This article was written by the Great British Mag content team on 9 June 2021.
If you’re planning to come to the UK to study, you probably already know that it’s not going to be cheap. Planning your budget as a student is really important and can help inform your decisions about everything from which region of the UK you choose to what kind of accommodation to look for.
Here, we talk frankly about money, how to budget as a student and what studying in the UK is likely to cost, so you can make sure you have the funds you need and won’t be caught out financially.
The most obvious (and substantial) costs to get your head around first are the fees and expenses attached to your course.
Your tuition fees, paid to your uni, will likely be your biggest expense while studying in the UK. They vary quite a lot between universities and courses, so it’s important to do your research here.
Generally, the most prestigious unis cost more than smaller, slightly lower-ranking institutions, while classroom-based courses – like humanities and languages, for instance – are cheaper than more practical degrees such as those based in labs, say. Medicine-based courses are the most expensive and can cost upwards of £55,000 a year at some universities.
On average though, an international student studying a non-medical undergraduate degree in the UK spends between £10,000 and £20,000 per year in university fees. Remember too, that some degrees take longer than three years to complete, upping the cost even more.
When it comes to postgraduate courses like masters degrees, these often have slightly higher annual fees but only last one year, so work out cheaper in the long run.
Books and other equipment that you’ll need for your course aren’t included in the university fees – you’ll need to buy those separately. Sometimes you might be able to find what you need at the library, but remember that your course mates may be trying to do the same, meaning certain materials will be in high demand. It’s much safer – and often essential – to buy what you need.
You might not receive reading lists or information about other materials or equipment that you’ll need until closer to the date your due to start the course, so it’s worth researching what will likely be required and looking to see if any of it can be bought second hand to save on costs.
All the things you pay for outside the classroom are your living expenses. You have much more control over these than you do your course fees, so if you are on a tight budget this is the place where you can save money.
That said, the average cost of living is higher in some regions of the UK than others (London is the most expensive place to live, for instance) and it’s important you’re realistic about what you’ll need to spend.
There are lots of factors that affect how much rent you’ll pay. First, there’s the area you live in – the more desirable it is, the more the rent will cost. As we mentioned, London rents are, on average, the highest in the country, and lots of southern cities (especially those surrounding London) are often considered more expensive than those in the north.
If you plan to live in university accommodation, you should be able to get a good idea of monthly costs from the university’s website, but average figures start at about £120 a week – and bills will be included in that. The quality of these student halls differ though, so think carefully about how important aesthetics, comfort and location are to you, as well as whether you’d be happy sharing a bedroom or a bathroom (private rooms with en suites can carry higher rents).
Some universities offer catered halls, where all your meals are included in your rent, but they are, of course, much more expensive than self-catered options.
You can rent privately too, but do your research on local neighbourhoods – if you’ve found a real bargain it might be to do with the location. Also, bear in mind that private rental costs don’t usually include bills.
If you’re living in halls, most of your bills – water and electricity, for instance – will be included in your rent, so you don’t have to worry about them. But even so, you’ll still have regular outgoings for things like your mobile phone and bank account fees.
If you’re in private accommodation, it might be up to you to set up and pay for your household bills like WiFi, water, gas and electricity, for starters. You can shop around to find the most affordable suppliers, but expect to pay around £25 for WiFi (although this would be split between you and your housemates) and £40 for your share of the utilities (water, gas and electricity).
If you’re in a large city, you’re likely to need to budget more for trains, busses and trams than if you were in a smaller town that’s walkable. And if you choose to live outside of a city centre to save on rent, remember that travelling to and from uni may cost more than if you were central.
Lots of cities have discounted travel for students to make getting around more affordable, but bear in mind you may have to pay upfront for a monthly or yearly pass.
That brain of yours will sure need fuelling up properly during your studies – so don’t underestimate the cost of regular food shopping! Expect to spend between £75 and £100 each month on groceries and household items.
Again, you can shop around to find the best deals – supermarkets regularly have offers and promotions on certain groceries, and remember that sometimes smaller, local shops (like greengrocers and Asian supermarkets) are more affordable than the big, branded stores.
It might sound like a bit of a luxury to have a budget for fun, but part of the reason you want to study in the UK is to see the country and experience the culture, right? That means eating in restaurants sometimes, going on days out and making the most of local festivals and events.
On top of that, you’ll be making lots of new friends who you’ll want to hang out with (likely down the pub if they’re British), so don’t scrimp on your socialising budget if you want get the most from your time in the UK.
Student visas don’t come for free. You’ll need to pay £348 if you’re applying for one from outside the UK, or £475 if you’re already here and are switching to a Student visa. This is a one-off payment though – you’ll only need to pay more application fees if you apply for another visa once your Student one expires.
Getting your Student visa is dependent on paying the healthcare surcharge, which is £470 per year for students. So, if you’re doing an undergraduate degree that takes three years to complete, that’ll be a total cost of £1,410. It’s not an insignificant amount of money, but it will mean you have access to all NHS services so won’t get landed with any healthcare bills if you become ill or injured and need care.
Ways to offset costs
All these numbers might seem quite overwhelming, but there are things you can do to boost your funds and make studying in the UK a little more affordable.
Apply for scholarships
There are loads of scholarships and funding opportunities out there for international students, available from bodies across the world, as well as from UK universities directly. Most will partially cover your costs while others take care of everything – from your flights to your uni fees. So get hunting for the ones you fit the entry requirements for and start your applications.
Get a part-time job
Loads of students choose to boost their funds by fitting a job around their studies, so check to see if your student visa will allow you to work. The rules depend on a few factors, but if you’re permitted then you’ll likely have a maximum number of hours you can work per week during term time.
Evening and weekend work is often easy to come by in bars, shops and restaurants, and there are fewer restrictions about how much you can work over your university holidays, too.