Preparing students for money worries at university (before they even get there!)
Guest blog from Ruth Bushi, Editor, SavetheStudent
“NO ONE – I mean NO ONE – prepares you for the skint student life. No one explains financial support or where to go ... and absolutely no one explains how hard it is to get help!” These are the words of just one student, but the sentiment is universal across higher education.
Anyone starting a degree may well expect to be "skint" for 3 years (or longer), but what’s worrying is that when faced with hardship or unexpected costs, many students don’t know where to get help.
Hopefully this blog post can put that right: it includes sources of support, advice and extra funds, and it can help you and your students plan how to cope with money worries at university before they even get there!
Encourage students to start building a picture of living costs early. Not only is it a valuable part of the university/college choosing process, the head start means more time to spot shortfalls and brew extra income if needed. This kind of overview of costs, and where the cash will come from, is as simple as budgeting gets.
If money’s tight, that’s when to go back to the budget and ask: Are your living costs realistic for your income? Could you pay less for or take a break from any?
Can you increase your income? Could you get a job, grab extra shifts or go freelance? Are you getting all the financial support you’re entitled to?
Students may need to show their budget when applying for some support funds, so it’s worth doing it now, then keeping it updated!
While talking about money can be tough at the best of times, when things go wrong it can be mortifying – but that’s exactly when to speak up! University support staff have seen it all before and, crucially, know how to help.
The first port of call varies by institution, but usually will be the finance office, student union welfare team, or a dedicated student money adviser. Also, talk to tutors: keeping them in the loop can grant academic breathing space, meaning one less thing to worry about.
Don’t wait for an emergency to sniff out the support process for the university in question. It’ll be easier to get the gist of it now, meaning fewer surprises later about criteria or paperwork.
Trying to paper over the cracks in secret – especially by borrowing more – can cause even manageable debt to balloon out of control. Debt charities such as StepChange and National Debtline give free, expert advice, anonymously if required.
Useful angles when talking about credit and debt with your students:
1. Debt doesn’t have to be scary: most folk borrow to buy a house or pay for a degree, i.e., things that can make us better off as long as we understand/stick to the terms
2. Choosing credit wisely and managing it well results in better borrowing deals later on – so don’t just avoid credit, have a strategy
3. Whether borrowing is a good deal or not depends whether you have the means to repay: cost it out before you cough up!
1. Student Finance: some schemes don’t close until months after the course start date so don’t assume it’s too late. Double-check funds relating to subject or needs, e.g., travel costs, childcare or disability support.
2. Uni funds: ‘Hardship funds’ don’t usually have to be repaid, but some may be reserved for low-income students, or very limited. Check what else is going: there may be grants, bursaries, scholarships, trusts and awards for a whole range of circumstances.
3. Charity grants: Turn2us pinpoints charity support by a whole range of criteria including age, gender and region. Payouts are typically small, but helpful if not eligible for anything else. Also worth checking State benefits.
4. 0% student overdraft: beats commercial or payday loans hands-down, so worth agreeing one in advance to cover accidental over-spending and emergencies.
Worrying about money can be isolating, insurmountable and, frankly, terrifying. Getting things back on track isn’t just about finding extra income – sometimes it just helps to have someone on-side. For example, family and friends: having someone drop off food or come along to meetings can be incredibly helpful. If the university has a listening line that can be a safe space to share worries; alternatively Samaritans are available by phone, text and email 24/7. You may also prefer to talk to a GP or other advisors/support staff, especially if you're already managing other conditions.
Use great online resources. For example, you’ll find tips, tools and everything you need to know about student money at https://www.savethestudent.org.
Quick note from UniTasterDays, we hope this blog is useful to you and your students. This is general information only and students should take expert advice when making financial decisions.