An innovative, debt-free way of raising money for your studies is through crowdfunding - asking other people, often strangers, to make small contributions to your costs
What is crowdfunding?
Crowdfunding involves asking a large number of people to contribute to the costs of your postgraduate study by donating relatively small amounts of money. It's extremely hard work and you'll need to be great at marketing yourself, but the rewards can be worth the effort.
If you're successful, donations can quickly add up. For example, if 50 friends, family members and other small-scale philanthropists each donate £50, you'll have raised £2,500. That may not cover all of your tuition fees or living expenses, but it's a significant contribution - especially when combined with other sources of funding.
Anyone can crowdfund by setting up a page on one of the many specialist crowdfunding websites. On your page, you'll need to set a fundraising goal and then explain why people should consider donating to your study costs. It's up to you to promote your page to family, friends and strangers - perhaps through social media or potentially the press.
You'll usually be able to offer rewards to your supporters depending on how much they contribute. This could be as simple as acknowledging their donation in your dissertation, or something more involved such as providing video updates on the results of your research. It's your choice, but be careful not to over-promise rewards that you may not be able to fulfil - remember, postgraduate study is a major time commitment as it is.
Which crowdfunding website should I use?
Popular crowdfunding platforms for students include:
These sites make it easy to track your progress, give updates to your backers and let them know about any incentives you've decided to offer. You'll also get a link to your page that you can share on social media. Find out about any fees they charge and minimum funding amounts they specify before getting started.
What are the advantages of crowdfunding?
Crowdfunding is a way of raising money for your postgraduate study that doesn't involve getting into debt. You can choose your target amount and start promoting your page whenever you like. You also have the chance to build a network of people who are genuinely interested in your research.
Another benefit is that there are no entry requirements, unlike other funding methods. Anyone can crowdfund as long as you have the commitment, enthusiasm and drive to put in the required effort. And there's nothing to stop you combining whatever you raise from crowdfunding with a postgraduate loan, PhD loan, scholarship or any other type of student finance.
Successfully crowdfunding your postgraduate study will look great on your CV, too, as it demonstrates a range of transferable skills that will impress employers.
What are the disadvantages of crowdfunding?
Crowdfunding is difficult. You'll need to invest a lot of your own time to make it successful - at the same time as you're applying for postgraduate study and probably throughout your course as well.
It may be relatively simple to persuade friends and family to donate to help you get to university. But why should strangers give their money to you? It's your job to convince them to part with their cash. For example, you could explain the benefits of any original research you plan to undertake while at university and try to attract the support of others in the same field.
If you're able to get some exposure in the local press or have a wide reach on social media you'll have a better chance, especially if you have an engaging story to tell. If you choose to crowdfund you have to be prepared for the possibility that you won't reach your target, and have a back-up plan ready.
Hubbub's top crowdfunding tips
Brendan Earley, community director of Hubbub, offers five steps to crowdfunding success.
Do plenty of planning: the majority of failed projects can be attributed to a lack of planning. Crowdfunding can be extremely difficult, so you must ensure that you've figured out who you'll be asking to donate and who will help you to promote the project. You must also consider how you'll ask them.
Research success stories: thousands of people from around the world have used this method to fully or partially fund their education. This means that there's a massive database of case studies for you to read, and you can cherry-pick innovative and powerful ideas. Email or tweet those who've already crowdfunded their postgraduate course, asking them about the biggest challenges and for their top advice. They'll be delighted to help.
Get creative: there are millions of students around the world who need funding for tuition fees, so you must stand out from the crowd and emphasise why you deserve it more than anyone else. This can be done by creating an engaging video, and offering inventive and personable rewards. Explain why you're doing postgraduate study and how you're going to make the world a better place. Nobody is going to support a degree that has no discernible impact.
Market yourself: there are many free materials and platforms available for you to utilise. You can drastically increase your reach using tools such as Twitter and Facebook, while automations such as CoSchedule, TweetFull, and Hootsuite can allow you to write a marketing plan well in advance. Press and blog exposure are effective, but not easy to get unless you have an interesting slant. Start warming the media to your story immediately.
Have realistic expectations: many project creators mistakenly believe that crowdfunding is magic, and assume that Google will automatically send philanthropists straight to your page. The reality is that the majority of your contributions will come from friends and family. The tone and style of your pitch is therefore crucial; to capture a wider audience, you must inspire people. If you don't back yourself, don't expect other people to.