Before applying to university you need to discover how much you'll have to pay in tuition fees and living costs, and what student finance options are available to help you
Universities charge tuition fees to cover the costs of running their undergraduate courses. They can also account for registration, supervision, exams and graduation expenses.
The fees are set at different levels depending on your place of origin, so universities will first need to carry out an assessment to determine your status.
In England, universities can charge up to £9,250 per year. This applies to UK students from all regions as well as students from within the European Union (EU).
The Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) has been introduced so that only institutions that perform well in a new teaching quality assessment will be allowed to increase their fees. To read more about this, see how to choose the right degree.
Scottish universities don't charge tuition fees to students from Scotland or elsewhere in the EU. But students from England, Wales and Northern Ireland must pay up to a maximum of £9,250 per year.
If you study in Wales and are from Wales or the EU, you'll be charged up to £4,046 per year, whereas English, Scottish and Northern Irish students pay up to £9,000.
Similarly, universities in Northern Ireland charged a maximum of £3,925 per year to Northern Irish and EU students, and up to £9,250 to English, Scottish and Welsh students in 2016. However, 2017 fee levels are yet to be confirmed.
In all parts of the UK, fees for non-EU international students are set on a variable scale and are usually higher. University websites will display the most up-to-date fee information.
You'll need to fund the cost of your tuition fees either through student finance, sponsorship or self-financing.
Your most significant living cost is likely to be your rent, whether you decide to live in halls of residence or privately rented housing. You should research your student accommodation options thoroughly.
You'll need to budget for any bills that are not included in your rent (such as internet access) as well as essentials such as food. Set aside money for insurance, clothes, toiletries, books, course materials, printing, transport (both locally and to get back home) and social activities. See what to take to university.
There are many student discounts you can take advantage of. For example, a 16-25 Railcard will give you a third off rail fares for £30 a year, while for a small cost (£12 for one year, £22 for two years or £32 for three years) an NUS Extra card provides access to a variety of useful savings with brands such as Pizza Express, ASOS, Odeon Cinemas and the Co-op.
If you live in a student house and everyone is studying full time, you don't have to pay any council tax. Apply for this exemption by phoning your local council or visit its website.
Don't forget that your living costs will be somewhat higher if you're studying in London compared with elsewhere in the UK.
For instance, according to HSBC's 2015 research into universities in the top 20 British town and cities, the University of Leicester, University of Nottingham and University of Cardiff were the most affordable for first-year students with a weekly cost of between £192.07 and £225.85. This compares with £317.83 and £323.83 at University College London and the University of Oxford.
If you're planning on studying for an undergraduate degree, foundation degree, Certificate of Higher Education, Diploma of Higher Education (DipHE), Higher National Certificate (HNC), Higher National Diploma (HND) or Initial Teacher Training (ITT) course, there's support available to help you with these costs. For Masters courses, see funding postgraduate study.
While eligibility is also determined by factors such as your age, nationality or residential status, those looking to study their first degree on a full-time basis should be able to apply for a repayable student loan provided by the government.
Part-time students studying at least 25% of the equivalent full-time course across an academic year may also be entitled to support - but you'll need to check the 'course intensity' with your chosen university.
Student loans are split into two distinct parts: tuition fee loans and maintenance loans.
Tuition fee loans of up to £9,250 a year cover your course fees. You don't receive this money - it is paid directly to the university running your course. If you're studying part time, you may be able to get a tuition fee loan of up to £6,935.
Support to help with living costs is available in the form of a means-tested maintenance loan. The loan is paid directly into your own bank account at the start of term. The student finance calculator at GOV.UK will help you estimate how much you're likely to receive if you're from England or the EU.
For the 2017/18 academic year, you'll receive up to £7,097 if you're living at home, up to £8,430 if you're living away from home outside London, up to £11,002 if you're living away from home in London, and up to £9,654 if your course comprises a year spent studying abroad.
The level of maintenance loan that you're entitled to is related to your household income and where you plan to study. The assessment takes into account your own income, whether you're under 25, live with at least one of your parents and your parents' income. If you've had no contact with your parents for over a year, there's the possibility of applying as an estranged student.
There's no upper age limit on student loans, but in most cases you cannot apply if you've studied at undergraduate level before. For full details of who qualifies for student finance, see GOV.UK.
The government has announced that EU students will continue to receive the same financial support as domestic students for the duration of their course. Those applying for places in 2018/19 will still also be eligible.
How to apply for a student loan
As it can take at least six weeks to process a student loan application, you should aim to apply for your loan by 31 May if your course starts between 1 August and 31 December. You don't need to have a confirmed offer of a place on a course before applying.
The final deadline for funding is nine months after the start of the academic year for your course.
Students from England can register and apply online by going to Student Finance England. From here you can track your application, check your student finance payment dates and make any amendments to your details. EU applicants will need to download the forms and apply by post.
If you live in Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland you should apply through the following bodies:
Student loan repayment
Interest is charged on student loans at retail price inflation (RPI) plus 3%. However, you don't have to repay these loans until the April after you graduate or leave your course and are earning more than £21,000 a year. You'll then make repayments at a rate of 9% of your income over the threshold.
There's no penalty should you wish to pay off some or all of your loan amount outside of this repayment threshold.
If you're employed, the appropriate amount will be automatically deducted from your salary at the same time as tax and National Insurance. However, it's advisable to hold on to your payslips and P60 form as you'll need to produce them if you ever request a refund.
How to cancel student finance
If your plans change before the start of your course, you can amend or cancel your funding application. You'll have to contact Student Finance England or the relevant administering body to process this.
Once the first term of university has started, as a full-time student who normally lives in England, Wales or Northern Ireland, you'll still be liable for 25% of your tuition fee loan even if you decide to withdraw, transfer or suspend your studies at a later date.
This percentage increases to 50% at the start of the third term.
If you normally live in Scotland, where tuition fees are paid directly to the university in one instalment, and you plan to withdraw from your course before the set date (currently 1 December 2017), no tuition fee loan will be paid to you. After this date, the loan will be transferred to your new course and university.
With maintenance loans, you'll become liable for each instalment as soon as it's paid (at the start of term). This includes any interest accrued, which will be added when you're due to start your repayments.
You should speak to the relevant awarding body, such as Student Finance England, before making your decision. This is because leaving your course early may affect your chances of receiving financial support in future. See our advice on changing or leaving your course.
Additional financial support is available for:
- students on a low income
- students with children or dependent adults
- disabled students
- medical, social work and teacher training students
- students studying abroad.
To check your eligibility, see the student finance extra help area at GOV.UK.
You can also get help from your university, as well as charitable trusts. Non-repayable bursaries, scholarships and awards are available for students who would otherwise be unable to afford to study at this level. Contact your university to find out what's on offer, whether you're eligible and how to apply.
Meanwhile, if you find yourself in financial difficulty after your course has started, universities may be able to provide money from their hardship funds to support you. Apply through your university's support services.
Find out what steps to take if you're dealing with debt.
Student bank accounts
Several high street banks offer accounts aimed specifically at students and it's a good idea to open one of these before starting your course.
When you're deciding which bank to choose, don't just pick the one with the best free gift.
Focus on factors such as the size of the fee-free overdraft facility, as this will be a greater help when money's tight.
Browse the websites of the major high street banks to find the best option, or use independent comparison websites such as MoneySavingExpert.com to help you reach a decision.