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What your tuition fees will and won’t cover

Find out what your tuition fees will pay for as part of your university studies, and what your maintenance loan will help you cover.

In this article
What your tuition fees cover What your tuition fees won’t cover
How can I make uni more affordable?

What your tuition fees cover

Your tuition fees – which cost up to £9,250 a year – will cover all the things your university should reasonably provide to enable you to complete your degree.

But what exactly does that include?

Seminars, tutorials and lectures

While a lecture may be packed with a couple of hundred students, seminars and tutorial sessions are in much smaller groups and allow you to more readily ask questions and get involved in discussions.

Depending on your course, you may spend time in labs or other practical environments which contain specialist equipment and facilities.

You’ll also be assigned a personal tutor from your department, and usually have some one-to-one appointments to discuss your academic progress, upcoming assignments etc.

Contact hours 

The amount of tuition fee you’ll pay doesn’t differ from course to course, but you might find the amount of contact time you can expect with lecturers and tutors will vary. 

Some courses, such as medicine, will involve intensive all-day teaching and a full weekly timetable, whereas other courses, such as English or history, may have around six to eight hours teaching time a week with an emphasis on lots of independent reading and study.

University library

Pay a visit to a university’s library (or libraries) when you’re at an open day, as you might end up spending a lot of time there (particularly during exam and deadline season).

Ask about special books or materials they hold that are relevant to your course. It’s also worth asking how much is available online to download or print off for free.

Computer access 

You’ll most likely submit assignments and coursework online through your university or college’s intranet.

While you'll probably have your own laptop to write and research these, access to computer and printing facilities can always come in handy if you run into technical difficulties, like running out of ink.

On an open day, ask where computer facilities are based (are they near, in, or miles from your halls of residence, in the library, in a separate building?) and what hours they’re open.

If you're visiting when current students are around, look out for any long queues; this might indicate that there aren't enough facilities to cater for students.

You may thank yourself for it later when you’re on a tight deadline.

Find out more: Which? guide: how to find the best laptop

Student support services

Your university will also be on hand to offer help and support when you need it, assisting with things like finding suitable accommodation, offering professional careers guidance or help if you’re in financial difficulty.

You may be surprised by how well connected your university is with local businesses, charities, organisations and so on. 

So you're far from alone – make the most of these if you need them.

Students’ union 

As well as providing a cheap place to drink and great clubs and societies, students’ unions exist to fight your corner and make sure universities listen to the views of their students.

Your tuition fees may also cover membership and access to union or university-run sports facilities.


Your tuition fees also cover all the administrative paperwork and organisation that goes on behind-the-scenes at your university.

This may include registration for your course, entrance to exams and even your graduation (you’ll need to pay for graduation robes and photo separately though).

What your tuition fees won’t cover

What else will you need to factor in when going to university?

We've highlighted some of the common course costs you may need to pay out for, plus some advice on paying for these if your student loan isn't going to stretch quite far enough.

Books for your course

There will be core texts for all courses which you will be expected to have. 

The costs can vary widely from a classic novel for an English literature course, which should be relatively cheap, through to hefty textbooks for subjects such as law or physics.

You may be able to get some of the books second-hand from former students who don’t need them anymore, but remember to check the edition (second-hand copies may no longer be up to date).

Lots of universities and colleges also run buy-back schemes so you can sell old books you no longer need.

Books should also be available in the library to borrow, but around essay deadlines or exams, these will be in high demand; so you either need to be quick off the mark or have got hold of the books beforehand.

And be kind to your fellow students: if you've finished with a book, return it right away, rather than hold on to it for longer than you need.

Course-specific equipment

Beyond basic stationery, it’s likely there will be other things you will need to buy for your specific course, including equipment and clothing.

Expenses vary from course to course – think fabric and sketchbooks for fashion majors, stethoscopes and lab coats for medical students and recording equipment for those specialising in radio journalism.

Cost of printing

Universities will usually provide you with some printer credit to get you started; but once this runs out you will need to pay for your own printing and photocopying.

This is usually around 5p per page to print/photocopy in black and white and 25p to print/photocopy in colour – the costs do add up.

Many students end up buying their own printer for convenience and to save money.

You can get hold of a reasonable printer for about £50, but remember to factor in the often pricey cost of printer ink. 

Find out more: check out our printer reviews to find the best one for you.

Field trips

These may or may not be covered by your tuition fees, so check if you’ll need to contribute towards any compulsory trips away – these will crop up when you're in the research stage for university.

Some universities and colleges will cover more than others.

Your own laptop

All universities and colleges will provide IT facilities, although having your own will make research and completing assignments much easier (as well as to watch Netflix and YouTube for hours on end).

If a high-spec computer is essential for your degree (eg if you’re studying graphic design or an IT-related degree), then you may need to buy specialist kit or software.

Work experience placements

A number of courses, such as medical and teaching degrees, will involve compulsory placements where you will learn on the job.

Although you may have some say in where you are placed, there is no guarantee it will be nearby and the cost of daily travel can add up quickly, even if you can get there by bus or train (especially for medical students working shifts where you might need your own transport).

Remember, you’re likely to still pay tuition fees during your placement year though check this with your university.

Perhaps ask at an open day if you're stuck for questions.

Placements aren’t compulsory on other courses, but employers look favourably on students with some experience in their chosen field.

So many students choose to do work experience or internships during holidays. Some employers pay; others will cover reasonable expenses, such as travel from within the local area and lunch.

‘Hidden’ costs

There are many other costs not included in your fees that you may be surprised at.

Research from the National Union of Students (NUS) shows that some university and college courses won’t include extras such as membership of specialist associations, entrance into professionally accredited exams, taking resits and CRB checks in their fees.

Non-course costs

These are your day-to-day living expenses such as accommodation, food, toiletries, clothing, travel and entertainment.

Work out how much you'll need to live on at university, try our free student budget calculator.

How can I make uni more affordable?

Don’t worry, you won’t be expected to pay all of this out of your own pocket.

While your tuition fee loan will cover your fees, the maintenance element of your student loan is designed to help you cover other costs. How much you receive will depend on your household income.

You won’t need to start paying this back until once you graduate and earning over a certain amount. Read our full guide to repaying your student loan.

You may also be eligible for a bursary or scholarship to cover some of your living costs (and in some cases, some or even all of your tuition fees).

What's available, who can get it and how to apply will vary from university to university, so it's best to reach out to them directly to learn more. Check out our full guide to extra university funding.