How much does it cost to go to university?
Choosing to go to university is an expensive decision. With the cost of living rising to unprecedented levels, parents and students alike are undoubtedly considering the cost of such a choice and whether it’s worth it.
As a student the cost of living will vary depending on where you choose to study and what type of area you live in, for example if it’s a city or town, or its proximity to London.
So, how much does university cost and when will those payments need to be made? And is it worth it?
In this short article, we lay out simple answers to these questions in order to help you make the right decision based on accurate and up-to-date information.
University cost - a breakdown
University in the UK isn’t a one-size-fits-all in terms of budget. There are huge regional variations, particularly when considering cost of living and accommodation costs in the UK, but also varying cost expectations for different courses. It’s wise to keep all three of these in mind when you are doing research into the university costs for UK students.
Here are the various costs associated with studying at university in the UK, starting with the bigger ticket items.
UK-resident undergraduates pay up to £9,250 per year to cover tuition fees for full-time students (part-time it’s up to £4,625). The amount is slightly less in Wales (up to £9,000).
Students from Northern Ireland or the Republic of Ireland who choose to study in Northern Ireland pay up to £4,630 per year. However, students from England, Scotland or Wales studying in Northern Ireland will pay £9,250 in tuition fees.
The same applies for students from England, Wales or Northern Ireland studying in Scotland: tuition fees are £9,250 per year. Students from Scotland who opt to attend university there pay £1,820 per year, but this is covered by the Student Awards Agency for Scotland (SAAS) in the vast majority of cases.
Tuition fees cover access to university facilities, services and all the course and learning aspects of a university education, with some exceptions for things like text books, printing, field trips etc. Some courses will pay for software needed to complete coursework e.g. Adobe Creative Suite or CAD software. We cover more on this below (see Course-related costs).
International students pay more and the amount varies depending on the institution and the course. The range of fees in 2021/2022 was very broad, from £9,250 to £67,892. The average minimum cost per institution was £16,466, and the average maximum was £23,969. The cost of some clinic courses is much higher than classroom or laboratory-based courses. Information on costs for a specific course or uni is not always published online so contact the institution directly to find out.
The deadline for payment of tuition fees varies for each university and will depend on whether you are applying for a tuition fee loan.
You will need to apply for tuition fee loans from your home country:
Read more about student finance here: Student Finance at University: How To Budget Effectively
The vast majority of undergraduates live in either university residences or private purpose-built student accommodation in their first year. Many returning students live in private shared houses or flats off-campus, rather than purpose-built residences. Our focus here is on university residences and private accommodation, although the costs aren’t too different from shared houses/flats once bills have been taken into account. If you are on a smaller budget, it is possible to find student housing that is cheaper than your first year residence.
There is a significant disparity between how much student accommodation costs across the country. On the same day in September 2022, you could book accommodation in Central London (eg. if you were studying at King’s College London) for £237.94 pppw or accommodation in Preston (for University of Central Lancashire students) for £94.50 pppw. Over the course of three or four academic years, that is a highly significant difference in price.
We would advise that you look into the cost of accommodation when making the decision about where to study. You could save a lot of money over the course of your studies, without necessarily changing your career prospects or salary outcomes as a graduate. Consider the reputation of each university alongside the average price of rent to make the most cost-efficient decision.
It is also important to consider the area your accommodation is located in, before signing a rental contract. Think about how far away you are from university, supermarkets and amenities you use regularly. If you are a walking distance away from everything, this could save you money as you won’t need to pay for public transport to get around.
Generally the further away you are from the city centre, the less rent you pay. But, it’s worth considering if you will spend money on public transport. Add the cost of regular public transport use to your rent price, and compare it to a rental price closer to university, to work out if it is more affordable to live within walking distance.
Most properties also have different room types, so it pays to do your research.
Some universities and providers offer catered accommodation, especially for first year students, so this is another factor to consider. This obviously affects the price prohibitively, but also can make for a much easier experience for those who may be moving out of home for the first time.
We created a league table showing all the costs across the country, including which room types are available at which location. We are able to confidently share this information because we collect price and availability data for every single purpose-built student accommodation property in the UK on a weekly basis so you can be sure that the information you read on our site is up-to-date and accurate.
Here’s the cheapest cities league table for 2021.
One of the best places for students as prices are cheap. Less cost of living. Easy access to things. Good public transport facility. City is big with all shops and stuffs easily accessible. Trains, trams, buses are available.
- Student studying in Sheffield, 30th July 2022
Hull- cost of living is cheap in Hull, loads of student friendly places to eat and drink near the university and in the city centre! Variety of clubs open throughout the week, something for everyone! Shopping is okay but lacks big brands! Public transport is okay, a little expensive and sometimes unreliable but this is often due to roadworks.
- Student studying in Hull, 21st April 2022
With food bills rising, the cost of feeding yourself at university for self-catered students definitely needs to be accounted for. This is another consideration when looking at accommodation. Whilst many express and convenience stores are located close to student residences, they are usually considerably more expensive than larger stores further afield. It pays to do your research and stick to a meal plan. Student discounts can also come in handy.
