Get organised now for university this autumn

Studying at university is an amazing opportunity, but you’ll need to manage your finances carefully

University students

Lockdown measures may be easing across the UK, but there is still uncertainty about what the new academic year will look like for those returning to their studies – or heading off to university for the first time.

Despite all the unknowns that come with Covid-19, you can’t afford not to get organised and work out how you’re going to cover your costs as a student. So here’s our guide to help you on your way.

How will universities be operating this autumn?

There’s no escaping the fact that student life is going to look and feel very different for those starting or continuing courses this September.

Some universities have said they will only hold lectures online, while others have said they will offer ‘blended learning’ – a mix of online lectures and actual seminars which students will attend in person.

Each institution will be looking at a ‘phased return’ of activities, and will need to ensure that health and safety measures are in place in university buildings and on campuses and so on.

As there’s no ‘one rule fits all,’ you will need to check with your individual university or college to check how they plan to proceed.

Will I have to pay full tuition costs?

As things stand, even if you are not set to get any face-to-face teaching, you will still have to pay the full annual tuition fee of £9,250.

There have been a host of protests and petitions about this, but for now, at least, this is the status quo.

What about student loans?

With hefty tuition fees – plus accommodation and living costs – a student loan is likely to be an essential. Student loans will continue to operate as normal, meaning you can apply for a ‘tuition fee loan’ which will cover your £9,250-a-year course fees.

If you take out this type of loan, the Student Loans Company (SLC) will pay this directly to your university or college – meaning you can’t squander it in the student bar in the first few weeks of term. This money is only paid after you have enrolled. (Note that Scottish students don’t pay tuition fees for going to a university in Scotland).

What about ‘maintenance loans?’

In addition to the ‘tuition fee loan,’ the SLC also pays a ‘maintenance loan’ to cover living costs, such as accommodation and food.

The amount you are offered will be based on a number of things. This includes your household income, whether you are studying away from home, and whether you are studying in London.

SLC says it has processes in place to ensure you won’t lose out on funding you are entitled to if your household circumstances change. This includes if they have been impacted by Coronavirus.

For the 2020-21 academic year, a full-time student living at home can get up to £7,747. The maximum up for grabs for those living away from home but not in London is £9,203. This rises to £12,010 for those living away from home but in the capital. The ‘maintenance loan’ is paid in three termly instalments.

How do I apply?

If you want to apply for a student loan, you need to do so online.

If you live in England, visit: https://www.gov.uk/student-finance

If you live in Wales, go to https://www.studentfinancewales.co.uk/

If you live in Scotland, go to https://www.saas.gov.uk/

And if you live in Northern Ireland, visit https://www.studentfinanceni.co.uk/

When do I need to apply?

While students are encouraged to get their applications in as early as possible to ensure their finances are sorted before the start of term, the system is equipped to deal with last minute applications.

You can, in theory, apply up to nine months after the start of the academic year for your course.

Once your application has been processed, you should receive a ‘student finance entitlement’ letter confirming how much you will get. This usually takes between six and eight weeks, but may take longer if you are applying last minute.

How do I repay my student loan?

The good news is, you don’t need to think about repaying your loans until you start work.

Payments will only get taken from your salary once you start earning £511 a week – which equates to £26,575 a year. At this point, payments will be taken automatically – fixed at 9% of everything you earn above that.

Note, though, that you will be charged interest from the day the loan is confirmed. At present, you will face a rate of 5.4% while you are studying. Once you have graduated, if you aren’t earning enough to repay the loan, you will face an interest rate of 2.4%.

That said, what makes student loans unique compared to other loans is the fact that what remains unpaid 30 years after you’re eligible to start repayments will be written off.

For more information repaying student loans, visit: https://www.gov.uk/repaying-your-student-loan

Can I defer my place?

If you’re not happy with the idea of having most, or all, of your lectures online – and not much of a student social life come September – you might have given some thought to deferring entry to 2021.

But before making any decision, you need to think carefully about whether you’re happy to postpone by 12

months, and what you’re going to do with the year in between.

You also need to check with your institution if you are permitted to do so, as you may not be allowed to defer for certain subjects, such as medicine.

Equally, if you do decide to defer your start date until 2021, you will need to apply again next year for finance.

Pick your student account provider carefully

Finally, if you are heading on to higher education this autumn, one of the big decisions you need will need to make is who to bank with.

Many of the providers will offer freebies or incentives as part of their offering – such as cashback, rewards and student discounts.

But while these perks can be tempting, you need to look beyond these and focus on the whole package and whether you’d get an interest-free overdraft in case you do end up withdrawn.

Check out the accounts with the most generous offerings upfront, but bear in mind that these limits are not a guarantee, as you will be credit checked – so having a good credit score is important.

Head here to compare student current accounts.

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