If you want to know how much a degree actually costs, ask a student. Even better, ask 3,167 of them for a warts-and-all insight into what life at uni is really like.
That’s how many students at universities all over the UK answered our National Student Money Survey 2018 – and you guys didn’t hold back: thank you!
We’ve crunched the numbers and Tippexed a few typos, but everything on this page is as told by students. So, whether you’re pricing up uni accommodation, need emergency cash, or are curious how your costs compare, this page will give it to you straight.
Getting by on a student budget is pretty damn hard. Not only are 78% of students stressed about money, some of you can’t afford to eat or drink, let alone do anything else.
The truth is that many students arrive at uni lacking basic money skills, or clueless about what costs are really involved. Whether that’s because schools, government or parents aren’t teaching the basics, it leaves students on the back foot when they first hit campus.
Here’s just some of what you had to say regarding living on a student budget:
The skint effect
When it comes to living on a budget, something’s gotta give: for students, that’s their social life. Two-thirds of you say you can’t afford to go out – bad news when it comes to being happy.
Lack of cash also means half of all students can’t eat as much, as often or as healthily as they’d like. It also affects relationships and grades, and can be particularly tough on your mental health.
The stats make for startling reading, so just how do you cope when you’re low on funds?
With staying debt-free being a tall order at uni, a money plan is crucial. Luckily, most students have one – although a 18% still don’t budget.
61% of students who get a Maintenance Loan say it’s not enough to live on. Many add that maintenance cash doesn’t even cover rent, leaving them extremely hard-up for the rest of the year. You definitely need to know what other support is out there!
Update 01/02/2019: The average maintenance loan used in this report was based on a student from a household income of £35,000 studying outside of London. Since this report we have obtained official data from the student loans company which shows that in fact the average maintenance loan is closer to £540.
Perhaps quite worryingly this means that the gap between the cost of living and the money students get from the government is in fact £230!
There’s no love lost for Student Finance. Frankly, most of you feel hard done by because your parents either don’t earn enough to help you, or earn just a little too much for full maintenance support.
Here’s what some of you had to say about the Student Finance system:
If this year’s survey comes with a truth bomb, it’s that surviving uni probably means getting a job at the same time. The biggest sources of regular income for students are now the Maintenance Loan and part-time work, with almost as many students relying on both.
This is a pretty big change from the last few years, when parents – rather than jobs – plugged the gaps in Student Finance.
The kicker is that three quarters of students who get the Big Three (Maintenance Loan, family cash and wages) still worry about money. This could be because most students don’t get predictable monthly income – or it could be that living costs at uni just aren’t affordable.
The parent trap
Tackling parental contribution – how much the government thinks your folks should chip in – is like jabbing an angry bear with a toothpick. Unfortunately, that means some of you don’t know how much your families should give, while others say their parents can’t cough up.
We also heard a lot that you don’t like being dependant on your parents, feel guilty about adding to their costs, and resent your Maintenance Loan being tied to their earnings.
Parents hand over an average of £138.50/month for each child they support at university – that’s £1,662 each academic year. However, we also found that male students get around £60/month more than that, while female students get slightly less.
The biggest shock is that parents who earn under £25,000 (so, in theory, don’t have to contribute anything to top-up the Maintenance Loan) still give cash support. In fact, for students living away from home and studying in London, they’re paying £151/month MORE than they’re supposed to.
Higher earning parents, meanwhile, often don’t meet suggested amounts – from what you tell us, that’s because the government overlooks the reality of household costs.
With a quarter of you saying your family is putting more than one student through uni, the pressure is on parents. And, with 1 in 3 students reporting the extra cash isn’t enough anyway, everyone’s losing out.
Here’s just a snapshot of the comments you had on parental contributions:
What about savings?
Fears about debt and loan interest rates may be turning students off borrowed cash: you guys are now more likely to dip into your savings than an overdraft to pay your way.
The good news is that 2 out of 3 students land at university with savings to hand. It’s harder to hold onto the cash once you’ve paid out for rent, deposits and budget noodles, however: a quarter of you have nothing to fall back on right now.
Where do students turn in a cash crisis?
With cash scarcer than fruit pickers after Brexit, unexpected costs at uni can mean big trouble. So, where do you turn when the chips are down? In a word: parents. As many as 74% of students turn to their folks for help in a financial crisis, followed by their bank.
Testament to how patchy student support is, more of you ask your friends for help than your university. In fact, almost as many students use betting or their bodies (drug trials and sex work) as get uni hand-outs.
So just how far have you gone to make money?
Time for the big one: what cuts through the cash?
Rent takes the biggest chunk of monthly spending: students now pay an average of £406/month for housing, which is slightly up on a year ago. The big shocker is that most students now spend around £51 LESS each month than in 2017, leaving you £612 better off over the year.
The good news is that some of the savings come from spending less on household bills, possibly because it’s easier to shop around for better deals. What isn’t great is that it’s also because you guys are spending less on food and books – the very things you say suffer when you’re low on cash.
For a full breakdown of spending at each separate uni take a look here.
All this means that money needs to be saved, and you’ve certainly gone to some lengths to achieve that:
Anyone taking out a Student Loan has to get their head around some pretty tricky T&Cs – but we’ve found just 60% of you know what you’ve signed up for. It’s hard to stay on the ball, too, with 70% confessing they don’t know the current rate of interest for their loan.
Not understanding how the loan works means a fair bit of stress: half of all students worry about the loan’s biggest safety net – repayments. Future tax payers should note too that only 1 in 5 students think they’ll pay back their whole loan (although some of you don’t know it could get wiped off!).
More students now think their course is good value for money! Before you break out the bubbly, we should add that just 47% of students feel satisfied. That’s a small increase from 2017, and still leaves a significant number who have something to complain about.
Unfortunately, getting a resolution isn’t plain sailing. Just 41% of students said they found it easy to get help from their uni when they needed it.
The high cost (and hardship) of university should be worth it once you’ve graduated – yet only 47% are confident about finding full-time work after their course. Students also predict a starting salary of just £21,283. At almost £2,000 less than the average graduate salary in the UK, that suggests you’re not exactly brimming with optimism about your degree.
In fact, while men feel slightly more positive about earnings than a year ago (when they predicted starting on £23,139), women still price themselves a full grand under the average, and four grand less than male graduates.
There will always be jobs that command more (or less) than others – but pricing yourself too cheaply, or accepting less than the going rate, can have a knock-on effect across the life of your career. Aim to know the starting salary for your job – then know how to level up if you need to!
Jake Butler, Save the Student money expert:
View our results as a visual infographic.
The National Student Money Survey 2018 is done and dusted for this year, but if anything’s got your goat, got you worried or getting on your wick, leave us a comment below!
We’ve suggested lots of places to get more info or practical help in the report. If you want the basics to cut-out and keep, download our free Student Money Cheat Sheet.
Want to know more about the survey, or need case studies, comments or quotes? We’re happy to help – just drop us a line.