Liberty is my friend from Jesus College, who is now studying at Harvard! Today she's sharing some top tips with you on being financially independent at uni. Check out her Harvard journey on her blog: https://libertykingharvard.com/ and Instagram: @libertykingharvard
A lot of people are put off going to university due to the cost, and this is a completely understandable worry to have: university is expensive. However, there are a lot of schemes put in place to make university, and Oxford in particular, accessible to as many people as possible, so that everyone has the opportunity to study at university regardless of their socio-economic background.
I come from a single parent family and at the time of me studying my mum was on one of the lowest income tax brackets in the country. Therefore, being financially independent at university was important for me. There was a number of different things that allowed me to be financially independent: most of them are things that every UK student could do, however some are specific to Oxford University in particular. This post will go through each of these and hopefully it will give you some useful tips about how you could afford university even if you are from a low-income family!
Government Loan and Bursary
If you are applying to university now the bursary scheme is no longer in place, which is a political rant for a whole other blog post. However, the amount that the government will give you each year in a loan has actually increased massively. Yes, this will mean that you will have to pay back more in the long run, but the overall amount you receive now is actually more than people would have received when I was at university.
I received a full tuition loan throughout university which was £9,000 a year. This was paid straight from the Student Loans Company (SLC) to my university, so it didn’t even see my bank account. Then I received just under £7,000 a year from the SLC to help towards living costs: £3,692 of this was a maintenance loan and £3,211 was a bursary. The SLC calculate these costs based on your total household income. So actually, being from a low-income family was beneficial in this instance because it meant that I received a substantial amount of money from the SLC.
Although the bursary scheme is no longer available, the amount that you can receive in a loan has increased a lot. When I was researching for this blog I entered in my mum’s income and the SLC calculated that I would receive just over £8,000 worth of maintenance loan if I were to study at university now.
Oxford Bursaries and Scholarships
Oxford has an incredible bursary system where, like the SLC, they give you money (that you don’t have to pay back) based on your household income. They retrieve your information from the SLC (with your permission) and will award you a bursary based on the data you have given the SLC. I received £2,500 from Oxford as a bursary every year.
Then individual colleges at Oxford often have their own financial schemes. I was at Jesus College and we had something called an access bursary which again is determined by household income. I received a £500 access bursary from Jesus College, but if your household income is lower than £20,000 you can receive up to £700.
One last scheme that I benefitted from was also specific to Jesus College and this was called the Thomas William Thomas Scholarship. This was very specifically awarded to people studying Philosophy and Theology (which was what I was reading) and has a total value of £3,000 a year – however I shared it with another student, so we received £1,500 each. This is awarded on academic merit so if I didn’t perform well in my exams it would have been withdrawn. This was quite a lot of pressure however I made sure I worked hard and consequently I received the award every year I was at Jesus College.
I got a job as a waitress the day after I turned 16. I worked full time in the summer after my GCSEs and then worked all through sixth form, mostly doing full time hours in the school holidays. I spent hardly any of the money that I earned as I was saving for university and so by the time I got to Oxford I had saved nearly £5,000. It was comforting to have this money as an extra blanket as I was completely unaware how much rent and living etc. would be.
Due to the demands of any Oxford course, undergraduates are not able to work during term times. However, because terms are so short (only 8 weeks) it gives you the opportunity to work over the university vacations if necessary. I worked in almost every vacation from university for the whole three years I was there, which meant that I started every term with money to help towards living costs.
I was glad I saved the waitressing money I earned between the ages of 16 and 18. I saved it in case I needed it at university, but I found that I was able to fully support myself on the money I received from the SLC and Oxford, and the money I earned working over the vacations. Therefore, I was able to spend a large portion of this saved money on an incredible summer of travelling after my first year of uni (however I didn’t spend all of it because I wanted to start second year with a safety net as well!)
My tip for getting jobs over the vacations is to work in jobs that have a higher demand during these times of the year. For example, working as a Christmas temp in retail over the Christmas holidays. Personally, I worked in childcare as a sports/activity instructor at a children’s holiday camp because the timings of the camps lined up perfectly with when I was off university, and so there was always a guarantee of work.
Top Tips on budgeting later this week!