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28 Feb 2020

Student finance 2020: what first-time students need to know

Find out how to calculate a realistic budget, secure extra cash and get the right bank account

Student Finance England is now open for applications for student loans - but will this be enough to get you through your first year?

For many this will be the first time going through the process of arranging funding and managing their own living expenses, which can be daunting.

Here, we look at how to calculate what you'll need, what other funding is available and how to choose the best student bank account.

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Working out how much money you'll need

Going to university is a big investment, but the money you get while you're there may not be enough to cover costs.

To get a handle on the overall expense, you'll need to consider tuition fees and have a realistic view on living costs.

First, you need to nail how much you will get to pay tuition fees and living expenses by applying for a student loan.

It can amount to thousands of pounds but it's often not enough to cover all your course costs or living costs, even for those living frugally.

Second, you will need to build an informed picture of how much you'll need to get. Use our student budget calculator to find out.

Is the student loan enough?

Student loans leave many seriously short. This is because while fees are paid directly to the university, the amount the loans company gives students to live depends on individual circumstances and varies by thousands of pounds.

The most a student can get in maintenance in England for 2020-21 will be £12,010. This is for a student living in London away from home. For others not in the capital and not studying abroad, it's £9,203.

But because the maintenance loan is means-tested based on household income, many students get less than these maximums. What they receive from Student Finance England is often not enough to cover accommodation let alone other essentials.

It is expected that the shortfall will be made up within the household, usually by parents, but this may not be an option for some.

How loans work and what debt you repay

In the UK, no matter where you are or where you're going to study, there is government-backed money for both tuition fees and maintenance up for grabs.

It's often called a loan but it's more like a tax because you only have to pay it back after graduation as a percentage of your earnings when they reach a certain level.

Funding differs around the UK

The amount available depends on where you are from, where you will be studying, your subject and whether you're on a work placement or studying abroad that year.

If you're from England and studying anywhere in the UK, your fees will be higher than students from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland who are studying in their home countries.

If you are from Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland and study within the UK but outside your country, you are eligible for the extra money on fees.

These differences in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland reflect politics, the cost of living and your subject.

Find out more:how student finance works in England.

When to apply for funding in England

Applications for student finance for full-time courses in England for the next academic year opened on 17 February.

You do not need a confirmed place to apply.

New students have three months to get their applications in. The deadline is 22 May. Returning students have until 19 June.

Last year more than 800,000 people applied across the four months with over a quarter in the first month.

Apply early to receive funding at the start of your course, just in time for rent, study materials and memberships.

It should also make it quicker to process changes if you switch courses.

When to apply in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland

First-time and repeat applications for student finance in Scotland have to be in by 31 March at the Student Awards Agency Scotland.

Applications for Wales should open late March. Deadlines have not been released but last year new students had until 10 May.

For Northern Ireland, the deadline is 31 May at Student Finance NI.

Look into scholarships, bursaries and fee waivers

Universities offer free money to ensure students take their courses. As well as scholarships and bursaries there are fee waivers, hardship funds and NHS bursaries.

Scholarships and bursaries are not just available to the most bright or the most financially strapped. Universities provide money to those who will enrich the life of the university often in ways unrelated to their studies.

How to choose the best student bank account

Banks have fallen over themselves to offer the best student bank accounts with an array of incentives stretching from free discount railcards to money off shopping.

But for many students, the most valuable perk is likely to be a 0% overdraft.

However, sweeping changes to overdrafts mean students and graduates must pay more serious attention than before to when the interest-free period runs out.

From April, banks will change their overdraft charges to make them fairer. Under the new rules, banks will need to charge the same interest rate for both arranged and unarranged borrowing.

Students should compare overdraft conditions not just on the student account but also the graduate account they will be moved onto.