Financial trouble whilst at university? Here’s what to do
Managing your own finances for the first time can be a simultaneously exciting and terrifying prospect. Without careful planning it is easy to burn through money at a time in your life when you want to experience everything to the fullest – from travelling, to attending parties and events. Many more students are starting to find themselves in financial hardship. The good news is that there are steps you can take to alleviate your hardship by both asking your university for help and ensuring that you live a practical lifestyle.
If you find yourself struggling financially at uni, the first thing you should do is contact student services at your college or university to get a full rundown of your options. Inquire as to whether there are any student loans, grants or bursaries that you can apply for. There are usually several different types of loans available to students including a Tuition Fee Loan, which covers the fees you are charged each year of your course, and a Maintenance Loan, which covers living costs. Grants are also available for living costs and are distributed based on your household income. Special Support Grants are also available if you are a single parent, a student with disabilities, or if your partner is a student as well. Bursaries, scholarships and award are also available for students at both the national and university level. Ask your student services representative which scholarships would be available for you. Many universities have emergency grants that students can apply for if they find themselves with pressing financial difficulties.
Most Universities in England have an Access to Learning Fund available to both full-time or part-time undergraduate or postgraduate students. The money from this fund is given out at the discretion of the college or university, and can be in the form of a grant or a loan. This fund can help pay for living costs, help a student recover financially in the event of an emergency or unexpected personal crisis, or be given to a student if he or she is considering leaving university due to financial burden. You apply for this fund through the student services department at your university by showing your existing student financial package and your current financial statements, such as bank account and rent receipts. The university considers certain factors such as students with children, mature students, students from low-income families, those who are homeless, and students with disabilities. While this fund is only available in England, there are similar schemes in place in Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland as well.
Although the above financial aid programs are there to help, the best way to help yourself is by preventing, to the best of your ability, financial trouble from manifesting. Here are some tips on how to manage your money as a student:
- Plan a Budget: Before you even start packing your room to head to uni you should plan a tentative budget based on your savings, your estimates on how much living costs will be, and how much money you can spend a week on socializing and entertainment. A budget is a key feature of being a smart spender. Monitor your expenses against any money you have saved up and adjust your spending habits accordingly.
- Stagger Expensive Purchases: While you may have taken out student loans or worked the summer before uni to save cash, your funds need to last you a long time and sensible spending is key to facilitating this. There may be several expensive purchases that you desire when you arrive at university, and it’s important to remember that you don’t need to get everything at once. For instance, consider that a scenario where you would like both a bike to ride to campus, cutting down on transportation fees, and an all in one laser printer for added convenience when you need to scan and fax your paperwork or need to hand in your papers early in the morning. While you can find both of these products secondhand, buying them both at once may be a financial strain. It is therefore best to consider which item will make an immediate positive impact on your university experience, and hold off on the other purchase for the time being.
- Limit the Alcohol: One of the biggest money-eating situations at university is also one of the most common ways to unwind and socialize – heading to the pub. Keep your bank account out of the red zone (and your head free of pounding) by switching out every other drink for a soft one!
- Get a Part-time Job: More students are balancing their time between studies and jobs than ever before. There are usually multiple opportunities for part time and seasonal work in university towns, from working in the university library, to restaurants, and pubs. Consider tutoring jobs, or perhaps becoming a university representative and leading campus tours.
- Remember You Are Not Alone: Your university is there to provide support in times when times are rough, so do not be embarrassed to ask for help. For another opinion, call the National Debtline which provides free and confidential debt advice for people living in the UK.
These tips and guidelines should get you started on getting your finances back on track. Remember that your biggest resource is your university or college itself, so speak up and take control of your wallet today.
Photograph by William Warby