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The reality of student finance, according to students…

How well are students managing the cost of university? As part of our annual survey, we posed the big questions – this is what they said…

See what student finance is like for those currently at university, and get tips on how to prepare yourself...

More than 89% of students have some sort of student loan

While the word ‘loan’ might sound scary, a good chunk of students are using loans to finance their tuition fees and their living costs, as part of the student finance available to them.

In fact, 71% of students have both a tuition fee loan and a maintenance loan:

Broadly speaking, tuition fee loans are available to cover your tuition fees in full and upfront (although Scottish students studying their first full-time degree in Scotland are eligible to have these covered entirely by the Scottish government).

Meanwhile, the amount you’re eligible for in maintenance loans (to help with living costs – accommodation, food, bills etc) depends on your household income (students whose families earn less will be eligible for more), as well as other factors such as where you’re studying. Those studying away from home in London are eligible for more, to account for the higher cost of living. 

Read more about fees and finance available for where you live

Watch now: Student finance basics explained


Students know less about their loan repayments than they think

When asked how well they understood the terms for repaying these student loans, 81% of students answered ‘Very well’ or ‘well’. Male students were slightly more confident, with 30% answering ‘very well’ compared with 23% of female students.

However, when tested, the reality is very different. Less than 3% of those who’ve taken out student loans could correctly answer all of our true-or-false questions about repayments. Take a look at which questions tripped students up the most:

How many of these questions would you get right? Learn more about student loan repayments in our regional guides covering student finance in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Students rely on the ‘Bank of Mum and Dad’

We posed students a couple of statements about how they’ve handled their living costs at university, and asked if they agreed with them.

Almost one third of students said that money issues had negatively impacted their mental health or stress.

We asked these students for a bit more detail about how well their university was able to help them. The results were mixed  in fact this might be a good question to ask at an open day:

Received a bursary from the university that basically saved me from dropping out. I've also received mental health support throughout for existing disabilities - they continue to be helpful and compassionate.
  Second Year Student | Bath Spa University
I didn't bother, the mental health facilities are way oversubscribed. First Year Student | Royal Holloway, University Of London
I saw a counsellor at the university. However I had to wait three months to be seen, and only given six sessions.
  First Year Student | University Of Bath
[The university] were extremely helpful - I now know how to budget and thrift a bit better. First Year Student | University Of St Andrews

Keep in mind that this is just a snapshot of a few individual accounts. Search and see what students said about their university or course.

We also asked students about the costs that they didn’t expect to be as high as they were; the main offenders were going out/eating out, takeaways and snacks, accommodation, course costs and grocery shopping.

The cost of housing

Accommodation is normally the biggest expense that students have to think about, though this can vary wildly depending on where they find themselves in the country.

We asked students living in private accommodation how much they roughly paid in rent. Thirty-six per cent spent between £400 and £500 per month: 

Sometimes rent can cover a few extras, which can pay off big time and save some hassle in terms of admin (ie finding a provider, sorting out installation etc). Students told us what – if any – extras were a part of their (private) housing contract:

Note, those living in university and private halls will likely have utility bills and broadband included in their rent. Check this with your housing provider.

Calculate your living costs
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Students are leaving free money on the table

Despite these troubles managing living costs at university, seven in ten didn't apply for a bursary or scholarship.

Their reasons for not doing so varied, with almost 70% of students presuming they weren’t eligible:

Extra funding can be awarded for a wide variety of reasons, from musical talent to work in the local community. If you’re not sure where to start looking, read our guide to bursaries and scholarships to set you in the right direction.

Don’t think you have a chance getting a scholarship or bursary? We asked students who did for their top tips to apply for extra funding.

Watch now: How to find university scholarships – students’ tips


Tuition fees don’t cover all course-related costs

While tuition fees cover certain things you’d expect in order to complete your degree, there will be some course expenses that you’ll need to budget for.

We listed the common ones most students have regardless of the subject they’re studying (books, printing), and asked students whether they had to fork out extra for these themselves (and if so, how much so we could get an average):

But your course costs will also depend on what you study. Some may require special equipment or clothing (eg scrubs and stethoscopes for medicine).

University course costs - clothing: what students covered

University course costs - equipment: what students covered

Others may offer field trips or work placements, for which you’ll need to factor in things such as travel costs, smart clothes and perhaps even background checks (eg nursing or midwifery).

University course costs - odds and ends: what students covered

This may be something you ask about an open day or a taster day for your subject.


Student banking

While it’s not absolutely essential, a student bank account does have its advantages.

Over six in ten students said they have a student account, with Santander, HSBC and Barclays being the three most common ones.

When picking an account, students cited good freebies or incentives (53%), already being a customer (40%) and having the best overdraft (26%) as being the top three reasons for choosing theirs.

However, the overdraft facility was also a reason for students to forgo getting one. Of those who didn’t have a student account, 27% said it was because they thought the overdraft facility would encourage them to spend. Convenience and the admin involved was also a factor – 23% simply didn’t get round to sorting one out, while 20% thought it was too much effort (20%).


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    * Data source: Which? University Student Survey, conducted by YouthSight on behalf of Which?, surveying 5,000 undergraduate students at UK universities between 22 March and 6 April 2018, and 3,874 students between 20 March 2019 and 12 April 2019. See specific graphs for details.

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