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If you live in England

Paying for your tuition

You do not have to pay your tuition fees up-front. So long as you are eligible for student financial support, you can apply for a Tuition Fee Loan. For most students, the amount of your Tuition Fee Loan will be the actual fee you are charged, up to a maximum of £9000 pa (in 2012); part-time students can get a maximum of £6750. Students at private colleges can get a Tuition Fee Loan of up to £6000 pa (£4500 part-time) but there is no limit to the fee that they can be charged.

The Tuition Fee Loan is not means-tested; the money is paid direct to your university (so you can’t spend it on anything else); and you repay the loan later, when you are earning at least £21k pa. You have to apply: you will not get the Tuition Fee Loan unless you do (and if you don’t apply, you may be charged the full cost of the course, which may be more).

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Money to live on

You are expected to live on money from a variety of sources, depending on your personal circumstances. (If you are already a graduate, you should check carefully; you may not be eligible for any of this help and your fees may be higher too. And part-time students do not get help with living expenses).

  • Maintenance Loan & your family. Almost all full-time UK undergraduates are entitled to take out a student loan to provide money to live on, pay rent etc. You pay this back after graduation. If your family income is above a certain threshold, your family (parents, spouse/civil partner) will be expected to make a contribution as well.
  • Maintenance Grant (or Special Support Grant). If your family income is less than £42.6k, you will also qualify for a non-repayable Higher Education Maintenance Grant (or a Special Support Grant, if you are eligible for eg income support or housing benefit).
  • Special help. In addition, there is Special help for certain categories of students, eg those with a disability, those with children or other dependants.
  • Bursaries & scholarships. Universities usually provide some (non-repayable) bursaries and scholarships for the lowest-income students.

For more information, check out the Student Finance England website, www.studentfinance.direct.gov.uk.

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How much to live on

How much this all amounts to will depend both on your family income and on where you live while you are at university.

Your Maintenance Loan will be up to £5500 pa. Most of this (65%) is available to everyone so, even if your family is rolling in money, you will still get £3575 pa and your family is expected to contribute just £1925 pa. The remaining 35% is means-tested so, if your family does not have much money, you will receive the whole amount. The maximum loan is reduced to £4375 pa if you are living with your parents while you are at university; increased to £7675 pa if you are studying in London. There are different rates for any year you spend studying abroad; and you will get more if your academic year is longer than 30 weeks.

An HE Maintenance Grant of £3250 pa is available to anyone whose family income is £25k or below; you do not repay this. The amount of grant gradually decreases as family income rises – down to no grant at all when your family income is more than £42.6k pa. If you do get a maintenance grant, the amount of Maintenance Loan you can take may be reduced, so you have less to pay back later. Certain students (eg those eligible for housing benefit) receive a Special Support Grant instead of a Maintenance Grant; the amount is the same but the Maintenance Loan is not reduced.

University bursaries & scholarships. Many universities will help you if your family income is below about £25k, though some universities apply additional criteria (eg high grades on entry, students from low-income neighbourhoods). Scholarships and bursaries are not repayable; scholarships usually require some level of academic or other achievement but many are now income-dependent − very like bursaries. Each university has its own scheme, helping different groups of students with varying amounts of cash. Amounts vary from, say, £300 pa up to £7000 pa and more for bright students from low-income families in specified subjects. The main scholarships and bursaries are outlined in our university descriptions. On the university search lists, you can compare what you would get if your family income is around £18k−£20k pa, without the need to fulfil any other requirements.

Horribly complicated? See if this chart helps, which shows the approximate amount of help available to a student, depending on the family income.

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Help with living costs table in 2012 (if you live in England)

If your family income is.. £20k £30k £40k £60+k
Maintenance Loan is..
(Less if you live with parents,
more if you study in London)
£3875 £4330 £5239 £3575
Maintenance Grant is...
(You don’t need to pay back)
£3250 £2341 £523 Nil
Total help of £7125+pa £6671+pa £5762pa £3575pa
Assumed your parents pay at least... Nil Nil Nil £1925
Bursaries from university
(You don’t need to pay back)
Probably Maybe Unlikely None
So what you have to live on £7125+pa £6671+pa £5762pa £5500pa

Some small print. There are allowances against your family’s gross income before you arrive at the figure used in the calculation – other siblings still in education etc. All these figures go up in line with inflation each year. If your parents (or spouse/civil partner) don’t want to complete the financial assessment, you will only be able to claim the non-means-tested loan, ie £3575 pa.

This maintenance money is all in addition to the Tuition Fee Loan.

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Applying for student support

Apply. Apply for student support as soon as you can. Do not wait until you have received an offer of a place. You need to apply by 31 May in order to have your money by the start of the academic year. You need to apply each year of your course.

You make a single application for all types of student support. Go to the Student Finance England website, www.studentfinance.direct.gov.uk and register. Then you can complete the application online and track this later with the log-in details you are given.

Are you eligible? The first decision on your application is whether you are eligible for student support (you may not be if you are already a graduate).

If you only want to take the non-means-tested loans − the Tuition Fee Loan and 65% of the Maintenance Loan − you indicate this on the application and you’re done. Do this either because your family income is too high to qualify you for any extra, or if your family is not willing to complete the financial assessment.

Financial assessment. If you want to apply for the full range of financial support, you will need to opt for a financial assessment – you declare your income and that of your family (usually that of your parents or any partner). This allows an assessment of how much your family is expected to contribute to your living costs (your parents are not expected to contribute if eg you are over 25 or are estranged from them).

You will then get a Financial Entitlement letter, which tells you how much help you are entitled to for that year – that is, how much you can take out as a Tuition Fee Loan and how much maintenance money (Maintenance Loan, whether you are eligible for a Maintenance Grant, Disabled Students Allowance etc and if so how much). You need to sign and return this letter.

Getting the money. Your money will be paid once you have started the course. The Tuition Fee Loan is paid directly to your university; your maintenance money will be paid directly into your bank/building society account (in three parts, at the start of each term).

Bursaries. Your university will usually use your financial assessment to decide if you are eligible for a bursary too. You need to indicate on your application that you agree to the university being able to share your financial data and then you should get the bursary money automatically if you qualify. At some universities you actually need to apply for bursary help. So if you think you may qualify, make sure you know the procedure at your university.

You can find out more about student support and apply directly on the Student Finance England website www.studentfinance.direct.gov.uk or ring the helpline, 0845 300 50 90.

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