then calculated on your income, not on the size of your loan.

Currently payments are calculated as 9% of your income over the £27,295 per year cut off point. That means that if you earn just £27,295, your monthly salary before tax will be £2,274 and your loan repayments will be zero. If your salary rises to £30,000, your monthly income before tax will be £2,500 and your loan repayment will be £20.34 per month.

The repayments are taken directly from your income, before you get it. So there is no way to fall into arrears and the debt you have from being a student does not affect your credit rating.

After 30 years, or if you die before then, any remaining debt is cancelled. Although it will be possible to pay off your student loans early, most experts think that this would be of no advantage.