What to do if your student finance isn’t enough

Student finance not enough to cover your university costs, like accommodation or books? Here are some options which could help.

So you’ve found out how much you’re eligible for in student finance, and you’ve realised that your student budget isn’t close to covering all of your living costs at university. 

It’s a common scenario many students and their families face — one that can come as quite a shock once you start crunching the numbers.

So where should you look to make up this financial shortfall? Whether you’re heading off to university in a couple of months, or you still have a while to go, take a look at your options.

Student loans

Make sure you know how much you can get in student loans. Check out our guides to student finance in EnglandScotlandWales, and Northern Ireland to see what you’re automatically eligible for.

Then, see how much you’ll need to survive on at university – our budgeting guide will help you work it out.

Additional funding

As well as student loans, there is other financial support available from a range of sources, including:

  • from your course provider
  • scholarships, grants and bursaries
  • NHS students' bursaries
  • teaching training funding
  • finance for individual needs 

More about additional funding



Think about your uni location

If you’re researching universities, the choices you make now can shape your student budget – especially if you’re split between very similar courses in different corners of the country.

The student rental market can vary from one city to another. London and Brighton are really popular places to live in — not just for students — which means landlords and letting agents can charge more here. By comparison, your rent will stretch further in cities like Liverpool or Plymouth, where there is less demand.

If a nearby university or college offers a course you’re interested in, could you live at home and travel in for lectures? While you may not enjoy the same independence as you would moving away from home, you would save a tidy sum in rent (and perhaps free laundry too).

The cost of living goes beyond housing too, from your weekly food shop, and getting around, to keeping yourself entertained — location can impact these living costs.

You may spend less on rent or public transport in Glasgow than in London, but your energy bills may be higher, given that it gets much colder there. And if you’re from the south east of England, travelling across the country for the holidays or a weekend at home won’t be cheap.

Search, compare, and favourite universities and courses in your UCAS Hub to make your decision easier.

Choose your accommodation carefully

Once you’ve settled on your firm and insurance choices, explore the full range of housing options. Accommodation will be your biggest living expense, but there are ways to save cash:

  • A basic room is really all you need once you’ve put up some pictures and personal mementos, so don’t be wowed by brand new halls, fancy fittings, or massive rooms — these are usually at the more expensive end of the housing spectrum.
  • An en-suite bathroom will push the price up, so look for halls with shared bathrooms instead.
  • Ignore fancy extras you won’t use, like cinema lounges or games rooms.
  • It’s often less expensive if you share communal spaces with more people.
  • Some halls are cheaper if you move your belongings out of your room during the holidays so it can be rented out (to international or summer school students).
  • While being in campus halls for your first year has its benefits, see if renting a room in a house or flat in town would work out cheaper.

To help you make the right choice, we’ve put together some info on the different types of accommodation you might want to consider, and their pros and cons.

You can also use our accommodation search tool to explore both uni-owned and private options.

Can your family help?

When you’re applying for means-tested student finance, your parents will need to provide evidence of their income, so they’ll already be involved in the finance process. 

Money is tight for many people, but your family may be able to support you in some way, such as continuing to pay your phone bill, sending you a little cash for nights out, or picking you up at the end of term (to save you a train fare).

Take a year out

If the numbers simply aren’t working in your favour, consider waiting a year to apply – or defer, if you already have your place – and use this time to work. 

This might seem dramatic, but if it means money is less of a stress once you begin studying, it can make for a far more positive experience. A year out can also give you more time to think about your university choices, pick up key skills and experience, and even fit in some travelling. 

Consider a different study path

Is a three year traditional undergraduate degree the only path to where you want to get to? If you have a career goal in mind already, consider a degree apprenticeship. You split your time between lectures and working in an actual company, who cover your tuition fees in full and pay you a small salary – yes, get paid to learn and kickstart your career.

Many students struggle to find time for career-building activities like internships or work placements, on top of university work, jobs, socialising, and so on, but degree apprentices get this in spades as part of their course.

If you don’t want to commit to three years worth of study – or living costs – there are also shorter qualifications. Higher National Diplomas (HND) and Higher National Certificates (HNC) are equivalent to the first year or two of a full undergraduate degree, and while not widespread, two-year degrees condense a three-year degree into a shorter length of time. 

You may even decide that further study isn’t essential for that dream career (at least right now). Getting an entry-level position in a company and working your way up can lead to further education and training opportunities along the way. This can give you a far more comprehensive perspective of all aspects of a particular organisation and industry.

Off to uni soon?

If university is fast-approaching, but you’re still worried about making your student loan last, here are a few quick ways you can boost your student budget. And if the cost of living is making your next steps harder, here's the latest support on coping with the rising cost of living.

  • Get a part-time job at university: Retail, hospitality, babysitting, tutoring, and event work are some common jobs students pick up to fund their studies. Hit the town in freshers’ week with your CV, check online job boards like Gumtree, or pop into your student union to see if they can help you find something.
  • Get a student bank account: They have a bunch of incentives and facilities to help students get by at university – namely an interest-free overdraft which allows you to borrow up to a certain amount without incurring charges — handy when you’re still a few days away from payday or your next loan.Read more about student bank accounts in our guide to managing your money at university.
  • Work through the holidays: Use that time off to earn as much money as you can for the term ahead, especially any overtime you can pick up around public holidays. If you’re lucky, you may be able to resume a job you had before you went to university, or if you work for a big chain at university, you might be able to transfer to a branch close to home.
  • Take part in research on campus: You’ll find students and staff running various studies all over campus as part of their research, which they need participants for.
  • Sign up for online studies, groups, and surveys: Brands and companies often want to get students’ opinions about their service or product, and will survey a small sample (usually via a third party). This may involve answering a quick questionnaire online, participating in a focus group, or even testing a product. 
  • Sell unwanted stuff: Packing for uni is the perfect opportunity to clear out any junk that’s gathering dust. This might be that guitar that you never quite stuck to, an old laptop you’ve since replaced, or even larger items like furniture or a car. 
  • Enquire about hardship funds: Universities and colleges may offer extra money to students facing some form of financial hardship while they’re studying. This is usually reserved for those who’ve exhausted all other sources of financial support. What’s available will depend on your university/college, and you’ll be expected to show evidence of your income and outgoings (such as bank statements).