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Revealed: uni course costs not covered by tuition fees

Books, check. Laptop, check. Tupperware for insects...?

Revealed: uni course costs not covered by tuition fees

Students heading to uni may need to tinker with their budgets to make room for an array of unexpected course costs, Which? University reveals.

Students fork out an average of £120 per term on books, with field trips and technical materials setting them back more than £150 each, respectively.

While universities in England can charge upwards of £9,250 in tuition fees, this didn’t include common expenses which students may face in order to complete their course:

What students forked out for: common course costs


The same research uncovered the financial strain students are under, with 40% saying that the cost of living was higher than expected. Almost half admitted to relying on parents to make ends meet.

A third of those surveyed picked up a computer for study purposes as part of their uni shopping list, spending close to £500 on average.

However, this price-tag didn’t include any specialist software, programmes or apps (£97).

Looking for a laptop? Choose the right model with our guide

Those considering university courses with a work placement element should beware – students spent around £200 on travel to and from these, in addition to smart clothes.

Printing (£28) and report binding (£20) rounded out the common course costs, regardless of subject.

Starting university soon? Beware of these start-of-term expenses

Special costs you might not expect

Students also shared the specific expenses their particular course threw up, which they had to foot the bill for too.

For instance, science students may have to figure out a financial algorithm to cover lab coats and goggles. Meanwhile theatre and dance students may want to hone their sewing skills to save cash on dancewear and costumes:

What students forked out for: clothing for course


Specific equipment also found their way on students’ bank statements. This included cameras (plus accessories like lenses and tripods) and even tupperware for holding insects:

What students forked out for: equipment for course


And at the end of three years, students will need to have enough left over for their graduation cap and gown.

Other odds and ends that might not be on their radar include include journal subscriptions, professional memberships and criminal record checks (for placements).

Worried about the cost of uni life? Try these quick money-saving tips for students

How to budget for university

While the examples above may not all apply to you, its could be food for thought as to what you’ll to budget for at uni. Here are some practical tips to make ends meet:

  • Plan ahead – having even a rough idea of what you’ll need to budget for when you get to uni – both for your course and to live on – is a great starting point. This way, you can spare yourself some nasty surprises. Ask about possible course costs at open days when speaking to staff from your subject department.

Which? University Student Budget Calculator – see living costs for your university in seconds


  • Talk to current students – were there any expenses that caught them off guard? Can they recommend tips to pick these up cheaply, eg hidden-gem shops in town or online groups where graduating students sell on items?
  • Extra funding – while students can get a maintenance loan as part of their student finance package, accommodation, transport and other living costs will likely take the biggest bite out of this. Students should check directly with their university for bursaries and scholarships they offer – these don’t have to repaid either!
  • Slash the cost of your reading list – as illustrated above, books will probably be a major expense for your course (and for subjects like medicine which require specialised material you can’t pick up in your local Waterstones, these can be more expensive to acquire). Check which books are absolutely essential to purchase for your course, and which can be borrowed from a library or accessed for free online.
  • Printing the smart way – it can be cheaper (and more convenient) to take your own printer to uni and split the ink/paper costs between housemates – our guides to buying the best printer and cheap ink costs might be useful reading.

Get more expert tips, plus find the perfect university course with key stats and info in one place – check out Which? University

Which? University research

Findings are from the Which? University Student Survey 2018, conducted with over 5,000 undergrad students at UK universities. The study was conducted by Youthsight between March and April 2018. Average costs have been rounded to the nearest £.

Note, that individual spending will vary depending on university course and that subject-specific expenses outlined are a sample of all answers given.

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