Utility bills are included in the cost of rent for private accommodation, and some shared properties rents are inclusive of bills so check the options for where you intend to live to make sure you factor this into your budget if you need to. However, some shared properties require you to organise your own utility bills for gas, electricity, WiFi and water so check your rental contract before signing it.
Confused about all the different options of student accommodation and how to make the best choice for you? We lay out all the options in this article.
There are two components to travel costs at university. One is local costs (how you get about your university town or city) and the other is international or national travel from home to university.
Local travel costs.
Local travel costs vary for different locations, depending on the size of the location, your mode of transport, how close you are living to the academic buildings and how often you need to travel to campus. Reading reviews of students at the locations you are interested in is a great way to get insight directly from students into how much travel is costing.
National/international travel costs.
This item will depend on where you are living in the UK or whether you are coming from abroad, and how often you might want to travel home or elsewhere in the country. Heading home for some help with your washing a few times a term will not be a savvy choice if you live further away from home so set realistic expectations.
Tuition fees will cover most of the cost of learning at university but some courses may cost more. If you are interested in a degree that’s more academic, consider how much you might need to spend on books. Some creative degrees might require certain equipment or printing of materials for a portfolio. Some courses like geography include field trips, although we have seen some students comment in reviews that the costs were covered by the university.
A very friendly department. There are a wide range of modules for you to get your teeth stuck into, so whatever your interest you'll find something you love! Pastoral support has always been great in the department and staff are friendly and willing to respond to any queries. You also have a field trip, usually to Tenerife, in your second year which is covered by your tuition fees. There are also options to go to Switzerland or Cambodia in the third year, Switzerland is particularly affordable and a course highlight. Wholly recommend.
- Geography student at University of Southampton, 27th November 2020
I love this course, it’s so varied and interesting. You don’t have to come in with a specialisation, they’ll let you try out what you want before you focus on something… They will expect you to do a lot of work though. Main negative is the amount of extra money you’ll end up spending on materials, travel and the like that’s not included in the course cost.
- Design student at Goldsmiths, University of London, 30th March 2020
Leisure and shopping:
This category could include a wide variety of things that you’ll need to budget for: drinks, meals out, leisure and sport activities, clubs and societies, shopping for clothes and accessories, friends’ birthdays, nights out and so on. How much you expect to spend will undoubtedly depend on your monthly income and what financial support you have available. It is possible to have a great time at university without spending a fortune. We have some tips for budgeting effectively here.
Costs for international students:
Students travelling to the UK to study will have additional costs that will need to be covered. These include student visas (£363 one-off cost to apply from outside the UK (correct at the time of writing)), English-proficiency tests if your undergraduate degree or high school/college education wasn’t conducted in English, and various health tests, depending on where you are travelling from (eg. COVID-19 or tuberculosis test). You’ll also need to pay the NHS surcharge (£470/year) if you want to access NHS healthcare while in the UK.
Universities have international scholarships and bursaries so check if any of your costs can be covered. You will have to show that either you or your family have enough funds to cover the cost of tuition, living and accommodation when applying for your visa.
Read our international student's guide to the UK university applications
How to cover the costs:
If you write down the total amount of money mentioned above, it can look like an eye-watering sum of money. For some, it’s out of the question unless you can receive a student loan which comprises a maintenance loan (for living costs) and a tuition fee loan (paid directly to the university). Loans need to be paid back after graduation once you’re earning a certain amount. You can check the salary threshold for paying back UK student loans here.
Read more about student finance at Gov.uk.
There may be additional funding available for disabled students too, or those eligible for certain benefits or those with childcare costs.
Is it worth it?
You may be looking at the costs and wondering if a degree and potentially thousands of pounds worth of debt is worth it. If that’s you, consider that a university experience is so much more than just receiving a certificate at the end of it, along with a nice photo of you in a silly hat for your parent’s mantlepiece. You’ll gain lifelong friendships, learn important life skills and develop independence by standing on your own two feet. You’ll have plenty of opportunities to develop motivation and discover more about yourself. It is an investment in your own personal development too.
Utilising access to resources and specialists in your chosen field can pay off later on in your career. Seizing the benefits of your university careers team can also reap rewards when it comes to approaching the job market. As we’ve just outlined, a degree isn’t all about earning more money after graduation, but the statistics are encouraging if you take a long view. HESA data indicates that graduates earn on average £34,000 over their lifetime (that’s the median), compared to £25,000 for non-graduates.
University is undoubtedly an expensive business but it’s possible to make some smart choices to cut costs, particularly on accommodation and living expenses.
Resources that may help:
Student finance calculator for students from English or the EUStudent Awards Agency Scotland - for students from ScotlandStudent Finance Wales - for students from WalesStudent Finance Northern Ireland - for students from Northern Ireland