Is university worth the money (and how to budget for it)

Wondering how to suss out if higher education is for you? Tom Allingham from Save the Student can help you make the call
An outdoor sign in the shape of a pencil with the words 'LOVE TO LEARN' written on it

University has a reputation for being expensive but, equally, getting a degree could be great for your job prospects. So, how are you supposed to figure out if going to university is worth the money? And how do you pay for it all if you do decide to go? Here are five things you need to consider when you’re deciding if uni is worth it.

1. The cost of university isn’t always what you pay

Depending on where in the UK you’re from, and where you study, your tuition fees could be up to £9,250 a year. Fortunately, the vast majority of students will be able to get a Tuition Fee Loan to cover this, so you won’t need to pay anything upfront.

You should also be eligible for a Maintenance Loan to help pay for your living costs, like rent, food and travel. On average, this loan is £6,859 a year, which is about £20,000 across a three-year degree.

Add all this up and it’s easy to see how the average graduate leaves uni with a total debt of around £50,000. But the important thing to remember is, thanks to the very reasonable Student Loan repayment system, there’s very little chance of you repaying this in full before it’s eventually cancelled.

Any repayments you do make will be relatively small in comparison to whatever you’re earning and, if your earnings ever drop below the threshold, you’ll stop repaying until your salary rises above it again.

Be mindful of your mind

As fun as it can be, university can also be a stressful time, and some students find their mental health suffers as a result. This isn’t necessarily a reason not to go, but it’s something to be aware of before you decide either way.

2. Students need to live on a strict budget

The National Student Money Survey has found that the Maintenance Loan is nowhere near big enough to cover a student’s living costs – in fact, the average loan falls short by £223 a month. 

Fortunately, there are some ways to cope. Firstly, see if you’re eligible for any bursaries, grants or scholarships. These funds don’t have to be repaid, and they’re often awarded to students from low-income backgrounds, with high grades or with exceptional talents in a given subject. But there are loads more weird and wonderful funds out there with all kinds of unusual eligibility criteria, so it’s worth looking into.

You’ll also need to learn how to live on a budget. If you’re spending more than you’re earning, you’ll have to cut out some expenses and downgrade some purchases to cheaper alternatives.

Finally, don’t forget about a student’s best friend: the interest- and fee-free overdraft, which most banks offer as part of their student accounts. Although it eventually has to be repaid when you’ve graduated, while you’re still a student (and for a short time afterwards) it’s a very low-risk source of extra money.

3. University can boost your job prospects

Getting a degree has consistently been found to improve your job prospects – both in terms of your employability and your earning potential.

How? Well, it’s not just graduate schemes that require you to have a degree – many other jobs do too, even if it’s not directly related to the role. And, as it happens, these positions are often in the industries that pay the highest salaries.

And on top of the piece of paper you get at the end of it, uni is a great chance to get some contacts. If your dream career is related to your course, pick your lecturers’ brains about how to get into the field and see if they can put you in touch with any of the movers and shakers in the industry.

Work it out

Student Loans and bursaries aren’t the only way to make money at uni. On top of conventional part-time jobs like bar work, there are more unusual ones like becoming an extra or a pet-sitter, plus casual earners like paid survey sites.

4. But remember that some jobs don’t require a degree

On the whole, a degree can improve your job prospects – but there are some exceptions to the rule. 

Some professions don’t require a degree at all, and you might be better off doing an apprenticeship or something similar. Meanwhile, some others may seem like they require a degree but, in actual fact, employers in the field value experience a lot more highly. 

If you don’t necessarily need a degree to enter the profession you’re interested in, consider whether the three years you’d spend at university would actually be better spent gaining experience and climbing the career ladder.

5. You’ll gain independence

University isn’t just about getting a degree – it’s also a time to make that transition to adulthood and become your own person.

Whether it’s the opportunity to explore a new city, live away from your parents for the first time or make a whole load of new friends, going to uni can be really fulfilling. 

Of course, all these things are possible if you go straight into work, but for many young people, doing it with the safety net and structure of the university experience makes it feel a lot easier.

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